Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | October 23, 2009

Your Book Report is Due

Your Book Report is Due
By Mike Deblieux, SPHR

The Internet is a great resource. It provides information in a timely, cost-effective manner. It is bright, colorful, and for many, addictive. Most modern day humans would be lost without it. Goldsmith and inventor, Johannes Gutenberg could hardly have known what he was starting when he built his first printing press in the 1440’s.

But whether he knew it or not Gutenberg left us with a treasure that will outlast the mystery and miracle of the Internet. It is called a book. It remains an essential tool for an HR professional. The Internet is quick and easy. It is like a run to the store to get milk. A book is slow and time consuming. It is more like a day trip to the country to find special antique for that empty spot in your living room. The Internet provides snippets. A book provides background and insights. Both are essential to a successful HR career.

If you have read this far, the little voice in your head is probably saying, “I like to read a good book. I just don’t have the time.” Unfortunately for your little voice, time is not the real issue. Your friends that read books have the same twenty four hours a day that you have. You just choose to spend your time on other things. You are not alone. One third of high school graduates choose not to read a complete book over the rest of their lifetime. Forty-two percent of college graduates make the same decision (Source: So here is a plan to help you out. A typical book includes ten chapters. It takes about half an hour to read a chapter. If you read one chapter a day, you will complete 36.5 books per year. Your friends will be impressed. You will win the book worm award at your next high school or college reunion.

So what should you read? You have to decide what works for you. But one thing to keep in mind is that we tend to read books that tell us more about what we already know. An important part of learning and growing is finding out about new ideas, concepts, and theories that challenge your own personal paradigms. As an HR professional, it means reading across a series of HR disciplines to round out your knowledge.

2010 is just around the corner. It is time think about making resolutions. Suppose you decide to commit to reading one book a month. Here is a list of twelve possible titles for you to add to your “finished reading” library:

1. The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome, Jean-Francois Manzoni & Jean-Louis Barsoux, Harvard Business School Press, 2002. This book is first on this list for a reason. It should be required reading for every HR professional and line manager. It has a sub-title of “How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail.” It explains what HR professionals struggle to help line managers understand every day – that the problem is not always the employee. You cannot get the concepts that this book explains on a single webpage. You have to read and understand the background and insights provided by the research that the authors conducted.

2. Sexual Harassment and the Law, The Mechelle Vinson Case, Augustus B. Cochran III, University Press of Kansas, 2004. The Supreme Court used Mechelle Vinson’s case to establish that sexual harassment is a form discrimination protected by the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is one thing to sit in a seminar and listen to an attorney explain the legal nuances of the case. It is quite another to read in detail about the real person and what she experienced.

 3. Managing Transitions, Making the Most of Change, William Bridges, Persus Books, 1991. This book should only count for one quarter of a book (125 pages) on your list of accomplishments. It may, however, be the gem on this list. It packs a powerful message about what change is and how it should be managed. It will likely find a special place in your office where you can reach for it and refer to it frequently.

4. HR and the New Hispanic Workforce, Louis V. Nevaer and Vaso Perimenis Ekstein, Davis-Black Publishing and the Society for Human Resources Management, 2007. This is a book with important insights about a large and growing segment of the workforce. It should make you want to read more about the many diverse populations you serve as an HR professional.

5. The Essentials of Negotiation, Harvard Business School Publishing and the Society for Human Resources Management, 2005.This is not an exciting book. It is an important one. As an HR professional, you negotiate constantly. You cannot negotiate if you are not prepared. You cannot negotiate successfully if you do not understand the concepts and strategies of basic negotiation principles.

 6. Investigating Workplace Harassment, Amy Oppenheimer and Craig Pratt, Society for Human Resources Management, 2003.This book has value far beyond sexual harassment investigations. It outlines the key steps and principles that lead to an objective workplace investigation. It is a book that should be on your desk. It should be marked in yellow, flagged with sticky notes, and worn beyond use within two years.

7. Permission Marketing, Seth Godin, Simon & Schuster, 1999. Most professionals need to know a lot more about the principles of marketing. It is what you do when you  introduce a new program or workplace initiative. You will venture outside of the world of HR when you curl up under a warm fire to read this little book. You will find yourself intrigued with the concepts of finding the right people, at the right time to do what you need them to do (can you spell applicant?).

8. Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan Al Switzler, McGraw-Hill, 2002. This is one of those, “where has this book been my entire career” books for your bookshelf. The research that it explains shows how we avoid difficult conversations, botch them when we finally decide to have them, and how to get better at them.

 9. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Patrick Lencioni, Jossey-Bass, 2007. Patrick Lencioni has a way of explaining a complex issue in a “that makes so much sense” manner. This volume defines and explains the three key elements of a job that allow employees to be the best they can be in their work.

10. The Differentiated Workforce, Brian E. Becker, Mark A. Huselid, Richard W. Beatty, Harvard Business Press, 2009. Caution: Do not pick this book up unless you are ready to be challenged about everything you have ever thought about HR. You will never look at benchmarking, equal, and consistent in the same way again after you read this book. It is a book about strategic management and how HR gets in the way of strategic managers. You may not agree with everything it has to say, but you cannot afford to continue your HR career without reading it.

11. Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital, John W. Boudreau and Peter M. Ramstad, Harvard Business Press, 2007. Talent Management is more than an HR buzzword. It is a way of corporate life. The term packs a strong message about strategically managing a workforce. This book explains one of the elements of what it takes to get a real seat at the leadership table of your organization.

12. Discipline Without Punishment, Dick Grote, AMACOM, 1995. This book should have been on the New York Times Best Seller List when it was published. It was not. It should be a treasured volume on your bookshelf after you read it and mark it up. Just ask yourself this question, “Have you ever seen an employee return from a three day suspension without pay motivated to do a good job?” If you answered yes, you can skip this book. If you answered no, you need to carve out some time to completely redesign the corrective action process your employer follows.

13. Human Resources Management, Robert L. Mathis and John L. Jackson, Thomson South-Western, 2008. This is a bonus book. It is a textbook. If you took an introductory HR course in college, you probably read it. You probably sold it back to the book store at the end of the semester. That was a mistake. You should not need a college professor to tell you to read it. It explains the principles of our profession. It is a must for anyone considering the PHR or SPHR exam.

That should get you started. You may have your own favorites. It would be great if you would share them with your colleagues on the PIHRA Listserv, or at an upcoming PIHRA District meeting, or just with a few close friends.

HR is a profession. A professional seeks knowledge that goes beyond the surface of easy to find information. A good book is based on research. It provides in-depth insights that require time and patience to understand and apply. It challenges what you think you already know and makes you want to learn more. It cannot be replaced with the click of mouse.

Mike Deblieux, SPHR, writes HR Concepts to provide insights into fundamental human resources issues and principles. You can contact Mike at 714-293-9156 or



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