New titles show framework for achieving strategic HR (HR manager’s bookshelf)

Easy solutions and new fads won’t be found in these books that deal with truly strategic approaches to HR management. Instead, they offer food for thought, frameworks that take years to build and road maps for profoundly transforming the roles of HR leaders, HR professionals and line managers.

The first two titles were recent selections of the Toronto-based book club of the Strategic Capability Network (formerly Canadian Human Resource Planners). The HR Value Proposition and The Workforce Scorecard present an agenda, a call to action and broad sets of models and measures to challenge HR leaders for years to come.

With those landmark books as a foundation, the next three titles — Roadmap to Strategic HR, HR Manager’s Guide to Applied HR Strategy and HR Optimization — tackle getting started, where to take action and what to do in your specific situation.

Finally, we look at five books from international authors, dealing with HR and business strategy alignment, HR’s consultancy role and the challenge of positioning HR as a credible contributor in a knowledge-centred economy and organization.

The HR Value Proposition

By Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank, 316 pages, Harvard Business School Press (2005) ISBN 1-59139-707-3

HR strategy is the focus in this followup to Dave Ulrich’s bestselling Human Resource Champions (HBSP, 1997). The authors, professors at the University of Michigan, position HR in a business framework with investors, customers, managers and employees as the key external and internal stakeholders for whom HR must create and contribute value.

From the preface: “HR is being split in half. Much of the traditional, administrative and transactional work of HR — payroll, benefits administration, staffing policies, training logistics and so forth — must be carried out more efficiently. Most large firms have either built service centres and invested in HR technology or outsourced these transactions. What is left after transactional HR has been automated, centralized, eliminated or outsourced forms the heart of this book.”

A vast range of HR practices is presented across several organizational dimensions: flow of people and performance, information flow and work flow. Building on the four key roles of the HR professional described in Human Resource Champions, this new book profiles five roles:

•employee advocate;

•human capital developer;

•functional expert;

•strategic partner; and

•HR leader.

An extensive competency framework is outlined for HR practitioners in terms of strategic contribution, personal credibility, HR delivery, business knowledge and HR technology. There’s a roadmap for developing HR expertise and a series of steps for transforming HR.

Strategic Capability Network book club members found this book an impressive compendium of HR issues, but it’s a dense, sometimes difficult read. New theory is proposed, and often the real world research and applications are tenuous. However, the book has powerful significance for HR professionals who want to raise the status and contribution of the function, as well as to CEOs who may see the message as a manifesto for reshaping HR as a core business value-maker.

The Workforce Scorecard

By Mark Huselid, Brian Becker and Richard Beatty, 278 pages, Harvard Business School Press (2005) ISBN 1-59139-245-4

Like a pair of bookends, this title and The HR Value Proposition explore the broad and complex types of value — both tangible and intangible — that comprise organizational capital and address an urgent need.

“Of all the factors affecting firm performance that CEOs and senior managers can directly influence, workforce success — or the extent to which a firm can generate a workforce with the culture, mindset, competencies and strategic behaviours needed to execute its strategy — is both the most important and most underperforming asset in most businesses.”

Readers will find a comprehensive, detailed and carefully crafted model for applying the balanced scorecard approach not only to business strategy (financial and operational success), but also to HR (systems, workforce competencies and HR practices) and to the workforce itself (leadership and workforce behaviours, mindset and culture). The book builds directly on the balanced scorecard work of Kaplan and Norton as well as The HR Scorecard (by Becker, Huselid and Ulrich, HBSP, 2001).

Building a workforce scorecard of meaningful measures, is a huge task. The book provides a roadmap, ideas for where to begin and a vast catalogue of measures from which to draw upon and adapt.

It shows how to build a workforce strategy that differentiates among roles and performers within the organization, based on their connection with strategic contribution and capabilities.

Examples given are, understandably, from very large, complex companies with leading-edge HR research and practice, such as IBM, GE, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Cardinal Health. But smaller and mid-sized organizations with intellectually ambitious, creative HR leaders will also find ideas here that they can adapt to their situations.

Strategic Capability Network book club members selected this book because of its cutting-edge view of the field and its emphasis on three particular areas: talent management, leadership in action and organizational effectiveness. The Workforce Scorecard delineates the roles of all players in building workforce success: the CEO, executive team, line managers and the HR functional team.

Roadmap to Strategic HR

By Ralph Christensen, 270 pages, Amacom (2006) ISBN 0-8144-0867-2

This accessible, down-to-earth book offers a prescription for achieving strategic focus in complex organizations. Drawn from the author’s more than 25 years of experience and insights as an HR practitioner at Hallmark and other companies, the book outlines a 10-step, results-oriented plan for making the transition. It helps integrate top-quality tactical work with innovative internal systems — talent systems, training systems, reward systems or work processes — that will meet strategic business demands.

Readers will explore the senior HR leader’s role as organizational architect, line management’s role in creating and owning an HR strategy, clarification of the roles of generalist and specialist, and the redesigned structure of the HR organization.

Five key HR processes are examined with a view to an integrated approach and strategic perspective:

•workforce planning and staffing;

•performance management;

•organization development;

•learning and development; and

•employee relations.

The book concludes with an optimistic view of the future: continuing emphasis on organization and human issues, separation of the administrative elements from HR, new attention paid to employee relations and workforce planning, and more effective HR measurement.

HR Manager’s Guide to Applied HR Strategy

By Susan Singh and Carol Smith, 180 pages, Thomson Carswell (2005) ISBN 0-459-28248-4

With similar objectives and a how-to approach, this Canadian publication is part of the Carswell Business HR Guide Series. It offers practical ideas for applying strategic thinking across HR. Each chapter outlines a strategic approach to one of the following:

•client relationships (executives, managers, employees);

•business partners (other functional departments, outsourcing providers, consultants);

•organization and job design;

•sourcing talent; and

•employee engagement (managerial relationships, job environment, legislative frameworks, employee representatives).

The authors discuss ways to become more strategic in day-to-day transactions by using data, management contacts and HR activity tracking in strategic ways. The final chapter addresses the migration to strategic HR through a focus on change management and the transition needed within HR and its relationships with others inside, and outside, the organization.

HR Optimization

By Rick Bellingham, 188 pages, HRD Press (2004) ISBN 0-87425-762-X

This is a book for HR practitioners who want to transform their HR function, and have a framework for ongoing improvement. Each of 14 chapters provides a guide for self-assessment, planning and optimizing in HR functional areas:



•human capital management system;

•learning and development;


•leadership development;


•process excellence;

•business consulting;

•employee relations;

•change management;

•performance management;

•diversity; and

•measuring human and organizational capital.

For each area, there’s an evaluation framework to apply to current practices, rationale for change, a list of critical success factors, some reality considerations and lessons learned from others’ experiences.


Aligning Human Resources and Business Strategy

By Linda Holbeche, 461 pages, Elsevier (2001) ISBN 0-7506-5362-0

Profiling British and international companies such as Standard Chartered Bank, Whitbread, Sears and Ericsson, this book addresses the question, “What difference can an aspiring HR strategist really make to business value?”

HR Strategy: Business Focused, Individually Centred

By Paul Kearns, 227 pages, Butterworth Heinemann (2003) ISBN 0-7506-5768-5

The author, a British consultant, clarifies what strategy is, and how to develop and use an HR strategy to gain a competitive business advantage through managing people and building a high value organization.

Value-based Human Resource Strategy

By Tony Grundy and Laura Brown, 371 pages, Elsevier (2003) ISBN 0-7506-5769-3

HR’s consultancy role (developing the HR strategy, linking it to corporate strategy and applying it to key organizational needs) is the theme of this book by authors from Cardiff University and the Cranfield School of Management.

Human Resource Management in the Knowledge Economy

By Mark Lengnick-Hall and Cynthia Lengnick-Hall, 204 pages, Berrett-Koehler (2003) ISBN 1-57675-159-7

This book identifies important features of the knowledge economy and details four roles HR professionals must adopt to help organizations succeed in the new environment: human capital steward, knowledge facilitator, relationship builder and rapid deployment specialist.

Managing for Knowledge: HR’s Strategic Role

By Christina Evans, 276 pages, Butterworth Heinemann (2003) ISBN 0-7506-5566-6

Aligning HR and knowledge management practices is a key to success in building a knowledge-centric culture. The author, a British consultant, provides guidance for developing HR’s credibility and capabilities.

Ray Brillinger is a certified management consultant who works with clients on organizational change, HR strategy and performance improvement. He can be reached at (416) 766-9580 or [email protected].

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