The Big Book of HR

By Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem

Review by Alice Waagen,
Workforce Learning

Human Resources is the business function everyone loves to hate. As an adjunct HR professional (I spend my time in the learning and development arena), I find myself caught in endless debates about the value HR brings to the organization. Is HR simply costly overhead or do its programs and services contribute to business success?

When I hear discourse on the value of HR, I am often struck by the lack of understanding folks have as to the size and scope of the HR function. I am at the point of asking everyone I meet to read The Big Book of HR before they start talking about the merits and detriments of this critical business support function.

The Big Book of HR is an encyclopedic reference on every process and procedure that we call Human Resources. Mitchell and Gamlem have done all of us an enormous favor by detailing the inner working of HR. The book is big but can easily be read as a desk reference, perusing the issues or areas that are of immediate concern.

Although the topics can be read in any order, the strength of The Big Book of HR is that Mitchell and Gamlem present the functions in a logical sequence, discussing topics in terms of how they fit with concepts covers earlier in the book. For instance, their section on employee development notes that “any employee development must take into consideration the needs of the organization as defined by the strategic and workforce plans.” Workforce plans are covered earlier in the book, giving the reader the framework in which to plan employee development. By linking different HR initiatives to the overall strategy of the business, Mitchell and Gamlem espouse implementing HR solutions as business support systems, not just isolated one-time events with minimum business integration.

Structurally, The Big Book of HR is easy to navigate and use. The book is composed of five sections, each covering a major milestone in the employee lifecycle: Selecting and Assimilating, Engagement and Retention, Total Rewards, Employee Development and Employee Relations. Chapters within each section describe specific tasks and activities with current business examples and drill-down specifics covered in side bars. Periodic discussion questions let the reader self-test their understanding of the material.

The real value for the HR practitioner and business leader is in the ample appendix which contains templates, charts, forms and sample policies. This additional material allows one to go from obtaining rich background information to designing usable applications for their organization.

If I was a CEO or Executive Director, I would want a copy of The Big Book of HR on the desk of anyone in my organization who directed the work of others. The processes and procedures detailed here need to be understood, used and supported by all members of the management need. HR staff alone cannot assure a well-functioning employee support system. All leaders are responsible to build and maintain systems that promote top performance for all. The more folks understand the nuances and complexity of this function we call human resources, the more we help create organizations that optimize business success.

Click here to learn more about The Big Book of HR.