HR thinkers

25 January 2016

Author: Jane Simms


HR thinkers

The simple guide to the world’s smartest business gurus

Ever since Frank Gilbreth, regarded as the first management consultant, began studying how to make work more efficient more than a century ago, businesspeople have been obsessed with learning from each other and understanding the trends that will challenge their companies in the years ahead. From Peter Drucker to Sheryl Sandberg, business authors have topped the bestseller lists and sold out conference halls for decades, but which gurus are most relevant for HR practitioners? We raided the business bookshelf in earnest.
 
Lynda Gratton
 
Who is she?
Professor of management practice at London Business School (LBS), where she specialises in HR strategy. She joined LBS in 1989, founded the ‘Hot Spots’ movement to bring academic research to managers’ attention, and leads the Future of Work Research Consortium.
 
What does she say?
Gratton’s central premise is that, while companies have the power to simultaneously change the world for the better and make bigger profits, they can only do so by fully engaging their people. Her first book, Living Strategy: putting people at the heart of corporate purpose (2000), exemplified this theme, and Hot Spots (2007) developed it. Her 2011 title, The Shift: the future of work is already here, earned her 12th position in the Thinkers50 list of the world’s most influential living management thinkers. Her most recent book, The Key: how corporations succeed by solving the world’s toughest problems (2014), looks at the impact of the changing world on corporate practices, processes and leadership.
 
Why does it matter?
The best companies understand the link between engaged employees and business success, she says, and, in an increasingly competitive, complex and challenging world, Gratton’s work is a constant reminder not to stretch employees to the limit.
 
Daniel Pink
 
Who is he?
A former chief speechwriter for ex-US vice president Al Gore, Pink used the experience of leaving his job in 1997 as the basis for his first book, Free Agent Nation: the future of working for yourself (2001). He has been described as a ‘capturer of the business zeitgeist’.
 
What does he say?
In A Whole New Mind: why right-brainers will rule the future (2005) Pink argued that we had already moved beyond the ‘knowledge age’ to the ‘conceptual age’, where emotion, intuition and creativity are what differentiate people and organisations. But it was Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us (2009) that saw him explode into the global consciousness. He demonstrated that intrinsic, internal motivation (the desire to do a good job) is far more powerful than the traditional external motivators of fear, money and rewards. And in To Sell is Human: the surprising truth about moving others (2013), Pink examines the art and science of selling in a world where, he says, everyone is ‘in sales’.
 
Why does it matter?
Most companies know there is no correlation between individual pay and company performance, yet continue to award performance-related pay. Those who embrace Pink’s message could improve individual and organisational performance – and save a lot of money in the process.
 
Gary Hamel
 
Who is he?
One of the world’s most influential thinkers on strategy, leadership and innovation, Hamel has been on the faculty of London Business School for more than 30 years. His most recent initiative is The Management Innovation eXchange, which aims to reinvent management by using open innovation.
 
What does he say?
Companies need to innovate continually and harness the power of their people if they are to remain competitive in a world where adaptability and creativity drive business success. Competing for the Future (1994, with CK Prahalad) offered a blueprint for competing today while also preparing for tomorrow, and Leading the Revolution (2000) proposed a radical new innovation agenda and a strategy to harness the imagination of every employee. In his most recent bestseller, What Matters Now (2012), he urged readers to rethink the fundamental assumptions they have about management, arguing that values, innovation, adaptability, passion and ideology are the ‘make or break’ issues that will determine an organisation’s success.
 
Why does it matter?
The world has changed beyond recognition since management theory was first conceived, but too many companies still manage according to the same old rules. Hamel wants to shake us out of our cosy way of thinking.
 
Marcus Buckingham
 
Who is he?
A British-American best-selling author, motivational speaker and consultant, best known for promoting what he calls ‘strengths’. His first job was at Gallup, where he worked on a survey that measured the factors contributing to employee engagement.
 
What does he say?
People improve their productivity and personal satisfaction by focusing on their strengths rather than trying to reduce their weaknesses. Rules stifle the originality and uniqueness – the ‘strengths’ – that enable all of us to exploit our full potential. His second book, Now, Discover Your Strengths: how to develop your talents and those of the people you manage (2001), co-authored with Donald O Clifton and tied to a Gallup personal assessment tool called StrengthsFinder, focused on how to find and cultivate your strengths. In The One Thing You Need to Know... about great managing, great leading, and sustained individual success (2005) he argued that managers should capitalise on what is unique about every member of their team, as this will have a positive effect on their performance.
 
Why does it matter?
Putting people in roles they enjoy and excel at is empowering, says Buckingham, and thinking about strengths changes the way we recruit, promote and develop talent.
 
Daniel Goleman
 
Who is he?
A psychologist and former science reporter who popularised the notion of ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ). Until the publication of Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ in 1996, IQ was seen as the pre-eminent standard of intelligence. The notion of EQ is now widely embraced.
 
What does he say?
Our emotions play a much greater role in thought, decision-making and individual success than was commonly acknowledged. Goleman defines EQ, a trait not measured by conventional intelligence tests, as a set of skills, such as control of impulses, self-motivation, empathy and social competence. Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998) extends these concepts into the workplace, using research to demonstrate that EQ is a barometer of excellence in almost any job. In Primal Leadership: learning to lead with emotional intelligence (2002), Goleman and his co-authors apply the principles of EQ to leadership.
 
Why does it matter?
Not only are people with high EQ (which can be taught) more successful than others at work, but, because EQ encompasses what are ‘essential skills for living’, they also lead happier and more fulfilled lives, says Goleman, whose ideas have inspired the mindfulness movement.
 
Herminia Ibarra
 
Who is she?
Professor of leadership and learning, and organisational behaviour at INSEAD. She directs the Leadership Transition, an executive programme designed for managers moving into broader leadership roles, speaks internationally on leadership, talent management and women’s careers, and was ranked eighth in the 2015 Thinkers50 list.
 
What does she say?
Ibarra advocates learning through action. People stay stuck in jobs they don’t like because they don’t know what they want to do instead, but reflection and self-assessment lead to “analysis paralysis”, she argues. Her views are encapsulated in her 2015 title Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, which explains how to step into a bigger leadership role, including the idea that ‘acting up’ to expected behaviours can be more effective than the idea of being authentic. Ibarra believes people become stuck in unproductive habits (such as micro-managing) because they lack experiences that lead them to want to do new things.
 
Why does it matter?
The volatile business environment calls for people who are multi-skilled, innovative, curious and infinitely adaptable. Meanwhile, too many leaders remain unprepared to step into senior roles and could benefit from a more honest framework for managing others.
 
Dave Ulrich
 
Who is he?
Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ulrich is arguably the world’s leading guru of HR management. He pioneered the acceptance of HR as a business function, rather than a support function, and made a lasting impact by bringing the idea of the HR business partner into workplaces.
 
What does he say?
In the mid-1990s, Ulrich said HR should reorganise itself around four key areas: shared service centres carrying out transactional HR activities; embedded HR (business partners) working directly with business leaders; centres of expertise providing specialist advice; and strategic corporate HR. In Why the Bottom Line Isn’t: how to build value through people and organisation (2003), Ulrich argued that shareholder value increasingly comes from people, reputation and other intangible assets. He has recently co-created a Leadership Capital Index, which aims to measure the effectiveness of collective and dispersed leadership rather than the CEO alone.
 
Why does it matter?
Given the growing acknowledgement that well-led and managed people are the best source of competitive advantage, the people who can optimise others (whether HR professionals or business leaders) have never been more important.