Five Must-Read Books to Build a More Engaged Culture in 2018

By Jason Richmond, writer
Feb 16, 2018
Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

Curl up with these books on workplace culture and get ready to transform your company.

What's the biggest challenge facing your business this year? If you're like many leaders and executives, the issue keeping you up at night is talent – how to build a culture that is primed to attract and retain talent in the 21st century.

In fact, it's a battle out there for the best talent. With baby boomers retiring at a pace of about 10,000 a day, there's dearth of talent ready to replace them even as job growth creates more opportunity for today's workers than ever before. Technology like social media makes it easier to find people, but it also makes it easier for those same people to jump ship if they're dissatisfied, and to spread the word to others about cultures that don't measure up.

All of this is putting organizations in an all-out battle to attract and retain skilled talent, with culture as the secret weapon. To win, start with a visit to the bookshelf. I've been fortunate to have early access to some of 201's most eagerly anticipated books on organizational culture. Here are five that are must-reads if you're ready to build a more engaged culture.

  1. "The Science of Story" by Adam Fridman, Andy Swindler and Hank Ostholthoff. As part of their research for this book, Fridman and Ostholthoff interviewed more than 500 business leaders from some of the country's top brands and most innovative startups about the purpose that drives their organizations. The result is "The Science of Story: Brand is a Reflection of Culture," which outlines Fridman, Swindler's and Ostholthoff’s findings from those conversations. It's backed by solid research into culture, engagement, positive psychology and more. This book is one of the most highly anticipated culture and branding books of 2018. It is a must-read for culture leaders and branding enthusiasts seeking to understand how brands can communicate what they believe, discover their purpose, ignite and engage internal and external tribes, and create an impact around the beliefs and purpose that drive their organizations.

  2. "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle. Wondering what skills the best cultures possess and others don't? "The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups" breaks down the essential three skills that are found on the best teams. They include an emphasis on building safety, sharing vulnerability and risk, and establishing purpose. Building safety means signaling connections to build bonds of identity and belonging while sharing vulnerability is about mutual risk driving trusting cooperation. The third and most important skill is establishing purpose through storytelling that creates a narrative of shared goals between the group and the individual. Coyle's findings on safety and purpose echo recent research by Google teams around psychological safety and meaning. According to Google, high-performing teams must feel safe to take risks and feel that their efforts have meaning and impact.

  3. "Alive at Work" by Dan Cable. What causes people to engage with their work, or not? "Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do," seeks to answer this question from the perspective of neuroscience. According to Cable, professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School, humans are not wired for the type of repetitive and emotionally unrewarding labor they're often asked to do. Instead, we evolved with a "seeker gene" that makes us desire the stimulation of new tasks. In the past, organizations leveraged fear to keep people in line. Today, organizations must build cultures based on the science behind human motivation; cultures that deliver opportunities to learn and grow that humans are genetically engineered to seek out. The book is due out in March. For those who can't wait, Cable previewed his approach in a series of YouTube videos that share some fascinating insights about how the relationship between people and work is changing in the 21st century.

  4. "The Captain Class" by Sam Walker. It seems that every year out comes a book about sports teams that purports to have applications to business organizations. "The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World's Greatest Teams," was 2017's entry into the genre. Walker, the former founding editor of the Wall Street Journal's sports section, examines sports teams and the seven traits of leaders that have taken teams to the greatest success. Among these traits? Extreme doggedness, testing boundaries, willingness to lead from the back (or servant leadership), democratic communication style, nonverbal motivation, courage of one's convictions and emotional control. With significant lessons about how leaders set the tone for teams and organizations, "The Captain Class" is one sports-themed book that deserves its place on the culture bookshelf.

  5. "Powerful" by Patty McCord. McCord was a co-founder of Netflix and co-author of the Netflix Culture Deck (one of the most-read culture documents in Silicon Valley). In "Powerful, Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility," she shares insights about how Netflix's culture enabled it to handle the exponential growth it experienced as e-commerce, then streaming, replaced video rentals. One "powerful" insight? "A company's job isn't to empower people; it's to remind people that they walk in the door with power and to create the conditions for them to exercise it." One of the practices at Netflix that she credits with the company's ability to create that type of culture was replacing policies and procedures with coaching. Recent studies support the wisdom of the approach, particularly for managing younger workers: Surveys indicate that millennials seek coaching and feedback 50 percent more often than other workers.

It's a battle out there for talent and the minds of your employees and customers. To win, you must build an engaging culture with a compelling story to tell about what sets it apart from other companies. Further, it must be a culture that's lived, not just claimed by recruiters and marketing materials. It should also be one that delivers competitive advantage to the organization and purposeful engagement to its people. These are the books that can take you there.

My ongoing goal of continual growth started with one objective - to learn from everyone and apply those lessons to my life. My life is dedicated to understanding how I can better help others, and that’s why I’ve travelled all over the world. To take a step back, it all started with Dale Carnegie. I took the Carnegie course after three years in Australia and embraced the methods and philosophies behind it. I embraced them so much, in fact, that I dedicated my life to them. I became a partner with Dale Carnegie because I saw the impact the program had on careers around the globe. It was a genuinely enlightening moment in my professional life. In fact, it was a legitimate moment of clarity. This path led me to become a consultant for various organizations, acting as an HR partner as I developed partnerships for my clients. I had the opportunity to travel the world and work with amazing people everywhere. But why Carnegie? My passion is to learn and share what I’ve discovered. It’s to take away an experience from every situation and apply it to my life and the lives of my team members. You won’t learn if you remain stationary, and I want to learn and grow. Ultimately, my position now is a way for me to provide for people and make their lives better. I do so by uniting individuality and fostering outstanding culture. I’d rather be a leader than a pusher because people respond positively to it. After all, if I’m not energized and committed, why should my team be? I am who I am because of because I’ve had the opportunity to be a student of different cultures around the world. I don’t see myself as a CEO. I don’t see myself as an executive. I see myself as a resource for my team and my clients. If I can’t serve them, I’m not doing my job. And if I can’t serve you, I can’t say I’m doing my job, either.
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