Magazine article HRMagazine

HR by the Book

Magazine article HRMagazine

HR by the Book

Article excerpt

Anyone who has ever taken a high school literature class is probably familiar with one of the book series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH): the black-and-yellowstriped CliffsNotes. HMH releases about 90 books each year, including cookbooks and the American Heritage Dictionary. Many HMH books have been made into popular movies, including Winter's Tale, Life of Pi, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Curious George, Mary Poppins and The Polar Express.

Steve C. Ostrom, PHR, HRBP, human resources business partner at the publisher's Orlando, Fla., office, is a strong proponent of learning among his employees. As director for membership and dues for the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) Orlando chapter, he also advocates giving back to his community and will be a volunteer this month at the SHRM 2014 Annual Conference & Exposition in Orlando.

Ostrom serves on the company's strategic partnership team, where he supports its corporate finance, strategic alliances and professional services teams, as well as the content development and technology groups-altogether about 400 employees in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

What are the HR challenges of working in book publishing?

We're in a very fast-paced, changing environment, internally and externally. One of the biggest challenges is keeping up our employees' skill levels by providing training and opportunities to grow. As we change and the world changes, our employees have to keep pace.

What kind of employees do you look for?

People who are curious and passionate about whatever they do. The growing need is for those who have a mind for technology. Everything our employees do has a tech component. The books we publish for schools have apps with video components. When you create that, you also have to understand how to translate content for a fourth- or fifth-grade student's reading level, for example.

What is HR's role with social media?

Our talent acquisition team uses social media to recruit and help brand HMH. In partnership with corporate communications, we want a consistent message and user experience. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn are major tools for us. Even though most of my social media use is personal, I've found out a lot about our company through Twitter. HR needs to know the business, and one way to educate yourself is to follow it- and your competitors-on social media sites. That's where the conversations are happening; that's where we're sharing our successes. Otherwise, it's a missed opportunity.

Do you tend to be an early adopter of technology?

Yes. I had the iPad within 30 days of its coming out in 2010, and I still have one of the original iPods. I jumped on the iPhone bandwagon early; I now have iPhone5s and an iPad3. I'm waiting for iPad television. I mainly use my gadgets in my personal time, but I think that every HR person should have some social media skills. You may not need them on a daily basis, but often the people you're bringing in are tech-savvy, and social media helps us find that talent.

It's been interesting to watch my company embrace technology. The iPad was introduced in April 2010; ours was the only publishing company that had a program for the iPad for students shortly after it came out. We conducted a pilot program during the 2010-11 school year with 400 California middle-school students to assess how an iPad-based algebra textbook (the HMH Fuse Algebra 1 app) might affect the quality of education. The study found that 20 percent more students (78 percent) scored "proficient" or "advanced" in subject comprehension when using tablets instead of print textbooks. …

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