The seven must-read management books

Many of the profession’s leading lights attribute their success in part to key management tomes that helped them on their route to the top. Scott Beagrie asked seven HR directors and consultants which books they always go back to.

Andrew Marston, HR director, Greater Manchester Police, chooses Delivering Results: A New Mandate for Human Resource Professionals, by Dave Ulrich.
Published by Harvard Business School Press
ISBN 0875848699

I confess to not being a great reader of management textbooks, but when I heard Dave Ulrich speak at a conference in 1999, I was absolutely knocked out and had to get the book. It has provided the basis for my approach to HR since then and probably before then, although I did not realise it.

The book introduces the idea of ‘HR with attitude’ and encourages HR professionals to challenge and push back, to make predictions and take bold stands, and to face tough calls and make them.

However, it warns that this approach has to be based on a thorough knowledge of the organisation and the mastery of the key competencies of HR performance – understanding the business, delivering effective HR practice, managing the culture, managing change and above all personal credibility.

In simple terms, if we cannot get the basics right, we can’t hope to influence at the strategic level in the organisation.

Ulrich identifies that our success in making change happen and becoming strategic rests upon our ability as the employee champion and administrative expert.

It should be read by those who are happy to abandon the core operational HR functions in pursuit of strategic business partner roles because they risk missing the key point that you can’t have one without the other.

For me, Ulrich’s work is a constant source of encouragement and endorsement to do better. Even now, its message is simple, clear common sense.

Carol-Ann White, global HR director, PR consultancy Lewis Communications, selects Dealing with the employee from hell: A guide to coaching and motivation, by Shaun Belding.
Published by Kogan Page
ISBN 0749444533

This was referred to me by a colleague from the HR world who raved about its entertaining but informative style. It offers a no-nonsense approach to any level of manager on how to effectively manage challenging employees. Bursting with good examples, it acts as an easy-to-use guide ranging from problem identification to goal setting and dealing with appraisals.

Written in a straight-talking, humorous style, it describes almost every imaginable nightmare employee, with easy-to-follow tips on how to transform them into the most desirable team player. Whether it is the ‘office gossip’, the ‘snake in the grass’ or the ‘all about me’, they are all easily recognisable characters that many managers will have encountered during their careers.

Although not especially inspirational, it has proved to be an extremely useful reference point, filled with practical examples on how to adapt your style to deal with even the most trying employee. Aimed at all levels, from team leaders to directors, I have certainly referred to it on more than one occasion.

Chris Welford, head of talent and assessment at human capital management consultancy Penna, opts for Karaoke Capitalism: Managing for Mankind, by Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordstrom.
Published by Financial Times Prentice Hall
ISBN 0273687476

“Does access to a toilet provide any sustainable competitive advantage?” ask Ridderstrale and Nordstrom of modern companies in Karaoke Capitalism, their sequel to Funky Business.

In a world dominated by dull business books – most of which contain a great deal more froth than cappuccino – the writing of these Swedish academics is nothing short of delightful. If I ever need inspiration or just a highly original perspective on the perplexing business world in which we all operate, I know that I will find it here. The secret of a great management text is to be as entertaining as it is educational. Full marks on both counts.

Bronwen Philpott, director of personnel, Monarch Airlines, chooses The Employer Brand: Bringing the Best of Brand Management to People at Work, by Simon Barrow and Richard Mosley.
Published by John Wiley & Sons
ISBN 0470012730

I found this book easy to read and very useful as it contains great case studies and useful tips on how to a build coherent brand framework from the start.

As all HR directors know, how potential employees view a future employer can be critical to the business’ success or failure. Building a strong employer brand increases an organisation’s ability to attract and retain talent.

The real value of a successful brand is not just measured by the profit margin, but in the quality of your people. This book is a great management guide to achieving this.

Alison Gill, managing director, talent management consultancy Getfeedback, selects Managerial Competence: The Key to Excellence, by Harold Schroder.
Published by Kendall Hunt Publishing Company
ISBN 0840355408

A colleague first recommended this to me in 1996, and it has proved to be an invaluable aid ever since. Schroder’s leading-edge thinking – for the time – defines what it is that high-performing leaders do that is distinctly different from their less able colleagues. The book’s central message is two-fold: first, that leadership is learnable; and second, that the more complex and dynamic an organisation is, the more high-performance leadership makes a measurable difference to business performance.

The book uses a concrete evidential approach to communicate methods for developing talented individuals. In writing this book, Schroder makes the concept of talent very accessible. Prior to his groundbreaking research, the financial contribution of great leadership was poorly defined. This book prioritises how HR can provide competitive advantage through people.

Incredibly advanced for its time, and sadly now out of print, only recently have we seen organisations fully exploit strategies of a similar level to those outlined in Schroder’s book.

Maureen Macnamara, HR director, Computers In Personnel, chooses Funky Business., by Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordstrom.
Published by Financial Times Prentice Hall
ISBN 0273659073

I came across Funky Business, by dynamic Swedish duo Ridderstrale and Nordstrom, at an HR event a few years ago after attending one of their seminars.

Filled with great HR learning pointers on how to invite people to think rather than telling people what to think, this is a really worthwhile read.
The book’s central message advises organisations to move on from traditional roles, jobs, skills and strategies and embrace instead the changing circumstances and unpredictability of our times. It highlights that only human talent will allow an organisation to escape the unremarkable and embrace instead the unique, innovative and ‘funky’ and serves as a great reminder of how to keep HR moving forwards.

Kevin Kerrigan, managing director, assessment provider SHL, opts for Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace, by Ricardo Semler.
Published by Warner
ISBN 0446670553

Soon after leaving the Army I came across a review by Semler on how he transformed Brazilian company Semco. Coming from a very hierarchical and controlling culture, his approach and implementation appeared to be completely novel and extremely challenging.

The key theme in his work is to trust the employees. If this is maintained, they will dramatically improve the organisation, from participating in the recruitment of new employees, choosing new business locations and even determining the chief executive’s pay.

When I want to think radically and need inspiration, I often revert back to this book.

Further reading

If the main recommendations on these pages have not provided enough inspiration, try these five management ‘classics’.

  • Living Strategy: Putting People at the Heart of Corporate Purpose
    By Lynda Gratton
    Financial Times Prentice Hall
    ISBN 0273650157
    In a sentence: People must be at the centre of knowledge-driven businesses.
  • Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results
    By Dave Ulrich
    Harvard Business School Press
    ISBN 0875847196
    In a sentence: HR’s ultimate call to action.
  • The Fifth Discipline
    By Peter Senge
    ISBN 1905211201
    In a sentence: An organisation must be more effective than the sum of its parts.
  • Re-engineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution
    By Michael Hammer, James Champy
    ISBN 088730687X
    In a sentence: Don’t automate, obliterate!
  • The Effective Executive
    By Peter Drucker
    ISBN 0750643900
    In a sentence: Drucker is often credited with having ‘invented’ management thinking.

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