Sunday, December 18, 2011

Good to Great, by Jim Collins

What makes a company achieve outstanding results?
  • A charismatic, rock-star CEO?
  • Huge efforts to build a visionary strategy, followed by a great program intended to catalyze organizational change?
  • Powerful incentives to motivate all members of an organization?
  • The quick adoption of cutting-edge technologies?
  • State-of-the-art HR policies ?

Nope! Building greatness takes disciplined people, engaging in disciplined actions based on disciplined thought.

This is the astonishing conclusion of the in-depth analysis made by Jim COLLINS and his team.

Good to Great is based on the study of eleven American companies that, after a period of ordinariness, at some point made the leap to greatness (as measured by financial performance on the stock market).

The reasons why these companies succeeded in such a spectacular manner derive from a few simple principles:

  • Level 5 Leaders. The research showed that Good-to-Great companies were lead by managers who shared two personality traits: a great personal humility and a very strong resolve for their company to achieve greatness.
  • First Who, Then What. Obviously, you need a great team to build a great company. But what these companies did was first to recruit great people, and then to define a strategy.
  • The Stockdale Paradox. Good-to-Great companies were able to confront the brutal facts. For example, one of them was able to understand that its core activity was going to disappear and that it needed to redefine its core business. But while acknowledging the tough reality, these organizations never lost faith that in the end, they would prevail. COLLINS called this attitude “the STOCKDALE paradox” after a US army hero. Admiral Jim STOCKDALE was a war prisoner in Vietnam for eight years. He survived and helped his fellow prisoners survive too, by being very realistic about short-term outcomes (don't hope you'll be home for Christmas) yet never stopping to believe that they would be free in the end.

  • The Hedgehog Concept. While a fox is very smart an can implement many strategies, the hedgehog has only one, very simple strategy (rolling up to become a sphere full of spikes) and uses it very consistently. Good-to-Great companies are much more like hedgehogs than like foxes. They find out what they can be the best in the world at, what they are passionate about, and what drives their economic engine. These are simple things, nothing sophisticated. Then, they just focus on this core concept that drives all their actions.
  • A Culture of Discipline. In Good-to-Great companies, discipline has nothing to do with tyranny or bureaucracy: it is a mix of liberty and responsibility. Discipline also means staying focused on the hedgehog concept, even if it means renouncing to apparent opportunities.
  • Technology as an Accelerator. Good-to-Great companies do not feel the need to be the first to adopt new technologies. They take the time to understand how they can use technology in a way that is consistent with their hedgehog concept.
A Solid Methodology

Jim COLLINS used to teach at Stanford. To write this book, he worked with a strong team that spent several years collecting and analyzing huge quantities of relevant data. The statistical significance of their method was validated by two distinguished professors: a statistician and a mathematician.

The skeptical reader can find details about this solid methodology in the notes and appendixes.

Good to Great and the Social Sectors

Working in healthcare, I was particularly interested by “Good to Great and the Social Sectors”, a short monography COLLINS wrote to accompany “Good to Great”.

COLLINS explains why, for non-profit organizations, being more “business-like” is not a relevant approach: after all, most companies are either mediocre or merely good anyway.

We should not try to imitate the world of business but embrace (and adapt) the principles that can lead to greatness.

How is this book useful to HR practitioners?

Good to Great challenges some beliefs that are widely shared amongst HR professionals:
  • We often think that we should select the professionals that best fit our organization's strategy. Instead, maybe we should first hire the best professionals and then, define the strategy with them. The “First Who, Then What” principle shows that recruiting is the first step on the path to success. Good news for HR!
  • We are generally interested in the theme of Motivation. COLLINS thinks that it is useless: in his view, if you hire the right people and do not make stupid or unfair decisions, they will always be motivated.
  • The idea of “Level 5 leaders” may challenge our common approach to leadership. Maybe the best leaders are not the most charismatic.
  • Personally, I think I need to use the hedgehog concept. The book has made me understand how discipline and focus are at least as important as creativity and innovation.
Book data

This is the first time that I have posted a comment about a book that was not recommended by a fellow Human Resource professional. I simply felt the urge to read it because it was cited as a must-read in many of the other HR books I have read. I'm happy I made this choice !

Nonetheless, if you are an HR practitioner, please do not hesitate to send me your book recommendations (by e-mail or via @HRbooks on Twitter) or to share your thoughts about Good to Great.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Enchantment, by Guy Kawasaki

The HR expert that recommended this book to me is Christophe Lo Giudice, Chief Editor at Peoplesphere, a Belgian HR magazine and community.

Written in a humorous and informal style by the sympathetic former chief evangelist of Apple, Enchantment is an interesting “how-to book” covering various subjects related to marketing, public relations, entrepreneurship and people management.

The subjects covered are:
  • How to make people like you, including how to smile, dress, accept other people's ideas and values...
  • How to build trust
  • How to prepare and to launch your project, your big idea
  • How to overcome resistance (tips for convincing skeptical people) and how to make your influence last in the long term.
  • How to use presentations, e-mails, websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Youtube
  • How to manage people by enchanting them
  • How to make your boss like you
  • How to avoid being influenced by other people (for example, how to resist mass-media marketing).

How Is Enchantment Useful to HR Practitioners?

Many of Guy Kawasaki's tips can be really useful for HR professionals. They can help us communicate better, help us use the tools of our times to build a stronger influence.
In particular, the chapter titled "How to enchant Your employees" provides interesting leadership advice.

Book Data:

You can follow on Twitter, where he posts huge quantities of interesting stuff (and don't forget to follow also!)

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    The 2011 global ranking of management thinkers: what's in it for HR?

    Thinkers50 has just published its 2011 global ranking of management thinkers. This year, the winner is Clayton Christensen, author of « The Innovator's Dilemma ». For sure, all these 50 gurus have plenty to teach us. 

    And of course, we all should know the basics of innovation, strategy, or marketing. But which of these leading management thinkers are particularly relevant for HR professionals ? I mean, directly related to HR. Approximately half of them are, in my humble opinion. Here is my personal selection:

    Main field of expertise
    Jim Collins
    Marshall Goldsmith
    Marcus Buckingham
    Self management
    Malcolm Gladwell
    Society, career, decision-making
    Sylvia Ann Hewlett
    Talent management, women at work
    Lynda Gratton
    People in organizations, the future of work, collaborative working
    Nitin Nohria
    Motivation, leadership, sustainable performance
    Linda Hill
    Leadership, innovation, cross-organizational relationships, talent management
    Teresa Amabile
    Creativity, organizational life and its influence on people and their performance
    Jeffrey Pfeffer
    Evidence based management, human resources, power, leadership
    David Ulrich
    Leadership, talent, human resources, culture, coaching, change
    Rosabeth Moss Kanter
    Leadership, change, globalization
    Herminia Ibarra
    Leadership, women's careers, career transition
    Daniel Pink
    Career, self employment, motivation
    Henry Mintzberg
    The work of the manager, how managers are trained and developed
    Tammy Erickson
    Generations at work : workforce demographics and values
    Amy Edmondson
    Howard Gardner
    Daniel Goleman
    Emotional Intelligence, leadership
    Vineet Nayar
    Employees First, Customers Second
    Fons Trompenaars
    Cultural Diversity in Business
    Stewart Friedman
    Work/life integration, leadership
    Stephen Covey
    Leadership, personal effectiveness

    Previous posts on this blog have featured books by Stew Friedman, Dave Ulrich and Jeffrey Pfeffer. I now have many reading opportunities for the months to come. Fellow HR pros, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment to let me know which of these thinkers have written the greatest books...

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    Corporate Reputations, Branding and People Management, by MARTIN and HETRICK.

    I owe this great book recommendation to Jean-Marc MICKELER, Partner at Deloitte, Responsible for Employer Branding in France.

    A Challenging Book

    MARTIN and HETRICK are two Scottish HR specialists with both academic and consulting activities. Their book is based on experience, as it offers a number of cases concerning mainly HR challenges in large international corporations.

    It is also based on a theoretical approach, with a very much balanced and critical point of view on MINTZBERG, ULRICH, PFEFFER, PORTER and many more management and HR authors. One typically academic aspect of the book is the emphasis placed on the correct and precise use of concepts:
    • Social identity is not the same as social identification.
    • Psychological ownership is different from engagement, which is not the same as commitment.
    • Corporate reputation differs from corporate image and corporate brand.

    It is thus a challenging book, firstly because it is not easy to read (for me at least) and secondly because it criticizes many popular management ready-to-use ideas:
    • Is it always such a good idea to implement “management best practices” in your organization?
    • Can you really make a distinction between leadership and management?
    • When selecting leaders, should you always focus on the candidates' potential (as opposed to craftsmanship) ?
    • Do most senior executives agree with Milton FRIEDMAN's view that a corporation's sole focus should be to generate high returns for shareholders?
    MARTIN and HETRICK very interestingly answer “no” to these four questions.

    HR and the Corporate Agenda

    The main purpose of the book is to show how HR can contribute to the corporate agenda, which comprises:
    • Corporate branding (what is the corporation's promise?)
    • Corporate reputation (How is it perceived a time goes on)
    • Corporate identity (Who are the members of the organization, what are their affinities?)
    • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
    • Corporate governance

    Here are only a few of the interesting propositions developed in the book:
    • Brand reputation has an impact on sales, through the company's image (the customer view), but also on employee satisfaction and retention,through identity (the employee view).

    • It is important to achieve consistency between these two views, i.e. to make sure that there are no significant gaps between employee's understanding of the organization's identity and how outsiders view its image.

    • HR leaders need to gain a deep, evidence-based, knowledge about the various psychological contracts present in their organization. The notion of psychological contracts is very well defined and deeply discussed in one chapter.

    • The “best practice” approach to HRM, although interesting, can be criticized: context matters a lot when it comes to make management choices.

    • Very much like customer segmentation is an important marketing tool, HR professionals should use workforce segmentation: they should realize that not all employees have the same expectations, needs, abilities or values, so it makes little sense to apply a uniform set of practices.

    • A 21st century approach to corporate communications emphasizes dialogue, interactivity, and involvement of all functions and people. 

    • Becoming an employer of choice does not depend solely on traditional HR practices, but also on the quality of top management, the company's values, and corporate social responsibility. 

    • HR professionals tend to be more and more specialized, i.e. focused on HR itself ad its sub-specialisms. This is a dangerous trend, as it leads our function to become disconnected from the top (lack of connections with the organization's strategy) and from the bottom (lack of direct relationships with employees). Instead of just an expertise, we should see HR also as a craft and as an art. In other words, we should not rely only on our technical specialism, but also on experience, vision and leadership.

    Book data

    You can also find more about the book on, and you can read Graeme MARTIN's HR and People Management blog.  

    I welcome your comments and feedback. If you are an HR professional, please do not hesitate to suggest other HR book recommendations through or by sending me a Twitter DM at @HRbooks.

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    Spiritual Capital - Wealth We Can Live By - by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall

    This book was recommended to me by Laurence VANHEE. The Head of Personnel & Organization at Belgian Ministry of Social Security, Laurence is one of the most influential HR professionals in Belgium.

    An original perspective on Intelligence and Capital

    Zohar and Marshall think that besides Rational Intelligence (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ), lies our Spriritual Intelligence (SQ). Spiritual Intelligence is “the intelligence with which we access our deepest meanings, values, purposes, and highest motivations”.

    Based on this sense of values and fundamental purpose, we can build Spiritual Capital, defined as our knowledge and expertise about who we are, what we stand for and what we live for. At the organizational level, Zohar and Marshall think that a company with a high level of spiritual capital will:
    • Possess a strong sense of values and identity;
    • Engage in an authentic form of corporate social responsibility, based on a genuine concern for “stakeholder value” in which stakeholders include all humans and the whole planet;
    • Generate more profits on the long term, as exemplified by corporations such as Merck, Coca-Cola, British Petroleum or Starbucks. (If you've read Onward, which was my “HR Book of the Month” in August, you might find indeed that it offers an illustration of Zohar an Marshall's theories).

    In order to develop our spiritual capital, we need to move upwards on the scale of motivations. Based on Maslow's famous scale, the authors have developed a new, more sophisticated one, that is composed of 16 levels. The eight inferior levels of motivations correspond to deficiency needs; they range from depersonalization to self-assertion. They mirror the eight superior levels, that are related to higher needs and range from exploration to enlightenment. 
    For example, the fifth level of superior motivations is called Generativity. People who reach this level are extraordinarily creative, and their creativity comes from their love and passion for what they do. Virgin's Richard Branson is a good example: he listed “having fun” as one of his company's core values and he shows great creativity.

    A high level of spiritual intelligence can be measured by 12 criteria. Inspired by the characteristics of complex adaptive systems (Zohar is a physicist), these criteria are:
    • Self-awareness
    • Spontaneity
    • Being vision and value led
    • Holism
    • Compassion
    • Celebration of diversity
    • Field independence (to be able to stand against the crow)
    • Tendency to ask why? questions
    • Ability to reframe
    • Positive use of adversity
    • Humility
    • Sense of vocation

    The book gives examples of how these criteria apply in real life and how an individual or an organization can shift from lower to higher motivations. 
    Zohar and Marshall hope that a limited number of exceptional people,, called Knights, driven by very high motivations, will help the world progress toward greater levels of spiritual capital.

    How is this book useful for HR professionals?
    • It provides an original view on individual and collective intelligence. (And we HR people are interested in what is intelligence.)

    • It also provides a new perspective about motivation.

    • It makes a link between "hard science" (quantum physics) and very “soft” subjects like values, CSR, etc. I must say that, personnally, I wasn't very much convinced by this aspect of the book, but I suspect that it would be an appropriate angle to leverage the interest of more scientific-minded professionals. I mean that if your CEO is an engineer, the book could help him believe that serious, scientific people find values, identity and responsibility important.
    One chapter of the book, called « Shifting Corporate Culture », is especially relevant to HR. It shows how the infrastructures needed to shift culture in the business world include “the methods, style and content of human resources programs”. The eight key issues for corporate culture are very close to the concerns of HR professionals: they are Communication, Relationships, Power, Flexibility, Fairness, Trust, Truth and Empowerment.

    • Spiritual Capital – Wealth We Can Live By
    • Danah Zohar, Ian Marshall
    • Bloomsbury
    • 249 pages
    • Available on SPIRITUAL CAPITAL

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    « Onward » by Howard SCHULTZ, with Joanne GORDON

    This book was recommended to me by award-winning HR blogger Ron THOMAS. You should definitely check out his Strategy Focused HR blog if you haven't already.

    After being Starbucks Coffee's CEO for many years, Howard SCHULTZ at one point stepped aside to become chairman. But when, in 2007, he realized that the company was sort of losing its soul, obsessed with growth and short-term metrics, he returned as CEO.

    The book tells how he put in place what he called a “transformation agenda”, an ambitious program that would allow Starbucks to survive the economic crisis and to start developing again.

    SCHULTZ offers a detailed account of the operations, that included:
    • Redefining Starbucks' mission statement
    • Organizing a huge event in New Orleans, gathering thousands of Starbucks managers
    • Fixing bug problems in the supply chain system
    • Closing stores, laying off people
    • Changing the corporate leadership team
    • Innovating in new products and coffee machines
    • Focusing on the company's core values: a love for coffee and a deep commitment mainly to the community, to coffee producers in poor countries and to the employees' healthcare system

    One good thing about the book is that it tells the successes, but also the hesitations and the failures that SCHULTZ had to face.

    How is this book useful to HR practitioners?

    Reading this book was a real pleasure, as fascinating as reading a good novel. I learned a lot about:
    • Great leadership and internal communication good practices
    • How big international companies work and make decisions
    • How a mission statement and the definition of a company's core values can go well beyond rhetoric and be placed at the center of a company's change management strategy

    The book also shows us how difficult it can be for a great leader to find a successor: what will happen when Howard SCHULTZ has to step aside for good?


    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    The HR Value Proposition, by Dave ULRICH and Wayne BROCKBANK

    This book is a recommendation from Bryan JACKSON, who told me it is one of his favorite. Bryan is a senior HR professional based in Indiana and the cofounder of a web agency called East44 ( You can find more about Bryan on

    In this book, HR superstar Dave ULRICH and his associate Wayne BROCKBANK tell us how to build an HR strategy aimed at creating real value for the complete range of an organization’s stakeholders: internal and external.

    Broadening the impact of HR

    While a traditional approach to human resources would focus on what HR can bring to employees and line managers, the first think the authors do here is to broaden the scope. They invite HR pros to scan external business realities like technology, economic and regulatory issues, demographics and globalization and they tell us how HR should play an active role in relation to:

    • Investors. An organization’s market value is the addition of tangibles and intangibles. Intangibles are qualitative, immaterial characteristics of a firm that have a positive influence on its stock value: quality of top management, ability to change quickly, customer orientation, internal collaboration are only a few examples. HR professionals should be investor-literate and understand how to reinforce this type of capabilities.
    • Customers. We HR pros should understand what is valuable to our organization’s most important external clients. We should put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and ask what kind of an impact our decisions can have on their experience. When hiring new employees or designing a performance system, for example, we should keep the customer’s in mind.
    • Line managers. Their role is to implement the firm’s strategy and to achieve its goals. How do we contribute? By building trust with these managers and by helping our organization acquire or develop relevant capabilities, like talent, a shared mindset, accountability, innovation, customer connection, etc.
    • Employees. Employees will bring value if they think they will get value in return. We should build an Employee Value Proposition that specifies what they will get from the firm. We should also ensure employees have the relevant abilities to implement the organization’s strategy.

    How to adapt HR strategies, processes, organization and competencies to this new perspective?

    To build an HR strategy that adds value, we should first analyze the impact that global external trends have on our business and reach good internal business literacy, with a perfect understanding of the organization’s strategy. Then we should focus on culture: which traits of our organization (its capabilities) and our people (their abilities) do best fit the strategy? Now, which HR practices will contribute to developing these traits? And what HR competencies do we need to have to implement these practices?

    Dave ULRICH has famously analyzed the different roles of HR managers:
    • Employee advocate
    • Human capital developer
    • Strategic partner
    • Functional expert
    • HR leader

    In this book, he explains how each of these roles adds value to stakeholders.

    ULRICH, BROCKBANK and others also conducted a vast study about HR competencies. In the book, they show which competencies add more value.

    How is this book useful to HR practitioners?

    As an HR pro, you want to read this book if:
    • You need to define your department’s strategy and organization;
    • You want to gain credibility and impact among the top leadership team;
    • You want yourself and your HR colleagues to develop the right competencies to add maximum value to the organization.
    This very serious and visionary book provides the theoretical insight and some useful practical tools to reach these objectives.

    • The HR Value Proposition
    • By Dave ULRICH and Wayne BROCKBANK
    • Harvard Business Press
    • 281 pages
    • Available on

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    "Leadership - Enhancing the Lessons of Experience" by Hugues, Ginnett and Curphy

    Joseph FLERON, owner of Dimension Consultance, is a top-level speaker, coach and consultant focusing on personal development, leadership, and team dynamics. Joseph recommended me this book, describing it as “rather academic, very serious but offering a really good synthesis on the theme of leadership”.

    Indeed, this 700-page manual was created for an audience of university students. Nevertheless, I find it extremely useful for any leadership practitioner, because it offers a perspective on leadership that is wide, practical and rigorously scientific at the same time. 

    A wide perspective on leadership

    Hugues, Ginnett and Curphy define leadership as “the process of influencing an organized group toward accomplishing its goals”. This process involves an interaction between:
    •   the leader,
    •   the followers and
    •   the situation.
    The book addresses these three dimensions in very much detail. Here are some of the many subjects developed in this manual:
    • Leadership versus Management
    • The role of education and experience in leadership development
    • Assessing leadership
    • Influence tactics
    • Leadership and values
    • Leadership and personality traits
    • Leadership and intelligence
    • Emotional intelligence
    • Follower motivation, satisfaction and performance
    • Effective teams
    • Contingency theories of leadership such as the Normative Decision Model, the Situational Leadership ® Model, the Contingency Model and the Path-Goal Model
    • Different approaches of change management: the rational approach and the theory of transformational and transactional leadership

    Practical advice for leadership practitioners

    The manual is packed with real-life leadership stories, covering various sectors such as big corporations, rural communities, SME’s, health care or the military. It is illustrated by many short, inspiring leader profiles.

    It also provides recommendations about the following leadership skills:
    • Learning from experience
    • Communication and Listening
    • Assertiveness
    • Stress management
    • Building technical competence
    • Building effective relationships with superiors and with peers
    • Building credibility
    • Providing constructive feedback
    • Punishment
    • Delegating
    • Team building for work teams
    • Development planning
    • Coaching
    • Empowerment
    • Setting goals
    • Conducting meetings
    • Managing conflict
    • Negotiation
    • Problem solving
    • Improving creativity
    • Diagnosing performance problems
    • Team building at the top

    Hum… it seems to me that I still have a lot of work before mastering just a tiny part of these skills. But reading this advice is a good start!

    Scientific Validity

    Hugues, Ginnett and Curphy’s views are based on a critical analysis of scientific research about leadership. There are 1.385 end-of-chapter notes, pointing to many more books than I will read in my entire life.

    The authors deconstruct some myths about leadership. Each time they explain a leadership theory, they tell us whether it was validated on the ground or in the labs by independent scientific researchers. They show us the usefulness but also the limitations of many popular concepts and tools, such as emotional intelligence or the MBTI.
    How Is This Book Useful to a Human Resource Practitioner?

    We could use the lessons of Hugues, Ginnett and Curphy’s manual when exercising different HR roles:

    • As recruiters: to select the best leaders or leaders-to-be
    • As Human Capital Developers and Coaches: to help the leaders in our organization develop their skills
    • As Strategic Partners: to implement a leadership talent management system in line with the strategy of our organization
    • As Change Agents, because the book provides some good advice about change management
    • And perhaps even as Employee Advocates, when we need to explain to some leaders the do’s and don’ts of employee motivation.

    Because of its focus on scientific validity, HR pros can also use this book to secure their decisions when they need to make a choice about the use of certain HR or leadership tools. For example: would it make sense to use the MBTI in the situation I am facing at the moment?

    The book can also be a negotiation resource when you need to convince some partners (your colleagues, your board…) about the usefulness and validity of an HR project you would like to implement. An example might be if you need to convince your board that investing in assessment centers when recruiting leaders will have a positive impact on the bottom line.


    • Leadership. Enhancing the Lessons of Experience (sixth edition).
    • By Richard L. HUGUES, Robert C. GINNETT and Gordon J. CURPHY
    • Mc Graw-Hill International Edition
    • 704 pages
    • Available on


    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy” and “Games People Play” by Eric BERNE

    Anne BURNIAUX, HR Consultant and Owner of Sensink, advised me to read “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy”.

    As you may have guessed by reading its title, this book does not exactly focus on management or human resources. And let's admit it: maybe it's not the book you want to read on the beach next summer! Nevertheless, it is so insightful that every manager should read it, even if it requires a certain amount of effort and concentration. 

    Eric BERNE, an American psychiatrist (1910-1970), tells us some clinical cases and explains his theory, called structural analysis and transactional analysis.

    To state it very simply (my apologies to any rigorous specialist who might read this), BERNE thinks that the way we think and act depends on which “ego state” we find ourselves currently in:

    • The Child reproduces emotions and behaviors that we really experienced during our childhood. It makes us act “instinctively” and with charm, be creative, and seek pleasure.
    • The Parent focuses on morality, telling us whats is good or wrong like our father and mother did.
    • The Adult is rational and exerts social control.

    So for example, if you see an enormous cake, your Child might tell you to eat it all, your Parent might make you feel ashamed and your Adult might tell you to eat just one piece so you don't get sick.

    BERNE thinks that in our relationships, we spend most of the time using “Pastimes” and playing “Games”. A typical Pastime is talking about the weather: it's a way to avoid entering a meaningful relationship with someone. A Pastime becomes a Game when the transactions cease to be straightforward, when there is dissimulation. A Script is a little bit like a Game, but it is more complex and influences the way we live our life on the long term.
    BERNE used to teach these basic concepts to his patients. Using individual interviews but also therapeutic groups, he tried to help their Adult understand their pathology and take control of the situation.

    I found it so interesting that I decided to read another famous book by the same author: “Games People Play – The Psychology of Human Relationships”. The two are quite complementary, as the first draws the general theory and the second illustrates it, by offering a thesaurus a common “games”.

    BERNE describes various types of games: life games, marital games, party games, sexual games, underworld games, consulting room games and good games.

    How Are These Books Useful to an HR Professional?

    Such books should definitely be used with caution. Reading a few hundred pages about psychotherapy won't make you a psychiatrist. Mastering transactional analysis theories and techniques requires proper education and experience.

    Nevertheless, as an HR professional I am glad to have become familiar with Berne’s concepts, mainly for two reasons:

    1. Transactional Analysis is used by many coaches and HR consultants. If I get to work with one of them, I want to know what they are talking about.
    2. It provides a conceptual framework that helps me understand some situations. A colleague of mine has been adopting a behavior that made me feel bad and seemed irrational. I have now understood that when she does that, it is her Child that is in control and that she is playing a game. It has helped me handle the situation and avoid being manipulated.

    More generally, BERNE provides us a framework to understand human relationships, which are the fundamental elements of our discipline.


    To learn more about Eric BERNE and watch two nice videos in which he talks about games and transactional analysis, you can visit

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy FERRIS

    François TOMAS, Senior HR Consultant at Hudson, told me this book is useful to HR professionals because it shows us, in a quite radical manner, how the Y generation considers works, life and mobility.

    So I bought the book and read, on top of its cover, a quote of Stewart FRIEDMAN, of whom I am a big fan, saying « This is a whole new ball game. Highly recommended ». Like FRIEDMAN's Total Leadership (commented in a previous post), this « 4-Hour Workweek » has the potential to transform the way you manage yourself.

    Their style is different, though: while FRIEDMAN is a very wise professional, an accomplished scientist, I would rather call FERRIS a smart guy.

    Very smart indeed, as he tells the readers all the tricks he has used to work less (much less), earn more (much more) and live his dreams. How do you make money while sipping a cocktail on a Brazilian beach?

    Tim FERRIS calls his field "lifestyle design" and his method “DEAL”, as in:

    • Define: identify your ideal lifestyle, your most important dreams, and the revenue you need to generate to accomplish them.
    • Eliminate: PARETO's law says that 20% of your efforts yield 80% of your results. So if you are clever enough to identify the right 20%, maybe you can afford working five times less and still keep 80% of your revenue. Virtually eliminating meetings, reducing email processing to a few hours a week, delegating administrative tasks to a cheap Indian virtual assistant are other tricks to save a lot of time.
    • Automate: FERRIS shows how to set up a business process that requires a very minimal level of intervention from its owner: set it up, check once a week the indicators and answer a few questions by your subcontractors, then let the money flow.
    • Liberate: FERRIS tells you, among many other things, how to have your boss authorize you to work from home, even when, eventually, your home gets to be at the other end of the globe because you have always dreamed of learning tango in Buenos Aires or martial arts in Korea.

    How Is This Book Useful to an HR Professional?

    I see three ways an HR Manager could use this book:
    1. As François told me, it helps you understand some fascinating trends about the Y-generation and the future of work: mobility, independence (even boldness), a sense of meaningful purpose, etc.

    2. You can become a more productive professional by using some of FERRIS' tricks and tools about time management, process-design, or e-marketing. You'll find other tricks useful for your private live, especially those about traveling.

    3. You can take the book on the first degree and really try to design your lifestyle so to work less and live like a millionaire.

    Personally, I chose option 1 first and I am currently contemplating options 2 and 3... Don't tell my boss! ;-)


    Monday, March 21, 2011

    EGOnomics, by David MARCUM and Steven SMITH

    This book was recommended to me by Suzanne LUCAS, the great HR blogger also known as The Evil HR Lady. You can follow Suzanne on

    The Power, and Danger, of Ego

    For MARCUM and SMITH, ego affects the bottom line of any organization, because it is both an asset and a liability: it gives us confidence to use our strengths, but also turns them into weaknesses.

    Four early warning signs help us notice when ego starts to have a negative impact:
    1. Being comparative: when we can't stop comparing ourselves to competitors, giving up our potential in the name of becoming better than someone else.
    2. Being defensive: when, instead of openly debating to cover every angle of a debate before we make a decision, we defend our positions as if we're defending who we are.
    3. Showcasing brilliance: when we try to make our talent the center of attention, instead of using collective intelligence, which is much more powerful.
    4. Seeking acceptance: when we become oversensitive to what people think of us, which keeps us from being true to ourselves.

    To keep ego working like an asset rather than a liability, one should follow three basic principles:

    1) Humility

    Humility makes us see collective interests before our own individual ones: it is 'we, then me'. It makes us aware that nothing is perfect, so there is always one more thing we can do: that state of mind is called constructive discontent and is the key to greatness. It also makes us acknowledge that we can be knowledgeable and at the same time ignorant, strong and weak, capable and incomplete.

    Humility can help us manage the level of intensity in a debate: vigorous debates require a heavy investment of humility to keep intensity productive. It keeps vigor from becoming violence, and also keeps us from being lulled into courteous but meaningless exchange.

    2) Curiosity

    Curiosity can be a state or a trait. The few people blessed with that trait have a rare blend of order and openness. Whatever innovation process we use and no matter what we design, the level of curiosity has a profound impact on the brilliance of the outcome. When trying to innovate or testing an idea, we can ask four questions to spark curiosity:
    • What do we mean? (clarity)
    • What are we seeing? (context)
    • What are we assuming? (assumptions)
    • What does that lead to? (consequence)

    3) Veracity

    Veracity is defined as the habitual pursuit of, and adherence to, truth.

    Most people believe truth telling is risky. This is partly due to a common belief that dissent is disloyalty, which makes us close our mind when in fact, more often than not, there's positive intent behind a negative comment.

    If we want those "above" us to hear what we have to say, we need to speak with humility. The three steps we should follow are 1) establish permission 2) make our intentions clear and 3) be candid.

    How Is This Book Useful to an HR Professional?

    I think we can use the insights and tools provided by MARCUM and SMITH for a variety of HR-related purposes, such as:
    • Managing change and innovation
    • Handling conflicts
    • Making meetings and debates more productive
    • Managing 'difficult' employees


    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management, by Alan Murray

    This book was recommended to me by Sam Wilkins, Director of South Carolina's Office of Human Resources, an organization that delivers HR expertise to that state's agencies and Assembly.

    Here is what Mr Wilkins wrote to me :

    "The most recent book I read is 'The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management' by Alan Murray.  While this book targets all managers, I think it is particularly relevant to human resources managers who are helping their agencies find the 'new normal' after the Great Recession."

    A short overview of contemporary management thought

    Alan Murray, Deputy Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal, finds himself in contact with a lot of CEOs. He asked them what management books have had the strongest influence on them. Their answers included Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma", Cialdini's "Influence", "Blue Ocean Strategy", by Kim and Mauborgne, "Good to Great" by Collins, "The Black Swan", by Taleb, and many, many others.

    Murray's guide offers a short overview of all that management knowledge. It offers simple explanations and useful tips about twelve subjects:
    • Management
    • Leadership
    • Motivation
    • People
    • Strategy
    • Execution
    • Teams
    • Change
    • Financial Literacy
    • Going Global
    • Ethics
    • Managing Yourself

    How is it useful to an HR practitioner?

    Several of theses subjects, like People, Motivation, or Teams, are directly relevant to HR managers. Others, like Strategy, Financial Literacy, or Going Global, help us developing our general management knowledge and skills.

    If you have read this book, please share your comments!


    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    "Power", by Jeffrey Pfeffer

    I am an INFP. If you are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, you may know that this stands for 'idealist'.

    So this book was sort of a cure to me, a great lesson of pragmatism.

    Some of the advices Pfeffer gives us might seem somewhat cynical. For example:
    • As long as you keep your bosses happy, performance doesn't matter that much.
    • Established rules play in favor of those who already have the power. If you are in a high position, you should play by the rules and invite others to do so. If you aren't, you best interest might be to break them.
    • Likability is overrated.
    • The secret of leadership is the ability to play a role, to pretend, to be skilled in the theatrical arts.
    I am not a person who likes this kind of ideas, but Pfeffer shows with great talent how true they are.A Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford, Pfeffer knows a lot about how people reach power, or lose it. This book is Machiavelli 2.0.

    Building on scientific studies and empirical evidence, he shows that we have no choice but recognizing the necessity of organizational politics and tells us how to act strategically to reach a position of power.

    This brilliant book is a must-read if your ambition is to become a CEO... or just to keep your job!

    From an HR point of view, this book is also very useful, as it helps us identify the personal characteristics that will allow someone to become a real leader: ambition, energy, focus, self-knowledge, confidence, empathy, capacity to tolerate conflict.