Get Amazing Stories

Get great contents delivered straight to your inbox everyday, just a click away, Sign Up Now
Email address
Secure and Spam free...
Receive Anita Turner's Strategy Tips

I freaking love to read.  And my two favorite non-fiction subjects are company culture and the legal industry. (Shocker.)

I thought it would be fun to ask the people I admire running non-profits, companies and law firms here in Birmingham what their favorite books on culture are.  They did not disappoint!

Some books I have read; others are now on my To Read list on Goodreads; a few are on their way from Amazon to Casa Turner.


Erich Durlacher, President & Strategy Partner, Burr Forman, recommends three books, all of which I have read and loved.  They are Smart Collaboration by Heidi Gardner, Give and Take by Adam Grant, and Start with Why by Simon Sinek.  Clearly Erich and I have similar reading taste, so Erich, please keep the recommendations coming.

Greg Curran, Chairman, Maynard Cooper & Gale, recommends The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni.  In a review of this book, Publishers Weekly recaps Lencioni’s four steps to organizational health: “build a cohesive leadership team, create clarity, overcommunicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.”  This seems like the perfect approach for a law firm!

JW Carpenter, Executive Director, Birmingham Education Foundation (& former lawyer) loved Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humility by Kim Malone Scott.  JW says “celebratory and constructive feedback is crucial to success but very hard to deliver in an effective, honest, and human way. Radical Candor outlines how you can do that and why it is the right thing to do for your culture and your people.”

April Benetollo, CEO, Momentum and former CMO, Daxko, raves about Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin Freiberg. Per April “though it was written 20 years ago, NUTS! is the story of how Southwest Airlines put employees and culture at the very center of their success. It was a revolutionary approach at the time, and it has proven the test of time. When people are treated as members of a team rather than employees, when they are recognized for their contributions (no matter where they are in the chain of operations), and when every single person knows precisely what the business values most, they will go the extra mile to do what it takes handle just about anything.”

Benetollo also loved The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace by Ron Friedman and Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek.

Jake McKenzie, CEO, Intermark, says his favorite company culture book is Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg.  What will you learn from Smarter Faster Better?  Employees are more motivated if they believe that others recognize and appreciate what they think, feel, and do. I read and loved this book and its predecessor, The Power of Habit, as well.

Teresa Chamblee Shufflebarger, Healthcare Strategist and former Market Chief Strategy Officer, Brookwood Baptist Health, has three recommendations:  The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert Sutton, The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey, and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Aside — One of my favorite quotes ever is by Cal Newport: “From my experience, the most common trait you will consistently observe in accomplished people is an obsession with completion.  Once a project falls into their horizon, they crave almost compulsively to finish it.”  Probably a favorite of mine because it validates my compulsivity!

Michael Eady, President, Knight Eady, and his partners have created a workspace renowned for its culture.  Eady credits some lessons he learned from Start with Why  as well as Tribes by Seth Godin and The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.  His favorite, however, is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh.  “Delivering Happiness might be the most practical story-based book I read on culture. Tribes is super short and very practical.  Big fan of Seth Godin.”

I echo Michael’s sentiments about Seth Godin and cannot say enough good things about Delivering Happiness.  Tony Hsieh is a force when it comes to culture and I had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand what his culture-building did for the city of Las Vegas.  Count me a raving fan.  Also, shoes.

Tony Summerville, Founder and CEO, Fleetio, is a fan of High Output Management by Andy Grove, Measure What Matters by John Doerr, Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord and the previously mentioned Radical Candor by Kim Scott.  Given Fleetio’s rapid growth and distributed workforce, Summerville must be doing something very right so his recommendations hold weight.

And, while Summerville was the only person to mention Measure What Matters in response to this specific request, I know Michael Eady and JW Carpenter are also big fans of the book so it is zooming to the top of my To Read list.

John Boone, Founder and Principal, Orchestra Partners, recommends Understanding Michael Porter by Joan Margretta.  Boone and Orchestra Partners are laser-focused on development strategy right now so this makes sense.

My favorite restaurateur, Nick Pihakis, CEO, Pihakis Restaurant Group, has learned a lot about building a culture in the service industry.  He recommends Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer and The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Company by Joseph Michelli.  “These [books] to me represent the good and the bad cultures that can control our relationships with each other and with our guest in the service world.”

See for yourself what Nick has learned by visiting one of his restaurants: Mile End Deli, Little Donkey, Hero Donuts, Rodney Scott’s BBQ and Big Bad Breakfast.

Lastly, my culture hero locally, Lawrence Sheffield, Founder and CEO of non-profit Magic City Woodworks.  I asked him for his recommendations and I loved his response.  “I am a visual and audible learner. My favorite company cultural pieces are actually podcasts.”  How I Built This with Guy Raz, Patagonia episode, Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, Defining Your Organizational Culture. 2 part episode. And Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, Netflix Episode.

I know many people who, like Lawrence, learn better by listening.  Audio books and podcasts are the greatest thing for these people, but they are also a great option for people who spend a lot of time in their cars or at the gym.  Love it! (More podcast recommendations here.)

Bringing it all home to real estate

Many new companies design their space to support their desired culture, and frequently mature companies renovate or relocate to better embrace a culture shift.  As stated by Jacob Morgan in The Employee Experience Advantage, ”Organizations that create truly COOL workspaces genuinely understand how and why employees work and design spaces that reflect those ways of working.” (I am not recommending this book although it had some good points. Poor book editing, IMO.  Sorry, Jacob.)

Office space can clearly have an effect on organizational culture.  But you have to define that culture first.  These books can help.

Oh, and before I leave you, my company culture recommendation is The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. In a nutshell: Transitions should be marked, milestones commemorated and pits filled.  Send me an email and I’ll send you my summary.



Leave a Reply

Weekly Real Estate Insights

Clear, simple, insights on creative office space.
Email address
Secure and Spam free...