Time for a little HR inspiration. Phew, 2020 was one heck of a ride. Though challenging on many fronts, the year reminded us of our resilience, inspired extraordinary creativity, and strengthened our connections with one another in spirited solidarity.
As 18th-century poet Alexander Pope famously penned: “hope springs eternal.” To that end, we’re sharing our list of ten great reads for 2021. Fodder for thought as we anticipate, with optimism and hope, the unknown frontiers ahead.
From microaggressions to the wage gap, The Memo empowers women of color with actionable advice on challenges and offers a clear path to success. Most business books provide a one-size-fits-all approach to career advice that overlooks the unique barriers that women of color face.
In The Memo, author Minda Harts offers a career guide tailored specifically for women of color. Harts has been a featured speaker at American Express, Nike, Levi’s, Twitch, Amazon, Google, SAP, LinkedIn, and SXSW among other corporations as well as top universities and colleges. She’s also been featured on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Time Magazine, and Essence Magazine, and brings her powerhouse experience to the page with wit and candor. Acknowledging the “ugly truths” that keep women of color from having a seat at the table in corporate America, The Memo provides straight talk on how to navigate networking, office politics, and money, while showing how to make real change to the system.
Can you be in HR for more than 30 years and still be obsessed about it? The answer according to author Steve Browne is a loud and definitive YES. Browne takes a fresh look at HR through an engaging assortment of real-life examples, insights, and epiphanies. A self-proclaimed HR geek, Browne’s book HR on Purpose encourages practitioners to drop preconceptions of what HR should be and instead look at what HR could be. Browne’s goal is to rekindle your passion for a field that is vibrant and vital and touches the lives of everyone you encounter.
The Washington Post reviews Blindspot as “Accessible and authoritative . . . While we may not have much power to eradicate our own prejudices, we can counteract them. The first step is to turn a hidden bias into a visible one. . . . “ Self-perceptions are challenged by leading psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald as they explore the hidden biases we all carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, and nationality. First published in 2016, this is a timely read for these times of Black Lives Matter movements and the emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. Writing with simplicity and verve, Banaji and Greenwald question the extent to which our perceptions of social groups—without our awareness or conscious control—shape our likes and dislikes and our judgments about people’s character, abilities, and potential. Blindspot explains the science behind unconscious biases with the aim to help well-intentioned people gain awareness, adapt beliefs and behavior, and “outsmart the machine” in our heads so we can be fairer to those around us. Venturing into this book is an invitation to understand our own minds.
When the balance of power is squarely in job-seekers’ hands how can organizations attract and retain the most talented candidates and best additions to their culture? The answer may surprise you. Employer brand thought leaders Bryan Adams and Charlotte Marshall redefine the concept of an employee value proposition entirely. Instead of a sales pitch aimed at seducing candidates with sizzle, their approach harnesses the value found in an organization’s cultural expectations and realities. Pooling their experiences and insights Adams and Marshall pull back the curtain on how to answer the burning questions on candidates’ minds. They address how to create a “smart filter” that brings top talent to the surface and into the fold, how to elevate your organization’s strengths, and how to pair these attributes with what it truly takes for employees to thrive. The ultimate goal is to inspire your company leaders to commit to a methodology with the power to positively impact the entire organization.
As a thought leader in the field of diversity and inclusion, Mary-Frances Winters has been helping organizations create inclusive environments for over three decades. In this concise and powerful book she shows how to have bold, inclusive conversations. We Can’t Talk About That at Work! invites HR practitioners to reconsider how to deal with difficult conversations. From matters of diversity and inclusion, sexual harassment, politics, and mental health, HR professionals have had to conduct some thorny conversations with employees across several sensitive areas. Winter’s work sheds light on understanding the nuts and bolts of effective communication, and how the right culture in any organization is a vital agent of change.
Written for organizations that want high-functioning and radically invested employees, no matter where they’re working, Pantsless Nation is a practical guide to handling the biggest concerns for leaders of virtual teams. Jada Willis uses examples of companies of all sizes that are thriving in this remote world and offers tips for leveraging communication techniques, unlocking productivity secrets, and building people connections. As CEO of Willis HR and leader of her own remote team, she offers recommendations that can help leaders create an environment where employees are fully invested and feel a sense of belonging, alongside suggestions about how to coach and establish accountability without micromanaging, how to inspire productivity and initiative, and how to foster a culture of trust and respect. For leaders new to leading in a virtual environment, this is your toolbox for managing an unstoppable remote team.
This might not be a predictable pick if you’re looking for books on workplace well-being. But Shredded certainly spells out why you should work to build a work culture that’s inclusive of well-being, and makes a strong business case for tackling individuals who exploit their positions. A bullying culture of fear inside the Royal Bank of Scotland was part of the reason it failed. Ian Fraser tells the story of RBS brilliantly. It’s a gripping read that demonstrates the importance of well-being, diversity and inclusion, and underscores how we must encourage and listen to the voice of employees.
What will the new year and those to follow in the years and decades beyond look like? As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, and the world feels more polarized than ever, Yuval Noah Harari addresses the challenge of navigating life in the face of constant and disorienting change. 21 Lessons raises the important questions we need to ask ourselves. What will the future workforce look like? How should we ready ourselves for it? What should we teach our children? This is a fascinating read that’s not HR specific but serves up some pretty heady stuff about complex contemporary issues: social diversity and exclusion, AI’s world-altering impact, and what career and change management could look like in the not-so-distant future.
Tony Hsieh’s focus on culture was visionary and impacted so many people. His book, Delivering Happiness is a great read if you haven’t dug into it before, or one to revisit a second or third time as a reminder of where unconventional thinking can lead. How can using happiness as a business framework produce profits, passion, and purpose in both business and professional life? This question is answered with down-to-earth frankness in an HR essential read that’s been profiled by The Washington Post, CNBC, TechCrunch, The Huffington Post and The Wall Street Journal. It debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed on the list for 27 consecutive weeks. In Delivering Happiness, the prophetic entrepreneur behind Zappos (the online retailer acquired by Amazon in a deal valued over $1.2B) detailed his philosophical premise: by concentrating on the happiness of those around you, you can dramatically increase your own. This message is especially poignant in the wake of COVID-19 stresses and the need for empathy. Delivering Happiness appears on this list for a second year, in homage to the author and the sad news of his death on November 27, 2020.
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