Best Workplace Culture Books

Culture is where all greatness is founded, whether you are a solo freelancer or employing thousands. The following books were carefully chosen for their proven principles and processes. Culture starts with the perspective on its situation, a guiding vision of why it exists, and shared guiding values. 

People don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. - Simon Sinek  

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The Culture Code book

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

Based on four years of researching eight of the world’s most successful groups. This book on culture studied a diverse set of workplaces. This book has three sections, build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose. At the end of each section is a chapter titled "Ideas for Action" that gives practical tips to implement the learning points from the different studies. Action ideas include; overcommunicate your listening, embrace the messenger, overdo thank yous, eliminate bad apples, and make sure everyone has a voice. Make sure the leader is vulnerable first and often, overcommunicate expectations, deliver negative stuff in person, and listen like a trampoline. Name and rank priorities, and be ten times as clear about them as you think you should, embrace using catchphrases, and measure what matters.  

“Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.” Daniel explains “we focus on what we can see—individual skills. But individual skills are not what matters. What matters is the interaction.” This workplace culture book starts by explaining how kindergartners regularly beat business students in an experiment to build a structure from uncooked spaghetti, clear tape, string, and a marshmallow. Because they naturally feel safer around each other and are not concerned about what others think about them and they start building. Author is Daniel Coyle.  

Get the Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

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First Break All The Rules book

First Break All The Rules: What The World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

Based on research that covers 25 years, a million employees and eighty thousand managers, with the focus on “What do the most talented employees need from their workplace?” and “How do the world’s greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees?” The four ‘keys,’ 1. Select for talent (recurring patterns of behavior that can be productively applied). Talents are either striving, thinking, or relating. 2. Define the right outcomes. 3. Focus on strengths. 4. Find the right fit.  

Leaders and managers have the largest impact on setting the workplace culture. This book has the 12 questions that “measure the core elements needed to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees.” These include; Do I know what is expected of me at work? Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right? In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work? Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person? Is there someone at work who encourages my development? At work, do my opinions seem to count?  

The back of the book includes a basic strengths based interview and four master keys including Value world-class performance in every role and set up different levels of achievement for the roles. Study your best and set best practices. Teach the language of great managers. Authors; Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.  

Get First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

The Advantage book

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else

Based on the author’s decades of experience in business consulting. He explains details of the process for creating a cohesive team starting with trust that encourages healthy conflict, that achieves commitment that embraces accountability, all in order to focus on results. He provides details on how to work through the 6 questions to create a 'Playbook' and improve clarity.  

1. Why do we exist? This covers the vision of the organization. Patrick gives some different categories of 'your why.' 2. How do we behave? These are values, which he categorizes into permission to play, aspirational, core, and accidental. 3. What do we do? The simple statement that reminds people of the organization's core function. 4. How will we succeed? This is similar to figuring out your core competencies based on the strengths of the organization. 5. What is most important, right now? This is the organization's goal or the goal of 'Team One.' 6. Who must do what?  

The last question could still apply to freelancers if applied to outsourcing important tasks. He also explains how to overcommunicate and reinforce clarity of the six questions and why it's important. "People are skeptical about what they're being told unless they hear it consistently over time." Author is Patrick Lencioni.  

Get The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

The Best Place to Work book

The Best Place to Work: The Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace 

A science based approach to analyzing what details of a workplace culture can improve or detract from performance and productivity. The stocks of companies on the Best Companies to Work For list outperform the market as a whole by a stunning factor of 2 to 1. This book has action item highlights at the end of every chapter in case you are too busy to read the entire book. Highlights include; reward attempts not just outcomes. Create a workplace soundtrack. Reframe exercise as part of the job, since it improves productivity. Consider healthy perks and more frequent small positive experiences as opposed to annual experiences. "Remember, positive emotions can help or hurt depending on the task. The trick is to promote a mind-set that benefits the activities you’re about to undertake." Have organization fun time and simplify caring. Build a bridge between your workplace and a greater good.  

There's no one way for building a winning organizational culture, but there are a few principles that stand out... 1. Psychological needs are at the heart of employee management. 2. Organizations are more successful when they address the limits of the mind and body. 3. Integrating work and family life improves the quality of both. Author is Ron Friedman.  

Get The Best Place to Work by Ron Friedman, PhD

Start With Why book

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

"When a company clearly communicates their WHY, what they believe, and we believe what they believe, then we will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to include those products or brands in our lives." This book provides a simple yet remarkable theory about how the structure of our brains reflect how we communicate.  

The book explains an introduction usually starts in one of two ways. Most often an introduction begins by stating what you do. However, you can open up by stating why you do what you do. This book explains that people resonate more with why people do things rather than how or what people do. Unfortunately our default is to start a conversation with what we do, because that is a lot easier than explaining why we do things. However, it doesn't have as much impact as starting a conversation with why we to what we do.  

Marketing seems to have two aspects, reach and resonance. Start With Why says it is better to figure out how to resonate with your customers before you put a lot of effort into reaching them. The resonate then reach is especially important when starting a new endeavor. "The goal of business then should not be to simply sell to anyone who wants what you have—the majority—but rather to find people who believe what you believe, the left side of the bell curve."  

Get Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat Last book

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't

Another great book by the thought leader Simon Sinek. The title was inspired by the military officers in the field who always wait to eat, after the enlisted. 

The book opens with a dramatic real life story of some Special Operations Forces pinned down in an Afghanistan valley and an A-10 pilot coming to their rescue despite thick cloud cover in mountainous terrain. The two things that both sides shared, and saved the day, were not things, they were courage and trust. 

"We cannot tell people to trust us. We cannot instruct people to come up with big ideas. And we certainly can't demand that people cooperate. These are always results - the results of feeling safe and trused among the people." 

"The world around us is filled with danger. Filled with things trying to make our lives miserable. It's nothing personal; it's just the way it is." ... "The more we trust that the people to the left of us and the people to the right of us have our backs, the better equipped we are to face the constant threats from the outside together" (Simon Sinek). 

 "I know of no case study in history that describes an organization that has been managed out of a crisis. Every single one of them was led." ... "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader" (George J. Flynn, Lieutenant General, U.S. Marine Corps Ret.)

Get Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Good Culture Can Be Developed

Culture is a collection of intangible feelings and beliefs about the organization, the leaders, and the coworkers. I believe the foundation for every organization is the culture, and the culture is set by the leader(s). While trust might not be one of the operational shared guiding values, it is necessary for a healthy culture. You can find some great free resources on a healthy culture (for profits and nonprofits) at The Table Group organizational health page, under the products and tools page.  

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