Jess ElmquistJuly 9, 2023
Topics: HR Experience

My Summer Reading Recommendations for CHROs

At the heart of everything leaders do is to leave our businesses and our people better than we found them.

For me that boils down to teaching. Regular readers in this space know that I come from a family of educators. They influenced me to become a public high school teacher in Minnesota. Reading, I used to tell my students, is one of the greatest acts of knowledge transfer there is. I used to suggest books to them all the time.

That practice continued through my own journey in HR by recommending books on leadership to my C-suite peers. They looked forward to hearing about the latest book I picked up.

With summer finally here, I thought I would do something fun and different by compiling a list of my favorite reads that made me a better leader. Whether you’re on the beach, lounging by a pool, or on a flight to a vacation destination, you can enjoy these books anywhere.

After all, CHROs are in constant learning mode. So let’s share a great idea or two.

Leading Continuous Change” by Bill Passmore

The author was actually my professor at Columbia University when I was pursuing a master’s in organizational psychology. Passmore is an expert in the field, a true thought leader on change.

His book was a foreshadow to the future of work and people being comfortable with constant and continuous change. The world is moving at such a rapid clip, we can either be scared of it or embrace it. We have to figure out new ways of thinking and understanding new models that give us the tools to be able to help ourselves and the people around us command and manage change.

Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon” by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr

This has been out for a couple of years and is probably on the bookshelf of every C-suite denizen (or should be). It’s so influential that it was mandatory reading when I joined Phenom more than a year ago.

The book offers insights into a business model that Phenom has used in regards to thinking through how to innovate, how to align, and how to support our organization to grow and to be strong in the long term.

I recommend this book for any leader who wants to understand the methodology of a company. It's not a blueprint, per se. I found the book to be more of a guide, allowing you to pick and choose the principles of working backwards that fit your company's culture and where you plan to go.

These principles and ideas actually helped spur new ideation and thoughts about how I could be a leader in my company, how I could think about my organization, and what makes us great.

We would all do well to experience the intrinsic value of recreating and doing things in a different way.

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars” by Patrick Lencioni

A true oldie but goodie. Just an awesome book. What I love about the author is that he writes his principles of whatever he's doing inside the context of a fictional story. He'll have a narrative around a consultant who has been hired by a company. It's all fictional, but he weaves a great storyline to teach principles that he calls “fables.”

The book is a leadership fable about destroying the barriers that turn colleagues into competition. I love the principles of being able to learn how to be more selfless, and, in that, emerging victorious in the end.

The book goes into great detail about letting go of things you think are important and grab on to new things to create more synergy. It’s also a helpful reminder to get out of our own way as an organization so we can serve our customers with excellence.

Covert Processes at Work: Managing the Five Hidden Dimensions of Organizational Change” by Robert Marshak

This one was more on the academic side but still just as powerful. My copy has all sorts of color-coded sticky notes on many pages, which goes to show the impact it had on me.

The book is about managing the hidden dimensions of organizational change — what's the story under the story? It challenges HR, CHRO, and human capital leaders to think hard about organizational design — how to create a design and a process to help them uncover the things that could be getting in the way of success.

I’m attracted to the study of organizational psychology and the way large groups are impacted by personalities and people. I love the idea of the large group dynamic and all of its tensions.

The other piece to it are the models to uncover and create more health, vitality, transparency, and communication in organizations. If you allow the covert, if you allow the unsaid things to fester, that limits the opportunity for an organization to maximize its impact. I find that fascinating.

The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling” by Stephen Cope

Just a great book around personal introspection and growth for life. It encourages readers to be true to their calling and be willing to take the risk to do the thing that you feel like they've been led to do.

This book is personal for me in so many respects. It helped me understand how to harness the energy I had around wanting to help people and businesses be better, work better, and function better.

The common themes running through these books are change and curiosity. Have an open mindset that the way we believe something works may not always last, or it may need to be modified to be successful. Sound advice for us all in this shifting talent market.

What’s on your reading list, CHROs? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s connect on LinkedIn.

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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