Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)

Zappos’ founder and CEO Tony Hsieh tells the story of his company’s raving fans and rapid growth, won through a maniacal focus on corporate culture and customer satisfaction. This was one of the books we had every employee read at Varrow, a fast-growing IT start-up. It became a cornerstone of our award-winning customer-centric culture.

While I believe Delivering Happiness provides a great blueprint for culture-building in new and young organizations, it doesn’t provide much actionable insight in how to apply these principles to established, unhealthy, or calcified businesses. Readers who have worked in traditional businesses will find opportunities to laugh out loud at the naïveté of some of the stories. Still, it’s an entertaining and inspiring look into what’s possible when you build a truly aligned organizational culture.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else (Jossey-Bass, 2012)

The Advantage is a quick read that provides a compelling case for building Organizational Health, a deep alignment of priorities and management practices across an organization. In my most recent fast-growth business, we found this book to be quite valuable in developing a common language to address some of our challenges of growth and scale. Most of Lencioni’s observations and insights align with my own view of, and framework for, organizational alignment.

Lencioni himself observes that while the formula for Organizational Health is straightforward, few organizations seem to achieve it and maintain it long-term. Why? I believe it requires a level of consistency and discipline that few management teams and established organizations can attain… at least with their current leadership. Most organizations I’ve encountered, beyond the start-up stage, are fundamentally inconsistent and undisciplined, with a multitude of priorities, processes, practices and performance metrics that perpetuate this. And many leaders I’ve worked with become addicted to these behaviors and the chaos-management adrenaline they produce.

Still, I highly recommend The Advantage as an aspirational model, and a tool for realizing just how unhealthy some of your organization’s behaviors may be… and for ideas on how to make your organization healthier.

Tribal Leadership (HarperBusiness, 2008)

Tribal Leadership was a foundational text for building the culture at Varrow, an IT company we grew at over 70% CAGR for 8 years. Dave Logan and team’s research, insights, and practical guidance on fostering and nurturing tribes was required reading for all our employees for a few years. Tribes form naturally and organically; they’re NOT engineered by management. But there ARE things management can do to support and enable tribal health. There also are bad management practices that can suppress tribes, or worse, create pathological tribal behavior.

Groups of people naturally organize into tribes, around their shared purpose and passion, two of my “P” Principles of Alignment. This is great background reading to better understand the power of those principles, and strategies for leveraging them in your organization.

Toyota Kata (McGraw-Hill Education, 2009)

My friend Michael Sledge turned me onto Toyota Kata. This excellent book explores the underlying culture within Toyota that enables all of their well-known processes and tools to actually yield sustainable advantage (and that enabled them to be developed, in the first place!). Through observation of Toyota’s processes, Rother realized that the magic isn’t really in the processes. Instead, it comes from deeply ingrained cultural behaviors for continuous improvement and coaching that have developed over decades and are practically invisible to those within the system, because it’s just the “Toyota way”.

I recommend this to anyone who wants to make ANY process improvement initiative really stick.

Click the link above to find it on Amazon.