Book review: ‘Strategic Human Resources Management, An HR professional’s toolkit’ Karen Beaven

So, reading my Saturday Times recently, I came across a really interesting article about perfectionism. It made a link to the Japanese tradition of ‘kintsugi’; an art form that takes ceramics that are broken and repairs them with gold or platinum. The effects are quite striking. The concept is simple. Rather than disguise the cracks in the pottery, the artist illuminates and celebrates them. The article in the newspaper made a connection between this art form and perfectionism and how intolerant we can be of mistakes.

In the article the writer demonstrates that seeing the cracks are healthy, especially in our modern working lives where we try to have it all. Furthermore, perhaps more significantly, the author explored leadership and how leadership needed more EQ than IQ. Leaders who understand the benefits of our vulnerability, self-worth and self-acceptance make better leaders; they are the gold and platinum flashes amongst the otherwise grey. Have you ever had a leader who trusted you enough to tell them a bit about themselves so that you could in turn be a bit more yourself? it is a relationship you remember, right?

Skip forward to my task for today which is to be in such a privileged position to write a book review written by a person who embodies the true meaning of leader in the HR field. Karen Beaven is a multi- award-winning HR Director with numerous accolades to her name such as HR Director of the year. She is also regularly tabled as being amongst HR’s most influential; with an impressive CV which includes working for high profile organisations such as Sainsburys, HMV, the Arcadia group and latterly River Island before setting up her own business, PX innovations Ltd. You may also have seen her pieces in HR Magazine. Her new book, ‘Strategic Human Resources Management, An HR professional’s toolkit’ was written at a time when Karen openly describes that she was in recovery from some personal challenges that made writing the book difficult. Rather than seeing this as something to disguise or hide, Karen’s personal journey is a source of inspiration that enhances the book and for me gives it that ‘kintsugi’ platinum touch.

The Review

Before I get into the review of the book, I wanted to understand Karen’s ‘why’ for writing it. She told me:

‘I’d always wanted to write a book and I was passionate about sharing information in a really practical way based on the experiences I’d had while building my career. I wanted to create something accessible with information that people could apply immediately. I really hope I’ve done that. I have a vision for ‘people experience’ that I’d started to develop in my role at River Island, so I really wanted to bring that to life.’

So firstly, it is a great read and Karen (if you are reading this) you have brought it to life for sure! There are practical tool kits at the end of each chapter along with pragmatic down to earth advice. The models and techniques in the book and tips really help you focus your thinking. One tip she gave me has transformed the way I organise my work already. I am sure you want to know what that is …but you’ll have to get the book!

It has all the important chapters you would expect to find in a book on SHRM such as the focus on people and culture; productivity and markets; inspirational leadership; workforce planning and talent management to name but a few. For me however, the bits of the book that really resonated are perhaps some things that you may not necessarily expect to see in a business text such as HR bounce-back-ability, bravery and self- care and mental well-being. Karen explains HR professionals aren’t ‘immune’ from both workplace and personal challenges. I really believe that! Ulrich has recently talked about the role of HR as care-givers but with that comes personal responsibility. We get to hear about some sensitive and difficult problems in people’s lives in this job and we absolutely do need to be there for those times; offering support to those who are brave to expose their vulnerabilities but also we need to know that at times we can take this home. We also have a role to try and prevent stressful situations from occurring in the first place which can be stressful in itself! However, we should encourage leadership to pay attention to these things as it is not a HR issue although HR plays a role. Our influence should be to make better leaders who spot signs in others and encourage lifestyle changes to safeguard well-being. This can only contribute to sustaining a high performing employee in the end …if they care about nothing else.

More from Karen on this:

‘I wanted to shift the mindset from thinking about humans as being resources to manage to one where people working in HR considered themselves to be more curators of ‘people experience’ with a responsibility to deliver that in the same way a commercial organisation might deliver customer experience. Of course, as you’d expect from me, that experience needs to encompass people working in the HR function too, when it comes to matters of self-care and personal development.’

So, as I reach the end of this review, the USP for me is that Karen practices what she preaches. She is human and personable, and I am grateful to be a part both her PX innovation hub on Facebook and to have her as my coach where we have explored the important links between physical and mental well-being and performance.

I leave you with one of her analogies. Karen, during one discussion made the connection with horses and how you can’t expect a horse to be high performing if you don’t create the right conditions for it to thrive in. This meant for her understanding the importance of knowing your triggers, hydrating and getting the right diet and exercise as well as some tips and pointers to develop a well-being strategy for your employees. Ever since, the analogy to a high performing horse has stayed with me when I am flailing at the gym or wanting to swim that extra length!

So, I hope my last blog for loveyourhr has given you some food for thought. I am starting a new journey which is focused on well-being where I will be working with the West Midlands Combined Authority on a well-being programme called Thrive at work, I hope to stay in touch with you all, I hope you find your ‘kintsugi’ and I encourage you to stay happy and healthy at work.

For more information about Karen Beaven head to her website.

Written By: Michelle Harte.

Leave a Reply