101 HR Thought Leaders, Books, Websites, Videos, and Courses…
For the Aspiring or Accidental HR Professional
What resources have you found helpful in your People practice?
Break out your Trapper Keeper, throw the Jansport strap over your shoulder, and sharpen your no.2 pencils. It’s back to school season! This post is full of resource recommendations for those looking to put a couple more HR arrows into their quiver.
Many of us in the cultural sector discover the HR or People field by accident. We land our first Executive Director position and then quickly find out there’s more to this whole People thing than posting for open positions and processing payroll.
Below is the Fractured Atlas People team’s quick guide to books, thought leaders, classes, and websites that we’ve found helpful in our own learning. The resources cover every aspect necessary to build a healthy and effective People function in your organization.
It should be obvious that if you don’t know the difference between a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Financial Position — trick question, they’re the same thing — you need to find an understanding financial statements tutorial before that call with your board treasurer to discuss the annual audit. It’s less obvious the relative importance of People operations, and where to turn when you’re having trouble hiring and retaining a diverse workforce, or building an organizational culture that can change the world, or deciding if and how to introduce remote work arrangements.
We often use conventional wisdom to help us address HR issues when, in fact, that can be some of the worst advice. (Hire with your gut? Your gut has unconscious biases.) The resources below leverage science-backed solutions to help us make sense of the vast People field.
When I say “vast,” here’s a glimpse at the subject areas one needs to master when working to obtain the field’s senior certification (a certification akin to the CPA of HR):
- HR Competencies: Leadership & Navigation, Ethical Practice, Business Acumen, Consultation, Critical Evaluation, Relationship Management, Global & Cultural Effectiveness, and Communication
- People: HR Strategic Planning, Talent Acquisition, Employee Engagement & Retention, Learning & Development, and Total Rewards (compensation and benefits)
- Organization: Structure of the HR Function, Organizational Effectiveness & Development, Workforce Management, Employee & Labor Relations (Unionization), and Technology Management
- Workplace: HR in the Global Context, Diversity & Inclusion, Risk Management, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Employment Law & Regulations
It’s a list filled with meaty topics; the stack of exam review guides alone measures over a foot high. But don’t be discouraged, pick your pain point(s) and just start learning. What follows is a set of resources to help you think and act both more tactically and strategically in your People operations pursuits.
First, start learning from these leaders in the organizational behavior, organizational psychology, and the People field:
- Amy Wrzesniewski is one of my heroes and someone who greatly influenced my own People thinking and career trajectory. Her work centers around helping people create meaning in their work.
- Jane Dutton, from University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, along with Amy Wrzesniewski and Justin Berg, authored the research around Job Crafting and this exercise packet.
- Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton and seems to be everywhere these day, but maybe that’s just because I follow him on Twitter. Check out his research in Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success and Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
- Robert Sutton is a Stanford professor and author of The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t answering the question, “Do you need to be an asshole leader to change the world?”
- Huggy Rao (co-author with the above Robert Sutton) of Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less tackles the best way to scale organizations for the long term.
- Jennifer Brown writes and thinks about inclusion and has free resources like the Diversity Starter Kit for CEOs available on her website.
- Jeffrey Pfeffer another Stanford professor with research centered around building better companies by putting people first.
- Angela Duckworth is the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and helps us understand why some people succeed and others fail.
- Lee Burbage is leading the People team at Motley Fool and openly sharing their content so the rest of us can be inspired, and maybe borrow a thing or two.
- Laszlo Bock, Google’s former Chief People Person, who recently launched Humu, literally wrote the book on Google’s science-backed People efforts, Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How Your Live and Lead.
- Vivienne Ming is a theoretical neuroscientist motivated to maximize human potential.
- Top 100 HR Influencers of 2017 compiled by Engagedly. Comb the list to add new thought leaders to your social media feeds. One of my frequent follow on the list is Tim Sackett, because we share a first name, Midwestern roots, and an affinity for Shake Shack and Cinnabon.
- Google’s re:Work offers a wealth of tools based on their research. Topics cover Hiring, Goal Setting, Managers, Teams, and Unbiasing.
- Fistful of Talent is a talent management blog started by Kris Dunn with a host of voices featured in its content.
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is a great resource. With an annual membership you gain access to countless articles and templates. They also have a variety of resources from books to webinars to in-person trainings.
- Human Capital Institute also includes a wide range of podcasts, webinars, and conference opportunities.
- Capital Associate Industries (CAI) with HR, Compliance & People Development resources too.
- The August organization has a great blog — including this terrific post by Mike Arauz with even more resources for you to explore — and a public Google drive where they share any document they’re able to share publicly.
- NOBL, offers a wealth of information related to the future of work, including their A to Z Guide of Culture Decks and an open Slack channel for Org Designers.
- CULTURE LABx has articles and hosts events for its global community of founders, designers, and practitioners who experiment with the future of work.
- Glassdoor can’t be ignored. Whether you want to take virtual tours of far flung companies; see how people rate an organization, its leader, and its benefits; or read what recent job applicants said about your process, it’s all publicly available on Glassdoor.
There are so many books on this list, Tim! As far as your brain is concerned, audiobooks aren’t “cheating”
- Essential Guide to Workplace Investigations: A Step-by-Step Guide to Handling Employee Complaints & Problems Workplace investigations are a fact of People operations. Whether you need to figure out who has been eating someone’s yogurt the office fridge, or investigating a claim of harassment, don’t be caught off guard when the time comes.
- The Hard Things About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz is filled with advice that often flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Mr. Horowitz’s book will leave you rethinking the “tried and true” way of doing things, like, “Is it OK to poach a friend’s employee?”
- Getting The Right Work Done Time management, both yours and others, is a constant refrain when helping people find their zone. This quick guide from Harvard Business offers tons of tactics to help you win the battle of the urgent versus the important.
- Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace by Ricardo Semler was published years before we started hearing Great Place To Work stories from Netflix, Google, Facebook, and the like. Ricardo Semler’s Brazilian-based company Semco was blazing a trail. Change the date from 1988 to 2017 and you can easily forget how many decades ahead of their time they really were.
- Barking Up The Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong Erik Barker compiles the latest research to remind us that so much of what we think is true really isn’t.
- Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Hansson of the project management solution Basecamp, breaks down why companies should adopt remote work arrangements, and how they can go about doing it. In this related post, There’s a Channel For That, I detail the various Fractured Atlas communication channels we use for our company with employees working in 10 states.
- Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) by Christina Wodtke. Using OKRs can be a powerful tool to help align your organization from top to bottom and back up again. Radical Focus provides a guide for adopting the OKR framework. Not into reading a book? You can watch this video about How Google Sets Goals with OKRs. And if you get stuck during the OKR process and say, “There’s just no way to measure the work I do,” crack open How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business.
- The Essential HR Handbook: A Quick and Handy Resource for Any Manager or HR Professional is something to keep in your desk drawer for quick reference. You might also prefer The Big Book of HR or Human Resources Kit for Dummies.
- The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World by Aaron Hurst looks at how shared purpose culture in organizations can change the world.
- Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer. If your organization comes into contract with people in any way this is an invaluable read.
- Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanjfo is an terrific resource for those who attend or lead meetings. Not all brainstorming was created equal. Gamestorming is a great tool to help you find the right framework to have the most effective conversation.
- Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street is one of the best books I’ve ever found on how to structure a strategic hiring process.
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. If you don’t understand how habits develop and how to change them, you’re going to be banging your head against the wall forever when working with others. How do you get Bob to start showing up to work on time? Or get a team with a history of delays to finally ship a product on schedule? Filled with fascinating anecdotes, the book will keep you engaged.
- Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson have written a book that will have you questioning the way you’ve always done things. No mandatory meetings?! Whoa.
- Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir examines how scarce resources can make us perform worse than those with abundant resources. Using research that shows even the same people — depending on their level of scarcity — can perform better or worse. The implications for our organizations helps to explain why we more often lose the battle of the urgent versus the important, and adds depth to our understanding of the whole person who walks through the office doors each day.
- The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Stanier. Being a people person in the People field isn’t the same thing as being a capital P People person. In the People field, you need to develop skills in yourself and in others to have specific kinds of conversations with people. This book gives you a jump on them.
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, or check out this slidedeck by the same name. Another glimpse into a company that spends millions trying to determine the best People approaches. Is it a perfect company, no, but don’t let that stop you from learning from them and seeing if you can glean from their experience.
- Employment Law quick study guide because ignorance of the law excuses no one. This quick guide will give you the lay of the U.S. Federal employment law land. Be mindful that, depending on where you live in the U.S., the laws can differ. For instance, if you live in California and New York, state employment law includes some alternations that can trip you up.
- The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by the prolific business parable author Patrick Lencioni might be my favorite work of his. In The Advantage he pulls from many of his previous works —The Five Disfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting, and Silos, Politics and Turf Wars — to lay out a clear template for how you can determine and articulate your organization’s mission, core values, strategic anchors; as well as create meetings that don’t drain the life out of people.
- Teaming: How Organizations Learn Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy by Amy C. Edmondson provides a great overview of research into how teams can “team” together to learn and improve in uncertain and ambiguous environments.
- What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton provides a framework for helping people identify their motivators. These motivators can be used to personally align them with work, and a la job crafting, help managers and team load balance work with motivators, and then tie specific recognition to each person for their efforts. (Fun fact: With the purchase of this book you get a code to take the What Motivates Me assessment.) Other interesting books by the author duo include All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results and The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization.
- Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is an excellent story about how a tiny company built itself into people-centric powerhouse. Now they’re taking it to the next level with their foray into holocracy.
- Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg is another entertaining and rich example of how treating your people well can help you build a successful and profitable company.
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin might feel a little out of place here, but it’s a real life case study in how to compile and manage a diverse team towards a shared purpose goal. For more about the quest to build the perfect team, check out this article in The New York Times about Google’s Aristotle Project.
- Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance: An Investigation might feel like another book in the “Which one of these things is not like the others” parade, until you read it thinking about how the research might apply to your recruitment and hiring process. In that light, it might possibly be one of the most entertaining books on the topic.
- Thinking Strategically by Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff is a great introduction to game theory, which can feel a little like People operations, depending on the situation. How do you solve the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma” or de-escalate brinkmanship (as opposed to Brinksmanship, which involves an armored truck).
- The Accounting Game by Darrell Mullis and Judith Orloff. As a strategic People person, you have to understand how People operations work with and influence broader organizational goals and operations. If you don’t know how to read your company’s financial statements (and missed my link to this book above), this is one of the best books I’ve found on the subject. Plus, in the guise of running a lemonade stand, it’s a light-hearted way of learning solid skills.
- The Happiness Project. Work alone won’t make someone happy. Gretchen Rubin’s quick read is a handy helper for those who walk into your office in search of happiness.
Organizations doing interesting People things
- If you’ve never read the Netflix Culture Guide, spend some time now. It was originally published in 2009 and, to me, set the stage for the flood of company culture transparency and employer branding.
- Motley Fool and their Workplace Culture Blog offers a lot to inspire.
- Zappos created Zappos Insights to offer outsiders a peek at their unique brand of magic. You can takes tours, or attend their Culture Camp and People Academy. I was fortunate to attending their Coaching Camp a few years ago and wrote about my experience.
- Zingermans is not just an Ann Arbor deli. Like Zappos, they too created a business line called ZingTrain to give people a glimpse of their magic. (For those really nerdy People people among us, you can even buy their employee handbook.)
- Etsy Few companies can provide 26 weeks of paid parental leave for any caregivers, but most companies can use it as inspiration when creating their own policies.
- Warby Parker has a made up name and sells fashionable eyeglasses, and has created an enviable company culture.
- Patagonia has a Family Business YouTube series looking at their child care and paid family leave policies.
- Gravity Payments is an interesting study in unintended consequences when a leader tries to do what he believes is the right thing for employees. Make $70,000 the minimum salary in an organization? What could possibly go wrong? With an update from a year later.
- Fractured Atlas is a non-profit doing interesting People things in the cultural sector. And uh, yeah, clearly as a member of the People team I’m biased, but proud of our work and efforts, like our How We Work: A Guide to Working at Fractured Atlas and our soon-to-be-public core curriculum platform.
- Unconscious Bias at Work presentation by Google’s Brian Welle delves into how our bias shows itself at work, even in the way we design our space and name our conference rooms.
- Inspiring & Motivating Arts & Culture Teams (Online/Free by National Arts Strategies and the University of Michigan School of Business) When a Gallup poll shows that only 13% of staff are engaged in their work, it means we have some work to do. This course features research-based solutions and real-world examples.
- Crash Course in HR Whether or not you decide to sit for an HR certification exam, if you’re new to HR, complete David Siler’s 10-week exam prep course and your knowledge of the field will grow exponentially during that time. (It’s worth every penny of the $419 price tag.)
- Leading Innovation in Arts & Culture (Online/Free; National Arts Strategies and Vanderbilt University) This content is so good, I wish the co-learning cohort of Fractured Atlas staff wouldn’t have taken the course because it made more work for me, in a good way of course.
- artEquity Facilitator Program Carmen Morgan and her team offer this terrific program training staff to lead diversity, equity and inclusion conversations in their organizations.
- Scaling Excellence: How You Can Make It Happen (Online/Paid; Stanford University) This course is the paid version the intensely popular MOOC by Huggy Rao of Scaling Up Excellence author and professor fame.
- Fierce Conversation (In person or online/Paid) I’m a big fan of Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations curriculum. While I think everyone can benefit from it, to me, I feel like it’s better suited to those in management level positions owning to the inclusion of sections on delegating, coaching, and leading meetings.
- Crucial Conversations (In person or online/Paid) CruCon was described by a colleague as algorithmic, and that’s precisely one of the reasons I think it works well when bringing it into an organization without prior training. There is a structure that everyone can use to help them as they engage in more understanding and healthy conflict. (Full disclosure: I’m a certified Crucial Conversations trainer.)
How We Work:TV
If you write a blog post about resources and can’t include your own web series, what has the world come to? Here are a few of my latest episodes:
About Tim Cynova
Tim spends his time assisting teams and organizations with the things they need to create innovative workplaces where people thrive. He is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), a trained mediator, on faculty at Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity and New York's The New School teaching courses in Strategic HR and Leadership & Team Building. He is a certified trainer of the Crucial Conversations and What Motivates Me frameworks, and is a firm believer that Work. Shouldn't. Suck. He currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Fractured Atlas (where he is a member of the organization’s four-person, non-hierarchical shared leadership team). Prior to that, Tim was the Executive Director of The Parsons Dance Company and of High 5 Tickets to the Arts, had a memorable stint with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was a one-time classical trombonist, musicologist, and for five years in his youth he delivered newspapers for the Evansville Courier-Press. Also, during a particularly slow summer, he bicycled across the United States.