Rapping to a new beat in the digital age (Books)

Authors offer insight on how the electronic era is affecting organizations and HR.

Some of the hype surrounding “e-commerce” and “e-business” has subsided in the past year or so, but the effects and the capabilities of the Internet and new information technologies are continuing to change business, government and other types of organizations in profound ways.

HR readers will find value in some of the books reviewed here because they offer considerable insight into how organizations are handling challenges in the electronic era. The authors also address organizational and people-related issues that must be understood and tackled in the transformation to Internet-based ways of doing business.

Other strategic topics covered are the creation of an innovation culture and juggling all the HR issues involved in mergers and acquisitions.

e-Volve: succeeding in the digital culture of tomorrow
By Rosabeth Moss Kanter, 352 pages (2001), Harvard Business School Press. At bookstores or 1-800-565-5758, www.mcgrawhill.ca

Big name companies like IBM, Lucent Technologies, e-Bay and barnesandnoble.com as well as lesser-known ventures like EarthWeb, Abuzz Technologies and renren.com participated in the research and provided case study situations for this book by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a well-known Harvard professor and prolific author.

Part one begins with discussion about how the Internet affects us all in business, community, learning and sharing. “Taking full advantage of the potential of the Internet Age requires leaders to lead differently and people to work together in new configurations.”

Some people view Kanter’s style as rather heavy and with a tendency to state the obvious as a fresh discovery. In this book she strives to use humour and catchy phrases. For instance, here’s an executive summary excerpt in the form of song lyrics (which Kanter has recorded on a CD in rap music style):

“Putting lipstick on a bulldog won’t transform enough,
Makeup can’t hide everything; change takes deeper stuff.
Why are you so silent, has the mouse got your tongue?
Tech talk is what the older folks can learn from the young.
But the Net generation must absorb from the past,
Enduring values of service, how to build things that last.”

A chapter on attracting and retaining the best talent asks the question, “Is commitment an outmoded concept in a world of mobility, or are there new ways to build bonds between people and the organization?” One approach is to treat people as volunteers for whom mastery, membership and meaning enable them to periodically renew their commitment.

HR and organizational effectiveness professionals may also enjoy the book’s themes of change leadership in the significant shift to e-business and e-culture, as well as the reconstruction of the organization as a community with both internal and external views and relationships.

From the Introduction: “e-Volve explores the readiness of companies to embrace e-culture, the capability of leaders to lead within it, and the willingness of people to commit themselves to it.”

Bricks to Clicks:
e-strategies that will transform your business
By Ed McMahon, 260 pages (2000), Stoddart. Distributed by General Distribution, 416-213-1919 or www.genpub.com

If you find yourself in a company transforming itself to meet the challenges of e-business, this book could serve as a primer on what’s involved. It outlines how a business must determine and plan to meet its specific market opportunities, achieve financial gains by reducing operational costs, expand revenues and employ Internet technologies in the B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) relationships.

“All of us are at the beginning of a new wave of business innovation, one that will be triggered by companies that seize the Internet not just as a tool for management, but as a new means of imagining business. Those companies that can envision and sustain a new level of business integration — from business model to operations to customer relationships — will be the leaders in the new economy.”

Part one emphasizes what the Internet does not change. The focus remains on people and leadership, customers and value, shareholders and return on investment. Chapters focusing on digital business and e-business fundamentals help readers who are new to this territory.

HR professionals may find themselves being asked to assess their company’s capabilities, and in this area the book covers assessment of people, process and technology.

Assessment of people includes:

•organizational structure (existing and future);

•skills, roles and responsibilities; and

•transition planning and change management.

On the subject of change management, the author notes, “it’s not so much the work involved in a transition that causes trauma to a company, it’s the lack of communication about the process itself.”

A chapter on leadership provides a manifesto about the need for a collaborative approach, and the fact that top-down selling of change doesn’t work. There’s also advice on realistically appraising change readiness, as well as the individual level of change capacity.

Bricks to Clicks is written by Canadian management consultant Ed McMahon, who identifies critical success factors for making the transition to e-business: a strong business case, executive buy-in, a strategic perspective, someone in charge, and a focus on managing the transition.

From the Trenches: strategies from industry leaders on the new e-conomy
Edited by Erin J. Kelly, 230 pages, Wiley (2001). At bookstores or Wiley Canada, 1-800-567-4797, www.wiley.com

Erin Kelly is a former CBC journalist and producer, and more recently has pursued a high tech management career at Sympatico and Nortel Networks. She edited this collection of contributions, which provide a broad context on what’s happening in the world of electronic commerce and the Internet.

Articles on infrastructure are provided by EDS Canada, Bank of Montreal, E*TRADE Canada and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. Discussion on issues of privacy, regulation and consumer power comes from Bell Sympatico and legal experts. Chapters on content are provided by Bell Canada, Alliance Atlantis Communications and broadcaster Pamela Wallin.

Readers will also find essays on working at home — who should, and how to do it effectively; new technologies and children; and the legal issues related to privacy in cyberspace.

The Organization of the Future
Edited by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith and Richard Beckhard, 397 pages (1997), Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer. At bookstores or available from Wiley Canada, 1-800-567-4797, www.wiley.com

One section of this book is devoted to working and organizing in a wired world, but the scope is broader, encompassing change management, leadership and new definitions of organizational health. This is a compendium of essays from leaders in the field — writers, consultants and academics — including Chris Argyris, Charles Handy, Dave Ulrich, Ron Ashkenas, Michael Hammer and Jeffrey Pfeffer.

Some representative chapters are:

•Preparing for organizational change — by James Champy

•The reconfigurable organization — by Jay Galbraith

•The work of new age managers in the emerging competitive landscape — by C.K. Prahalad

•Human capital in the digital economy — by Anthony Smith and Tim Kelly

•Diversity and organizations of the future — by Roosevelt Thomas Jr.

Peter Drucker provides the introduction, and this title is part of the Drucker Foundation Future Series.

Creating the Innovation Culture
By Frances Horibe, 258 pages, Wiley(2001).
At bookstores or Wiley Canada, 1-800-567-4797, www.wiley.com

Canadian writer Frances Horibe believes organizational success depends on “leveraging visionaries, dissenters and other useful troublemakers,” and that a lack of dissent often provides a calm appearance while masking a lack of innovation.

Her new book discusses the nature of dissent, the difference between good and bad dissent and important ways managers should encourage and coach dissenters while maintaining a positive and constructive work atmosphere. Readers will also find guidance on structures and mechanisms that support and sustain innovation, as well as handling problem behaviours and conflict situations.

Ideas from the book were featured in an article in CHRR (Oct. 8, 2001) when Horibe described how companies get smarter by challenging the ways they do things. Her previous book, Managing Knowledge Workers (Wiley, 1999), was reviewed in CHRR, Oct. 23, 2000.

Making Mergers Work: the strategic importance of people
Ed. By Jeffrey A. Schmidt, 302 pages, SHRM (2002). At bookstores or 1-800-444-5006, www.shrm.org/shrmstore

The U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management published this collection of articles by Towers Perrin experts covering all aspects of the mergers and acquisitions cycle, from pre-deal through due diligence, integration planning and implementation. HR’s role and contribution in every stage is outlined, along with guidance on risk mitigation, communication strategies and resourcing.

More than 400 senior HR professionals provided input via a research study; two thirds of them had been involved in three or more mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures in recent years.

Readers will find examples of consolidated HR integration plans, communication and change plans and handling of issues pertaining to employee relations and reactions. Specific chapters address the emergence of the new HR function, transforming the HR organization, integrating rewards, benefits and HR technology.

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) 316-8733 or [email protected].

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