HR directors who've written books

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Increasing numbers of HR professionals are putting their experiences on paper. Here's how to overcome writer’s block and get published

Ah February. The month it becomes clear which resolutions you’ve managed, and which have already fallen by the wayside.

Or perhaps it’s the month you turn your attention to more challenging long-term ambitions – ones hard to kick-start in a cold, dark, energy-sapping January…

It could be the month you decide to finally start that book. And there’s plenty of inspiration to draw from in the HR community. More and more are – it seems– penning something that sets out their experiences for others to learn from.

So where to start? “Just that! Get started,” advises Nikki Holt, author services manager and brand ambassador at writers’ membership club Jericho Writers. She adds to this the crucial advice to: “think about what is missing from the market currently”.

“If you don’t have a clear idea of what you are trying to do, or why people might want to read it, keeping going will be hard,” agrees associate professor of publishing at Kingston University London Alison Baverstock. Her first book How to Market Books was the product of realising that, ironically, “there were very few books on publishing”. (She’s also authored Is there a book in you? and The Naked Author: A Guide to Self-Publishing.)

To find a publisher before they get going HRDs should investigate who publishes books in their particular area, advises Baverstock. “A copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is the best starting point,” she says. She adds that self-publishing is now a fruitful alternative for many, explaining that publishing and printing this way is more affordable than it used to be. There are a range of editorial, marketing and legal services now available to support this and help deliver a professional result, she adds.

Finding the time to write can be the hardest part, Baverstock says, advising: “Make an appointment with yourself and stick with it”. “Join writers’ groups, take courses, attend events on writing – all of these will give support and encouragement along the way,”
adds Holt.

She highlights that, perhaps surprisingly, many struggle most with their second book. “It is hard work; writing is all about rewriting so you must be in love with your subject to go through months, maybe years, of working on it before it is ready to show the world,” she says.

But the rewards are worth it. “It is a well-known fact that doing something creative is incredibly good for mental health,” says Holt. “Many people find that losing themselves in their manuscript can be a relaxing and absorbing way to wind down.”

“Writing a book can be profoundly satisfying,” agrees Baverstock. “My research into self-publishing would indicate this is whether or not you make it available for sale… It’s completion that delivers satisfaction.”

Read on to find out what inspired three HRDs to start – and successfully finish – their books.

Eugenio Pirri, chief people and culture officer at Dorchester Collection and author of Be A People Leader

“I hadn’t really considered writing a book. But with the mentoring I’m involved in I found I was giving similar advice and thought perhaps it was time to get this onto paper. Be A People Leader focuses on how you need to have a plan or formula for this. I believe everyone has the ability, but some need a little more support than others.

It’s a relatively quick read; just eight short chapters. I was fortunate in that the comms agency my people team has worked with for several years, Humm Media, also has a publishing division. I sat down with them and just started talking about what I thought it meant to be an effective authentic people leader. We recorded our conversation, which allowed me to find my key points. I thought about what I had done in those areas and found examples to support my advice.

We had a really strict schedule of nine months. But once I started writing I found it just flowed. I used every opportunity to write when I was travelling.

We’re not all natural writers and therefore having a good publisher to guide and support the process is crucial. It allowed me to focus on what I wanted to say and not purely on how I should say it. My publishing team, along with their proofer/copy editor, ran the first thorough edit. I then shared the book with a number of close friends.

We ran a launch marketing campaign focused on opinion pieces and comment in the relevant HR and business media, as well as promoting through LinkedIn. I’ve been asked to serialise chapters and speak at various events about the book, and we recently ran an exclusive promotion with the Association of MBAs. Our publishers worked with their sales agents to secure promotions in high-street bookstores as well.

If I wrote another book it would be a humourous one about the day-to-day life of an HR leader. There is never a dull moment!”

Mandy Coalter, director of people at United Learning and author Talent Architects: How to make your school a great place to work

“The schools sector is facing an unprecedented teacher recruitment and retention crisis. While the government has a role to play, I could see that there was so much schools could do locally to better attract and retain talent. I wanted to reach out to school leaders and encourage them to see talent as their top priority. I believe this is crucial if young people in this country are to have great teachers.

I liked the concept of being a ‘talent architect’. I spoke to some education leaders and it was clear there was nothing for our sector in this area right now. I got in touch with a publisher who publishes in our sector and they loved the idea.

If you know what you want to cover and can write a summary of each chapter that is a great start – my publisher gave me the feedback that this is vital. After that I would suggest you go where your energy is. One thing I would do differently is record all my references as I went; I had to go back and do that at the end and it was a rather dull long-winded task.

I started out writing sequentially but found I kept getting stuck. Once I gave myself permission to just write about what was on my mind that week I really got into the flow.

Juggling this with a full-time role wasn’t easy. I couldn’t write at the end of the working day as my energy wasn’t high enough, so I carved out space every other weekend and stuck to that; it worked well for me but everyone is different. Writing took a few months. In terms of proofing I asked a head teacher to take a look as they are my target audience.

Writing a book is a wonderful thing to do and a great way to share your knowledge and experience. Just make sure you are clear on the intended audience and look for a gap in the market.”

Dean Royles, former executive director of HR and OD at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and co-author of Introduction to Human Resource Management

“I think I have always been keen to write. When I did my HR qualification I was lectured by academics who had written textbooks. I guess the thought of doing something similar first arose then. After the qualification I did some part-time lecturing at the university where I studied; Paul Banfield who is co-author of the book [along with Rebecca Kay] was my lecturer.

Prior to being involved in the book I had provided case studies, quotes and materials for other authors in the HR field. Many HR textbooks can be difficult to navigate so we tried to make it enjoyable for practitioners as well as academics.

I think you need to be passionate about what you do to write a book. It’s a long haul and you need to persevere. I think my contribution came from an understanding of practitioners, what I have learnt along the way, and being honest about the challenges we face. There isn’t always a textbook answer. I hope this comes across.

The book was more than two years in development. There are three stages involved – the research, the planning, and then the writing – and all require different skills. Working with experienced authors has been enormously helpful. Paul has written a number of books and he took most of the strain; in particular dealing with queries on referencing and editing.

The team at Oxford University Press edited the book. I asked colleagues to critically evaluate certain aspects as they were written. To promote it reading copies were sent to lecturers and specialists. I also do some promotion on Twitter, LinkedIn and when I write columns. I see writing blogs and magazine articles as an important part of my own development.

In future I’d like to do something on the fourth industrial revolution. I think this will be an important next chapter in the development of the profession.”

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