The field of Human Resource Management (HRM) is rapidly changing. Staying up to date with the latest information is more important than ever. In this article, we will list 12 must-read HRM books that will help you do your job better – whether you’re an experienced HR professional or just getting started in the HR field.
We decided to include both study books and more popular books. The study books that we’ll list are all prescribed literature for various HR courses at universities. These books help to get an in-depth understanding of Human Resources Management practices.
The more contemporary HRM books will give a good overview of popular topics in HR. They will also help to create a view on the future of the HR field.
1. Human Resource Management
Human Resources Management, written by Gary Dessler, is a 700-page HR bible. It is arguably one of the most read study books when it comes to HR. The latest edition, no. 15, was released in 2016.
In its 18 chapters, the book covers the key aspects of HR. It covers a practical and step-by-step explanation of the cornerstones of HR. These are defined in five parts: recruitment, placement & talent management, training & development, compensation, and employee relations.
2. HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources
Dave Ulrich, Jon Younger, Wayne Brockbank, Mike Ulrich
After you’ve read Dessler’s book, you know what Human Resource Management is all about. However, what are the competencies that you as an HR professional should have? That’s what this book is all about.
In this book, Ulrich and colleagues list the key competencies of the modern HR professional. The HR professional should enable capability building, be a technology proponent, a change champion and an HR innovator & integrator. These different roles sometimes conflict with each other. That’s why one of the most important roles of the HR practitioner is to be a credible activist – on the one hand for the employee, on the other hand for the business. This is all placed within a larger, strategic context, which forms the final competency: the strategic positioner.
Ulrich’s work is always very well-researched and so is this book. In 2017, Ulrich published Victory Through Organization, which builds upon this original work. However, the original book remains one of the must-reads when it comes to modern HRM.
3. The HR Scorecard
Brian Becker, Mark Huselid, Dave Ulrich
This book is arguably the oldest on this list – but also the most timeless of them all. In the HR Scorecard, Becker and colleagues explain how people, strategy, and performance can be linked and quantified.
HRM has never been regarded as hard science. Aligning HR activities with the organizational strategy, and measuring the impact on the workforce doesn’t come naturally to HR. However, when done well, it enables HR to quantify its impact and measure the effectiveness of their work.
Quantifying the work of HR helps in speaking the same language as the business. The business is focused on key performance indicators (KPIs) and on achieving a return on investment (ROI). Once HR is able to quantify some of its activities, this will help in building credibility.
4. Victory through organization
Dave Ulrich, David Kryscynski, Wayne Brockbank, Mike Ulrich
The subtitle of this book is “Why the War for Talent is Failing Your Company and what You Can Do About It”. In this brilliant book, Ulrich and co-authors take a closer look at the HR function. The research on which this book is based is an HR competency study with a sample of over 30,000 HR professionals, business leaders, and associates – the largest sample ever when it comes to HR capabilities.
Based on this research, the book provides everything you need to know about how HR can add the most value. Indeed, the book not only shows how value is created for HR and the employee, but also for the business, investors/owners, communities, and line managers. Furthermore, it shows on which activities HR is rated best in (by HR and by the business) and which activities add the most value (again, to HR, the business and all the other stakeholders). Themes like employee performance, integrated HR practices, HR analytics, and HR information management are passed in review.
Although the book is not the most fun or easy to read, it is arguably one of the best books in this list and a must-read for any senior HR manager. Sidenote: For those wondering why there are two Ulrichs: Mike is Dave’s son and is specialized in statistics. He did the data analysis needed to write the book.
5. Predictive HR Analytics: Mastering the HR Metric
Kirsten & Martin Edwards
This book builds on the previous one and is often used as reading material for HR analytics classes. The book explores metrics and analytics in much more detail. Using a number of different case studies, the book explores both metrics and analytics related to diversity, employee attitudes, employee turnover (including predictive turnover analytics), employee performance, recruitment analytics, and more.
Together, these four books give a good overview of everything you need to know about HRM. Dessler’s book gives a good introduction and overview of what HRM is all about, including its different focus areas. Becker’s book explains how these areas can be used to strategically support the business. Edwards’ book then shows how the progress in those areas is measured.
6. Investing in people. Financial Impact of Human Resource Initiatives
KirsWayne Cascio, John Boudreau
In investing in people, Cascio and Boudreau take a highly structured and data-driven approach to solving common problems in HR. The book, originally published in 2008, takes a deep dive into strategic HR measurement and complements #4 and #5 with its depth and focus on specific HR topics.
The first chapter is titled “Making HR Measurement Strategic”, followed by the second “Analytical foundations of HR Measurement”. These chapters also contain the now-famous ‘Wall of Boudreau’, which is the barrier that companies need to break through to go from operational reporting to analytics.
As you can imagine, the book is fairly technical (although understandable for the layperson). After explaining the foundations of solid measurement in HR, the book continues to explore a number of case studies. These are about absenteeism, employee turnover, employee wellbeing, engagement, and more. For each of these topics, a structured approach is taken to explore them in detail and the reader is offered tools to assess cost and measure impact of interventions.
Just like some of the other books on this list, it’s not the easiest read but definitely highly valuable when you are tasked with HR measurement or other quantitative challenges in HR.
A few examples of this book, are included in our HR data analyst course.
I don’t think ‘popular literature’ is the right term for the remaining books. They may not be the kind of books that are prescribed in university. However, that doesn’t mean that they are not evidence-based or less informative. These books are very appealing because they are written by practitioners for practitioners.
7. The Talent Delusion
This is my personal favorite. The Talent Delusion is an easy-to-read book, stacked to the brim with scientific facts regarding talent management. The book covers what talent is (not everyone is talent), how to measure talent, how to engage it, develop it, the dark side of talent, and the future of talent.
The book is filled with golden nuggets, like the picture below which shows that despite increased spending on leadership development, confidence in leadership has plummeted.
One of my favorite insights was the difference between normal performance and top performance. For some people, there’s a big gap between the two while for others top performance is fairly similar to their normal performance.
It is easy for an employee to fool their boss into thinking they perform well by giving it their best. However, it’s impossible to always be at peak performance. People can only do this for a limited amount of time before returning back to their normal performance. It is therefore almost impossible to assess someone’s performance based on one or two months of data, especially when this person is motivated to perform well.
The trick is therefore to select people whose normal performance is similar to their top performance level. An example is people who score high on the big-5 personality trait of conscientiousness. These are described as diligent and hard-working and will likely perform better over time compared to their less conscientious colleagues.
8. Work Rules!
Google has always been a beacon when it comes to good HR practices. In his book Work Rules! Laszlo Bock, former VP of People Operations at Google, describes the best HR practices at Google.
The book is subtitled Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. The book does exactly that. It’s a very practical book that stresses the importance of company culture, how Google is able to consistently select high performers, the importance of data in HR, why you should compensate unfairly – different performance should be compensated differently – and how to deal with mistakes in HR.
This is a book that you can finish in one day. Laszlo is able to show you which best practices you can copy tomorrow in your own organization in order to manage people better.
9. HR disrupted: It’s time for something different
I thought it appropriate to finish this list with a book that looks to the future of HR. What will the role of HR look like in the future? How can we lead, manage, engage, and support employees in a radically different way?
According to Adams, disruptive HR has three pillars. First, it doesn’t treat employees as children but as adults. Second, employees are treated as consumers, leaving behind the one-size-fits-all approach. Third, employees should be treated as human beings.
With a series of interesting and very recognizable examples from her role as HR director at the BBC, Adams illustrates how people can be managed better in an increasingly digital and disruptive business environment.
10. Thinking, Fast and Slow
Although not explicitly an HR book, this book gives you a thorough explanation of modern psychology. The 499-page classic explains much of the research done by Kahneman and relates it to many of the well-known psychological theories and biases.
The book explains that there are two systems of thinking. Fast, automatic thinking (system 1) and slow, logical thinking (system 2). These systems compete. System 1 is our intuitive, fast response, whereas system 2 is our logical, more deliberative reaction. Whenever we run into a new situation – or are asked a question – these systems come up with answers that often differ from each other.
The book shows how knowing these systems can fool you – or be useful to you. Biases like anchoring, availability bias, loss aversion, framing, and the sunk cost fallacy are all explained using these two systems. Learning about these biases helps you to make better decisions and can help you to convince others.
This book is probably the hardest read of them all. Although it is packed with quizzes and practical examples, it is very detailed which slows down your reading. I try to read books from cover to cover, but at 75% I stopped reading. My tip would be to read every chapter – especially the beginning – but don’t be afraid to skim through some of the other parts of the book once you understand the key ideas.
11. Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World
Marcus Buckingham, Ashley Goodall
In this book, published by Harvard Business Review Press, Buckingham and Goodall review nine lies about work. Buckingham’s father and grandfather were in HR. His father was the CHRO of Allied Breweries, a brewing company that owned 7000+ pubs. The sales of these pubs varied – and he found that the key differentiator was the quality of the pub manager. Working together with external researchers, including Don Clifton, a highly influential assessment psychologist and chairman of Gallup. Buckingham was involved in this from an early age and later joined Gallup.
Nine Lies About Work uses a science-based approach to debunk nine common myths. Myths included are ‘the best plan wins’, ‘people have potential’, ‘the best people are well-rounded’, ‘work-life balance matters most’, and ‘leadership is a thing’.
For example, the myth ‘people need feedback’ is often touted by mangers as something important for millennials. However, if those millennials go on snapchat or Instagram, they want attention, not feedback. People who give feedback, are haters.
According to the authors, excellence in a job, another myth, is not a function of getting the facts and steps right. You can get these right and still be average. The only thing that can be defined is the end result. For example, you cannot define how comedians in general are – and then measure that through a 360-degree feedback survey. Eddy Murphy, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld are all different. Their only similarity is the result: people laugh. The authors conclude that we learn through our own experimentation and individualized attention, not through generalized, critical feedback.
12. How to Win Friends and Influence People
I can imagine your surprise to see this list end with this well-known self-help book. Carnegie’s book is one of the best-selling books of all time and listed as number 19 on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential books. So why is a book that was published over 80 years ago on this list?
As HR professionals, we are constantly influencing people, convincing people, and sometimes manipulating people (e.g., managers) to do things that they don’t want to do (e.g., conducting performance reviews). HR work is about working with people and this book provides some key lessons on how to do this.
Lessons learned include
- Only fools criticize. We tend to criticize others because we think we are right and they are wrong. However, we should focus on understanding why others think what they think. Once we do so, we will not criticize.
- Avoid complaining. This will irritate others – and yourself.
- Give honest compliments to people. We all know the power of a smile and a kind word. Doing this more and learning how to do this will make the organization succeed.
- Get others to talk (while you listen). If you listen, you will learn more, others will like you more, and you show interest in people – which is rare these days.
- Give people a good reputation to live up to. This is the best piece of advice that I got from this book. People will live up to their reputation. A bad boy will behave like a bad boy – and a good girl will behave like a good girl. Praising employees on the things they need to improve on and giving them a reputation of being good at it, will make them work harder to succeed in these things.
HR is not about leveraging authority, it is about soft power: HR should attract and co-opt, rather than coerce. Carnegie’s social competence rules were way ahead of their time and still hold true today.
This wraps up our list of 12 HRM books that every HR professional should read. I have undoubtedly missed a few. Feel free to list them below, and I would be happy to add them in a later version!
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