The best books on organizational culture

Many authors have picked their favorite books about organizational culture and why they recommend each book.

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No Rules Rules

By Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer,

Book cover of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

No one can question the incredible growth and success that Netflix has had over the last several years. As such, I was intrigued by what made the company so good at creating content and disrupting the distribution chains that had been a backbone of Hollywood for generations with the introduction and mainstreaming of streaming. Written by Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, I was fascinated to see how this small DVD distribution company blossomed into the behemoth power player that it has become. Beyond its relevance in Hollywood, this book really gave me great insight into how any successful corporation should operate. Their unique procedures for conducting business and think outside the box policies for running a large corporation are concepts that every CEO and business owner should absorb.

Who am I?

I am the author of seven published books about Hollywood. I’m also actively involved in the entertainment industry day to day. Presently, I am the owner of Management 101, a firm that guides the careers of actors and writers. I’m also a producer of feature films and television shows including the GLAAD award-winning feature film Geography Club, Sins of our Youth, and Nickelodeon’s Dance On Sunset. I have taught at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California and have appeared as a guest on Entertainment Tonight, CNN, Fox News, and CBS.

I wrote...

Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

By Frederick Levy,

Book cover of Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

What is my book about?

Hollywood 101 is a guide for anyone wanting to break into the film business. I break down the various jobs in Hollywood, on set and off, and through a series of interviews with top industry professionals, give advice on getting started in various Hollywood careers. My book is used as a textbook in film classes throughout the country and it’s considered by many to be the definitive guide to launching a show business career. Did I mention it was also a two-time, Los Angeles Times bestseller?

Taking the Floor

By Daniel Beunza,

Book cover of Taking the Floor: Models, Morals, and Management in a Wall Street Trading Room

Taking the Floor is the story of a 20-year intellectual odyssey, by Daniel Beunza, one of the world’s most insightful analysts of the financial system. He delves in-depth into the organization of a Wall Street trading room, beginning with him negotiating access to it when he was working on his PhD. He also reveals how later conversations with key people in the trading room made him rethink many of his first impressions, showing him that what he took to be a typical form of organization was actually very deliberately designed to be unusual. 

I particularly admire Beunza’s nuanced take (co-developed with the sociologist David Stark) on how traders use mathematical models. Traders are far from the naïve users of models that they are often portrayed as being, and instead often use models in a sophisticated way, not as guides to the truth of markets but as insights into what their…

Who am I?

I'm a sociologist at the University of Edinburgh, and for almost fifty years I’ve researched a large variety of topics, from the story of the guidance systems of nuclear missiles to the instantaneous auctions that, today, determine the ads you are shown online. But I keep returning to the topic of trading and the global financial system. The processes that lie behind this shape our lives in profound ways, but they are often both complicated and opaque. We need reliable guides for them, and the authors and books that I am recommending are among the very best guides!

I wrote...

Trading at the Speed of Light: How Ultrafast Algorithms Are Transforming Financial Markets

By Donald Angus MacKenzie,

Book cover of Trading at the Speed of Light: How Ultrafast Algorithms Are Transforming Financial Markets

What is my book about?

In today’s financial markets, trading floors on which brokers buy and sell shares face-to-face have been replaced by lightning-fast electronic systems that use algorithms to execute astounding volumes of transactions. Trading at the Speed of Light tells the story of this epic transformation. MacKenzie shows how in the 1990s, in what were then the disreputable margins of the financial system, a new approach to trading—automated high-frequency trading or HFT—began and then spread globally. HFT has brought new efficiency to trading, but has also created an unrelenting race for speed, leading to a systematic, subterranean battle among HFT algorithms.

Trading at the Speed of Light offers a unique glimpse into HFT’s influence on global finance and where it could lead us in the future.

Courageous Cultures

By Karin Hurt, David Dye,

Book cover of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates

To live and work in a world of turmoil and change requires courage. Resilience is a life skill that can be learned—but it takes courage. In this book, Hurt and Dye come up with very practical but realistic ways to identify organizational practices that encourage or cut-off valuable conversations.

I’m in the field of communications and their advice is not only timely but timeless. I reach for their book when I went to coach someone who is overwhelmed by the workplace. It might be a manager trying to hold a team together, or individual contributors trying to determine if a role is right for them.  Hold this on your bookshelf. I guarantee you will use it for yourself—or for others.

Who am I?

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to make a difference—by helping others become wiser and/or happier. But how? Colleagues, clients, and friends tell me that I have a capacity for energy that is boundless. I resisted that statement. It sounded “fluffy”. How could I make a difference if I saw “energy” as being some flighty firefly? Then, when I went through 2 bouts of burnout, I realized that energy was the secret—the secret to resilience, the secret to growth and service. Reading, writing, and speaking fill me with the energy to grow, learn, laugh, and serve. I trust these books and my writing will bring the same to you.

I wrote...

Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters

By Eileen McDargh,

Book cover of Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters

What is my book about?

The World Health Organization had already listed Burnout as a global occupational hazard before the pandemic. From employees stressed to the breaking point to organizations battered by resignations and shrinking markets, this book offers solid advice and insight that is timely, relevant, and actionable. Because all leadership starts with self-leadership, you’ll find a clear road map to breaking free of personal and professional demands while being given a clear formula for building a life of your design.

At the same time, you’ll find a nuanced, broader perspective about a workplace that is “preheated” for overachievers. Leaders will be equipped with valuable questions and practices to help employees turn burnout into fired up. But make no mistake. You’ll find this a big-hearted book, written in a lively style with lots of relatable examples and immediately applicable advice.

When Cultures Collide

By Richard D. Lewis,

Book cover of When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures

Masterpiece of cultural observations. I wish there were more books like this. Insights into different countries' cultures. Some amazing, like the reason for American's lack of manners, or Japanese procedures. I practically underlined the entire book, I loved it so much.

Who am I?

The greatest thrill is seeing something a new way. Remember the end of the movie The Sixth Sense, when you learn he was dead the whole time? It blows your mind and makes you re-think everything you saw. That's how it feels to learn another philosophy or a new distinction in understanding the world. I'm always seeking more of those moments, and these five books (plus mine) do that more than any I've found so far.

I wrote...

How to Live: 27 Conflicting Answers and One Weird Conclusion

By Derek Sivers,

Book cover of How to Live: 27 Conflicting Answers and One Weird Conclusion

What is my book about?

27 different answers to the question of how to live your life. Each chapter disagrees with the rest. But in this case, they’re all true, so how can you reconcile it? You’ll see.

This book is only available from the author here.

Leadership Reckoning

By Thomas Kolditz, Libby Gill, Ryan P. Brown

Book cover of Leadership Reckoning: Can Higher Education Develop the Leaders We Need?

The message of Leadership Reckoning is that we need do a better job of developing human-centered business leaders who can meet the challenges of a disrupted world. I believe the approach in this book will also achieve the goal of building more inclusive organizational cultures in which all employees can thrive, regardless of their variations.

Who am I?

I have been an organizational psychologist and executive coach for more than two decades, advising high-level executives, including Fortune 500 leaders, to build workplace cultures in which all employees can flourish. Yet, for many employees of color, the workplace is so challenging that many feel professionally stifled. I realized many years ago that to accomplish my own goals; I needed to take control of my career and not depend upon the vagaries of individual leaders. I needed to set goals, take a long game view, be honest with myself and my leaders, and help leaders understand how changing some habits could help them and me succeed in a disrupted world. 

I wrote...

Leading Inclusion: Drive Change Your Employees Can See and Feel

By Gena Cox,

Book cover of Leading Inclusion: Drive Change Your Employees Can See and Feel

What is my book about?

In this well-researched book, organizational psychologist and executive coach Gena Cox delivers the message that although human variation is normal, true inclusion that embraces these variations remains elusive in the workplace. She argues that this state of affairs will continue until executives lead inclusion from the top of their organizations. Drawing on psychological science, interviews with corporate leaders, the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts, and her own experience in corporate America, Gena goes beyond the “business case” and answers the clarion call for human-centered organizational leadership.

Leading Inclusion is not a “how-to” book; it is a “how-to-be” book that educates, challenges, and empowers you and your c-suite and board colleagues to change your organization—and America—one employee at a time. 

Spirituality, Corporate Culture, and American Business

By James Dennis Lorusso,

Book cover of Spirituality, Corporate Culture, and American Business: The Neoliberal Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capital

Austin, Texas, where I now live, is home to the first Whole Foods in America. Before the chain of grocery stores was bought out by Amazon, I used to shop there. Then I stopped, or well, I no longer went as often, because I learned in LoRusso's book that company founder John Mackey promoted a libertarian spirituality that considered government interference morally hostile and went as far as to proclaim Obama Care a form of fascism. 

Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by the ways religion reconciles contradiction. Both of my parents were public school teachers in the panhandle of Florida, and I now work at a public university in Texas, yet the culture in which I was raised, of white evangelicalism, supported economic policies of neoliberalism that defunded public life. My interest in American religion is motivated by the question of why we participate in systems that harm us. This is an economic question, but sufficient answers must address the power of religion to shape what we see as morally good and bad. These books all do that.

I wrote...

Religion Around Bono: Evangelical Enchantment and Neoliberal Capitalism

By Chad E. Seales,

Book cover of Religion Around Bono: Evangelical Enchantment and Neoliberal Capitalism

What is my book about?

My book details how evangelical Protestantism was diffused into global popular culture in such a powerful way that it shaped how those in Europe and America came to understand the continent of Africa as always in need of their help. The book tells a story of the most significant promoter of cultural evangelicalism after the Cold War: U2's Bono. As Billy Graham was to the U.S. political policies of the 1970s and '80s, Bono was to American-led neoliberal policies of corporate intervention in Africa after the 1990s. The book contends that to understand how neoliberalism continues to frame the politics of the good, you must understand the power of evangelicalism to make us feel good.


By Michele Zanini, Gary Hamel,

Book cover of Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them

This book does a very nice job highlighting the costs of traditional bureaucracy and shows that bureaucracy costs the economy trillions of dollars. The authors then review how to create an organization where people feel empowered to accomplish all that they can. By fulling engaging the hearts, minds, and actions of people, organizations are more successful over time.

Who am I?

Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business and a partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 30 books. The organizations where we live, work, play, and worship affect every part of our lives. Organizations turn individual competencies into collective capabilities, isolated events into sustained patterns, and personal values into collective values. In short, organizations matter in our lives. By adapting their answer to “what is an organization,” leaders, employees, customers, and investors will be better able to improve their organization's experiences.

I co-authored...

Reinventing the Organization: How Companies Can Deliver Radically Greater Value in Fast-Changing Markets

By Dave Ulrich, Arthur Yeung,

Book cover of Reinventing the Organization: How Companies Can Deliver Radically Greater Value in Fast-Changing Markets

What is my book about?

In today’s changing world, your company needs to manage information, be agile, focus on customers, and discover innovation.  The new organization form (Market Oriented Ecosystem … MOE) draws on numerous models: agile, networked, holacracy, and remarkable cases including Tencent, Alibaba, Google, Facebook to distill 6 principles for creating an organization that delivers employee, strategy, customer, and financial results.  This work is a roadmap for the new organization journey.

Under the Hood

By Stan Slap,

Book cover of Under the Hood: Fire Up and Fine-Tune Your Employee Culture

Stan captures the essence of the mindset needed to Collaborate. To quote Slap: “When an employee culture is repositioned as a newly precious, workable asset, a company will naturally protect it, same as with any asset. An employee culture can’t be protected without protecting their humanity. If we lose humanity in business, we’re all doomed. If we save it we will have saved ourselves. In case you fear this icy hand of altruism will grip your own company by the throat and choke the life out of revenue, not to worry: We’re talking here about making the business case for humanity. In any environment where meaning is determined by metrics, the point of view and processes in this book are going to cause measurable, sustainable results." We agree.

Who are we?

Jim Tamm was a Senior Administrative Law Judge for the State of California with jurisdiction over workplace disputes. In that role, he mediated more school district labor strikes than any other person in the United States. Ron Luyet is a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with group dynamics pioneers such as Carl Rogers and Will Schutz.  He has advised Fortune 500 companies for over forty years specializing in building high-performance teams. Together they wrote Radical Collaboration and are excited to share this list with you today.

We wrote...

Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships

By James Tamm, Ronald Luyet,

Book cover of Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships

What is our book about?

Collaborative skills have never been more important to a company's success and these skills are essential for every worker today. Radical Collaboration is a how-to-manual for creating trusting, cooperative environments, and transforming groups into motivated and empowered teams. James W. Tamm and Ronald J. Luyet provide tools that will help you increase your ability to work successfully with others, learn to be more aware of colleagues, and better problem-solve and negotiate.

Radical Collaboration is an eye-opener for leaders, managers, HR professionals, agents, trainers, and consultants who are seeking constructive ways of getting the results they want.

Creativity, Inc.

By Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace,

Book cover of Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Ed Catmull, together with his partner, George Lucas, completely changed the nature of animation with the founding of Pixar Animation Studios. This book outlines the philosophy and management practices that allowed Pixar to achieve unprecedented levels of success with its productions by shaking up traditional norms in the movie business. Sterling bits of advice include: It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them; the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them; and a company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

Who am I?

When I first started in the field of strategy, all the cool kids were doing industry-level analysis. Order of entry, strategic groups, R&D intensity…anything you could get sufficient data about to run complex models was the order of the day. Those of us studying the ‘insides’ of corporations, particularly the process of innovation, were kind of huddled together for warmth! Today, strategy and innovation have come together in a remarkable way, but I find that most people still don’t understand the processes. One of my goals is to de-mystify the innovation process – these books will give you a great start in understanding the practices that are too bewildering for too many people.  

I wrote...

Discovery-Driven Growth: A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity

By Rita Gunther McGrath, Ian C. Macmillan,

Book cover of Discovery-Driven Growth: A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity

What is my book about?

It’s a secret hiding in plain sight! There is a predictable, repeatable path to creating growth in high uncertainty situations, but most leaders don’t know about it. This book unlocks the mystery for you.  

In Discovery-Driven Growth, we show how companies can plan and pursue an aggressive growth agenda with confidence. By carefully framing their strategic growth opportunities, testing each project assumption against a series of checkpoints, and creating a culture that acts on evidence and learning instead of blind stumbling, companies can better control their costs, minimize surprises, and know when to disengage from questionable projects—before it's too late.

Creative Clarity

By Jon Kolko,

Book cover of Creative Clarity

It is hard to pick just one Jon Kolko book to recommend because all of his books are brilliant. My copy of Creative Clarity is dog-eared and heavily underlined which is an indicator of just how much I rely on it over and over again. I like it because Kolko articulates the specific conditions necessary to achieve creative cultures and most importantly details how to do it. Mastering design thinking is much more than learning new tools and building the mindsets and behaviors to deepen your experience, it is about solving more problems and ultimately creating more impact. This book will help you do that. 

Who am I?

Inspired by the brilliant Silicon Valley technologists that I worked with in the early 90s and the pioneering design work of my husband’s grandfather, Leroy Grumman, I believe that design thinking is one of the most important reasons to believe that teams can achieve extraordinary results. It increases the likelihood of implementation of ideas by enhancing any companies’ abilities to align, learn, and change together. I have made it my mission to build creative capacity in individuals, organizations, and cities using the language of design thinking so that everyone can make positive change within their sphere of influence.

I wrote...

Experiencing Design: The Innovator's Journey

By Jeanne Liedtka, Karen Hold, Jessica Eldridge

Book cover of Experiencing Design: The Innovator's Journey

What is my book about?

In daylong hackathons, design thinking seems deceptively easy. On the surface, it involves a set of seemingly simple activities such as gathering data, identifying insights, generating ideas, prototyping, and experimentation. But practiced at a superficial level, even great design tools don’t go deep enough to create the shifts in mindset and skillset that are required to achieve transformational impact. Going deep with design involves creating the conditions that shape who we become. Innovators become design thinkers by experiencing design.

Our book is a guide for how to create these deep experiences whether for you, your team, or your organization. Ultimately, we need to be someone new to create something new. This book shows you how to use design thinking to make this happen.

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