11 must-read people and culture books for HR pros
Engagement 7 minute read

11 must-read people and culture books for HR pros

Rise | February 7, 2019

We’ve put together a list of the top people and culture books that offer unique perspectives on how to make the employee experience the best it can be for your people. Take a look through this list -- you might just find your next must-read P&C book!

Books for motivating managers

1. Games People Play, Eric Berne, MD.

Published in 1964, psychiatrist Eric Berne’s Games People Play was a pioneering look at functional and dysfunctional social interactions in the workplace. While the material was written over 50 years ago, the analysis that Berne offers has never been more relevant, especially as workplaces seek to demolish the typical office layout and stiff hierarchical interactions. To that end, Berne shows the cause-and-effect relationship between bosses and their reports and how the behavior of one often dictates the reaction of the other. For example, a micro-managing boss that acts like a “parent” will often see their team members behave like children in response. This is an important guide for people and culture professionals who mediate difficult interactions and coach managers on better methods of team management.

2. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman wrote this book after poring over 80,000 interviews with successful, motivating, and dynamic managers across countless industries to learn what makes a good boss. What they discovered was that many of the long-held beliefs about how team members ought to be treated, rewarded, and coached are at complete odds with what many of the best bosses are actually doing. For instance, instead of focusing on weaknesses, great managers simply aim to build strengths. They make sure to treat each team member as an individual. This book provides the perfect way for a people and culture professional to assist managers struggling with efficacy or team member retention.

3. 100 Ways to Motivate Others, Steve Chandler

Steve Chandler’s 100 Ways to Motivate Others attempts to show managers the best ways to maximize the efficiency of their team without being overbearing or micro-managing. Chandler’s approach focuses on the large-scale motivation that a manager can offer—and the ways in which they can model those behaviours themselves. It’s another good book for people and culture professionals to help management recognize the best approaches to leading teams of any size.

4. The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work, Peter Block

Peter Block’s intention with The Empowered Manager is simple and self-explanatory: he seeks to empower and motivate managers to have the confidence to lead and inspire their teams. Under the weight of corporate red tape or a perceived lack of creative control, Block argues, managers often feel sapped of energy. His book seeks to undercut these mostly imagined obstructions to help managers take back a sense of responsibility and control. This is a great read for any leader feeling worn down, ineffective, or simply lost.

5. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins

Cited as one of the best books on management written by the Wall Street Journal, Jim Collins’ Good to Great offers insight into why some companies manage to build themselves up and why so many more eventually fall. Among Collins’ observations are that humble, personable managers often inspire the most confidence and that a mixture of realism about what isn’t working for the company, along with hope for improvement, is often the best way to go from good to great.

Books for motivating team members

6. Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do and What to Do About It, Ferdinand F. Fournies

Ferdinand Fournies interviewed 25,000 managers in his attempt to figure out why employees didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t complete work they had been assigned in a variety of scenarios. After that extensive research, Fournies zeroed in on the 10 most common reasons for why team members don’t do what they’re supposed to. It also offers advice for managers on what to do about it. What Fournies discovered was that incomplete work often results from a team member’s lack of confidence in their own performance or a lack of confidence in their employer. This is an excellent guide to increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace.

7. Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, John Maxwell

Failing Forward examines the ways in which our reactions to failure are often more telling and more important than the failures themselves. John Maxwell argues that the people who achieve the most in their careers aren’t necessarily people who are unafraid to fail, but rather those who seek to learn from that failure and eventually master it, rather than feeling defeated. Maxwell’s guide is a great way to motivate team members by showing that a positive attitude is one of the most important tools for success—and that anyone can overcome their perceived weaknesses.

8. The Employee Engagement Advantage, Jacob Morgan

Jacob Morgan takes a look at solutions for improving employee engagement within the workforce from the perspective of the employee experience. As he argues and defends with evidence from 150 studies and articles, experience drives engagement, and creating a work environment that people want to be and want to celebrate in leads to a happier workforce, stronger performance, and better results. Within The Employee Engagement Advantage, Morgan offers up ways in which people and culture managers can design company cultures to win the talent war and to measure and improve the experience of team members by giving them want they need to succeed.

Books on company culture

9. The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First, Jeremy Pfeffer

Jeremy Pfeffer sought to unsettle the business world with his examination of the way we manage team members. Often, Pfeffer notes, the golden rule is not heeded in a hierarchical workplace. There is an ironic and causal relationship between impersonal workplaces and inefficiency. Pfeffer notes that successful companies often think more about people than their bottom line—with the effect that both tend to improve and strengthen dramatically. This is an excellent guide for people and culture pros to use when making a case for better policies and incentives for team members. Sometimes, initiatives may not make immediate sense in terms of profit but will benefit the workforce as a whole for years to come.

10. Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay, Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans

Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans wrote this guide to team member satisfaction and retention by drawing on their own experiences within numerous companies as well as research derived from dozens of others. They boiled down their analysis into a series of examples and pieces of advice for how the best companies hold on to the best team members for as long as possible. Start with this guide to work on improving the employee experience at your company.

11. 1501 Ways to Reward Employees, Bob Nelson

Bob Nelson’s guide to rewarding team members was re-written in light of the present digital era. While working remotely is a huge boon to just about any team member, Nelson insists that it’s important for managers to ensure that they don’t neglect the personal touch. To that end, he offers 1501 low-cost or no-cost ways to motivate and reward team members—from the traditional thank-you card to the more eccentric grass-strewn rite-of-passage for Microsoft workers, known as being “sodded.” Thoughout the book, Nelson offers countless examples to help managers and people and culture professionals discover which forms of incentivization would work best for their team members and how best to implement them.

Get reading!

We hope that somewhere in this list are books that will help you to develop and improve your workplace’s approach to managing people and culture. The Rise blog is another resource for people and culture pros looking to sharpen their skills with employee relations and to get ideas for improved HR policies.

Give your employees, and yourself, the experience we all deserve.

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