5 must-read culture books

Collectively, the CultureIQ family has read an extraordinary amount of books on culture. Not to mention, we’ve even contributed to a few. (Including 2020’s Employee Surveys and Sensing, and the Oxford Handbook of Organizational Climate and Culture)
We eat, sleep and breathe this topic, and we hope we can spread the enthusiasm with this curated list of our top 5 must-read company culture books. We hope they’ll inspire you with their use of hard data, quantifiable actions, past experiences and a healthy doseof literary genius. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

1. Primed to Perform

Author: Neel Doshi & Lindsay McGregor

primed to perform book

Primed to Perform is one of those books that will make you question everything you know. Doshi and McGregor will revolutionize your approach to culture using the latest in human psychology.

In addition to the latest in science, Primed to Perform offers an actionable and measurable culture tool to which they refer to as the “Total Motivation” or “ToMo” Factor. This tool gives the ability to measure the strength of a company’s culture based on 6 different motives or 3 contributors and 3 detractors:


  1. Play: Those motivated by ‘Play’ are most likely to succeed because the work is enjoyable and rewarding in and of itself.
  2. Purpose: Those motivated by purpose are driven by the outcome of the work rather than the work itself.
  3. Potential: Those motivated believe the notion this work will eventually lead to something that aligns with his/her values as opposed to the direct outcome.


  1. Emotional Pressure: Those motivated by emotional pressure are essentially peer-pressured. While rewarding in terms of self-perception and social judgment, this motive is far from the work itself.
  2. Economic Pressure: Those motivated by economic pressure are performing tasks solely for a reward OR to avoid punishment.
  3. Inertia: Those motivated by inertia are least likely to succeed because this motive is furthest from the work itself. They are simply doing the work because it has always been done in that manner.

As the authors tackle motivation, expect to have your mind blow by the groundbreaking, counterintuitive science behind some of the highest performing cultures. Spoiler alert: Rewards and high praise aren’t always the answer.

Key Takeaway:

  • Never forget the importance of play in the workplace.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “Culture is too important to be left to chance.”
  • “Great cultures fuel total motivation, and total motivation fuels performance.”
  • “Culture is an entirely quantifiable and engineerable asset—and the most important one.”

2. How Google Works

Authors: Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg ( With Alan Eagle, foreword by Larry Page)

How Google Works book
First and foremost, this is NOT a culture book. How Google Works is a business book. (Which in our opinion makes it all that much more appealing).

Long standing Google executives, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg give an insider’s take on how revolutionary work environments and creative people were the strategic assets that brought the internet giant to its height. While telling a riveting story and a few secrets along the way, Schmidt and Rosenberg offer concrete tactics and practices to launch and scale a successful business.

The story begins with them denying an urgent request from a board member for a detailed business plan and instead responding with “hire as many talented engineers as possible and give them freedom.”

What follows is the tale of a company that never compromised on who they hire, how they treat people, or the freedom given to employees.

Key Takeaway:

  • Culture is Strategic.
  • Autonomy is pivotal.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “You need to have confidence in your people, and enough self-confidence to let them identify a better way.”
  • “Innovative people do not need to be told to do it, they need to be allowed to do it.”

3. Turn the Ship Around

Author: David Marquet

Turn the Ship Around

In Turn the Ship Around, Former U.S. Navy commander David Marquet describes how a culture shift turned the USS Santa Fe from the worst-performing nuclear submarine in its fleet to the best. By delegating responsibility and instilling a sense of ownership among his crew, Marquet created leaders of every rank. Empowered to think and act independently within a high-stakes environment, Marquet’s sailors rose to the occasion, winning awards and recognition for the USS Santa Fe and honors and promotions for themselves.

This is a prime example of how a culture of individual responsibility can drive measurable success within your organization. It’s also proof that strong cultures aren’t limited to trendy internet startups with kegerators, ping-pong tables, and flat organizational structures. The right leadership can nurture a strong culture even in an environment with strict regulations and hierarchies. If a nuclear submarine can do it, so can your company!

Key Takeaway:

  • Don’t give instructions, give intent
  • Give autonomy to those with technical competence & organizational clarity
  • Move the authority where the information is
  • Create environment for thinking

Favorite Quote:

“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” 

4. Everybody Matters

Authors: Bob Chapman Raj Sisodia

Everybody Matters book

Inspired by a father’s sentiment towards his daughter on her wedding day, Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, believes every individual is just as precious and deserves the opportunity and support to become everything they are destined to be. Despite the 2008 recession, he then implemented a “Continuous Improvement, People Centric” leadership strategy. One day, project, person at a time, Chapman crafted a culture that validates the worth of every individual by cultivating an environment where people can discover, develop and share their gifts while being recognized and appreciated along the way.

And with “employee divorce rates” as a strategic metric, Barry-Wehmiller Companies not only navigated enormous cultural change during the recession but saved the company money. Instilling the notion all will suffer a bit to avoid the major suffering of one, Chapman refused layoffs and chose to have 4 weeks of furlough.  This inspired an internal barter system of time between employees. Evidently, those with higher salaries were the ones who could afford to take more time off ultimately saving the organization money during economic downturn. Everybody Matters is truly a remarkable story of the human spirt and what that looks like within the construct of an organization that views its stakeholders as family.

Key Takeaway:

  • If you give consideration and respect to employees they will reciprocate

Favorite Quote:

“This isn’t simply idealism, though there’s nothing wrong with that. Business Leaders are always looking for investments with the potential for good returns, but our focus is on creating value for all stakeholders. Machinery can increase productivity in measurable increments and new process can create significant efficiencies. However, only people can stun you with quantum leaps. Only people can do ten times what even they thought they could. Only people can exceed your wildest dreams and only people can make you feel great at the end of the day. Everything we consider valuable in life and business begins and ends with people.”

5. Firms of Endearment

Authors: Raj Sisodia, David B. Wolfe and Jag Sheth

Firms of Endearment

The authors challenge the role of capitalism in society. Cash is out. People and Purpose are in. A notion that in the past would receive an eye-roll is now the bedrock of top performing companies. We are living in a world where instead of maximizing value to shareholders, organizations are maximizing value to all stakeholders including customers, investors, employees, partners, communities, society. The data Sisodia, Wolfe and Sheth produce simply cannot be ignored. Firms of Endearment will not only change your perception of business but give you hope for a better tomorrow. The book, now in its second edition, offers further case studies on the value of defining business success in more holistic terms.

Key Takeaways:

(As listed on firmsofendearment.com)

  1. Build a high-performance business on love (It can be done. We’ll prove it)
  2. Help people find the self-actualization they’re so desperately seeking
  3. Join capitalism’s radical social transformation – or fall by the wayside
  4. Don’t just talk about creating a happy productive workplace: Do it!
  5. Honor the unspoken emotional contract you share with your stakeholders
  6. Create partner relationships that really are mutually beneficial
  7. Build a company that communities welcome enthusiastically
  8. Help all your stakeholders win, including your investors.”

And this chart:
Firms of endearment chart

Favorite Quote: 

“Profit from Passion.” 

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