HR Manager's Bookshelf<br> The difference between MANs and WANs and LANs

A selection of readings to shed some light on the HR dimensions of technology.

As a consultant I find that almost every business issue these days seems to have an information management or IT dimension. HR practitioners are finding the same connection.

Here are some titles to help readers navigate this sometimes confusing new world.

e-Profit
By Peter Cohan, 285 pages, (2000), Amacom.
At bookstores or 1-800-565-5758, www.mcgrawhill.ca
Success stories, less effective ventures and principles of the best e-commerce strategies are the focus in this book by U.S. consultant Peter Cohan.

“If you’re afraid your organization is lagging in e-commerce, you’re actually in good company. While the media seem to abound in Internet business success stories, the reality is that few companies have made the transition.” But it’s a challenge that can’t be ignored: phenomenal growth in e-commerce makes it essential.

Part I outlines the economic case: financial evaluation and payoff, creating competitive advantage. Part III covers some nuts-and-bolts issues: designing the architecture, evaluating suppliers, negotiating deals and managing the implementation.

HR readers will find these sections educational, but may want to focus on Part II: Managing the transition to e-commerce.

Based on the source of the e-commerce strategy (internal decision vs. external threat) and the extent to which the e-commerce strategy alters the company’s basic business model, the book identifies four kinds of change processes:

•imitative;

•reactive;

•incremental; and

•controlled.

Each has its own characteristics and success factors.

Cohan offers simple principles and methodologies for leading change and — importantly — sustaining change: educate senior management, articulate a vision, communicate with employees, create an environment to win the war for talent, and tie compensation to customer satisfaction and shareholder value.

These themes reflect the recognized significance of change management and organizational effectiveness issues in strategic change.

Throughout, readers will find examples from dozens of organizations including United Airlines, eBay, Charles Schwab, Merrill Lynch, and for Canadian content there are CIBC and Toronto Hospital.

Action Management
By Stephen Redwood, Charles Goldwasser and Simon Street, 247 pages (1999), Wiley. At bookstores or 1-800-567-4797, www.wiley.com

“Action management is any project or initiative aimed at improving business performance. A change-management program is an action; so is a merger or acquisition, and so is the installation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.” An action passes through five predictable stages:

•initiation;

•analysis;

•definition;

•transition; and

•improvement.

“Understanding business action and its predictable stages — that’s the easy part. Knowing how to manage it — how to design it, direct it, and implement it skillfully and effectively in the face of great pressure — that is the problem that bedevils managers from one end of the business world to the other.”

Drawing a parallel with athletic actions, the book describes four action paths which can be chosen based on assessment of the complexity and duration of the action required:

•a sprint — low complexity, short duration;

•high jump — high complexity, short duration;

•decathlon — high complexity, long duration; and

•marathon — low complexity, long duration.

Most of the book is devoted to 10 challenges that must be faced, with a chapter for each giving tips and learning examples.

One of the challenges, “cultivate for action,” has an HR focus: “We don’t call it human resources for nothing. People are a resource — rich, sacred, varied, volatile, and finite. They can be depleted. But if cultivated with skill and care, they can be tapped nearly to their limit, and then renewed.”

Another challenge, “strengthen for action,” deals with middle managers: assessing and developing their attitude and aptitude for action. “Wire for action” points to common problems that undermine IT projects and actions.

In “integrate for action,” the authors tackle turf wars. “Territorial problems yield to territorial solutions — ones that combine local fiefdoms into common ground and pull down the fences that divide backyards.”

The authors are leaders at consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and draw on a global range of examples and experiences, including Siemens Medical Systems, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Braun, Carlton & United Breweries, Nynex and British Airways Engineering.

Who Gives a Gigabyte?
By Gary Stix and Miriam Lacob, 300 pages (2000), Wiley. At bookstores or 1-800-567-4797, www.wiley.com

HR professionals are constantly urged to “get close to the the business” and understand business issues — but often, the technology itself is baffling and presents a hurdle. This “survival guide for the technologically perplexed” is a handy resource for getting a basic grounding.

Chapters cover a wide range of topics:

•computers and software;

•telecommunications and networks;

•lasers;

•genetic science;

•medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs; and

•energy and environment.

Each chapter gives an overview, scientific and social explanations, illustrations and a concise glossary of terms.

This book may help if you need to grasp the meaning of fields where green design, smart materials research, MRI or ultrasound technology play a part. It can also guide you to an increased understanding of “computerese” like bit, byte, bus and bandwidth, object-oriented programming, expert systems, or LANs, MANs and WANs.

The Human Side of High-Tech
By Carol Kinsey Goman, 230 pages (2000), Wiley. At bookstores or 1-800-567-4797, www.wiley.com

What can organizations in any sector learn from the people practices of flexible, fast-growing technology companies? This book provides some answers.

There are characteristics that make the high-tech working environment unique: “its near total reliance upon individual brain power and technical ingenuity;” the merging of work and fun; ideas flowing freely; the hot competition for talent; and recognition by employers that they must hire, manage and support “the whole person.”

The author, a California-based consultant, also wrote This Isn’t the Company I Joined (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1997; reviewed in CHRR, May 4, 1998).

Goman highlights eight commandments of high-tech culture:

•egalitarianism;

•freedom;

•informality;

•trust;

•responsibility;

•teamwork;

•high performance; and

•fun

Each commandment is then illustrated with actual examples like the people-focused culture at PeopleSoft and the CEO of i2 Technologies’ description of “leading a work force of artists.”

Much of the book’s message is told in the words of corporate leaders and practitioners: product shifts, downsizing and merger dynamics at Lotus, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Autodesk; and “communicating to a highly skeptical workforce” at EDS, 3Com and Texas Instruments.

This book is a quick read, filled with conversational examples and stimulating ideas. Much of the emphasis is on values that will challenge senior executives — putting actions behind the espoused importance of people — as well as practical approaches of interest to HR professionals.

Ray Brillinger is a senior consultant with the IBM Consulting Group. He provides change management, business transformation and organization effectiveness services to client organizations. He can be reached at (905) 316-4646 or [email protected]

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