Best Books On Building Company Culture

Best Books On Building Company Culture

In the United States, there are roughly 11,000 business books published every year. 11,000. Every year. Even for prolific readers, 110,000 books over a decade is a lot of reading. What’s somewhat surprising is that of all those books, very few have building a great company culture as the subject matter. That said, it is a topic that’s gotten more traction in the past five years. With the backdrop of COVID changing the work dynamic for virtually everyone, 2020 put company culture front and center. In light of “The Great Resignation” and this new trend of “Quiet Quitting,” it’s becoming increasingly clear people are no longer willing to endure toxic company cultures. 

Due to that unrest, the leaders of more and more companies who haven’t paid attention to building their cultures before are suddenly quite interested. It’s not something that can be done overnight. But if you are one of those leaders, reading this list of what we consider to be the best books on building company culture is a great place to start. Undoubtedly, there are other fantastic reads that aren’t on this list. But in no particular order, here are the books that have most influenced our thinking, leadership, and company culture over the past 20 years. 


Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 1


Start With Why

by Simon Sinek

There’s a reason Simon Sinek has become the national thought leader for marketing and advertising and Start With Why is his touchstone work. In both our book, The Voice of the Underdog, and in Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code, purpose is listed as one of the fundamental elements required to build a great company culture. Sinek’s book uses a brilliantly simple observation to help companies cut to the chase, ask the right questions, and identify their true and authentic purpose. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

Over a decade ago, Simon Sinek started a movement that inspired millions to demand purpose at work, to ask what was the WHY of their organization. Since then, millions have been touched by the power of his ideas, and these ideas remain as relevant and timely as ever.
START WITH WHY asks (and answers) the questions: why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over?
START WITH WHY shows that the leaders who have had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way—and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.


Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 2


The Culture Code

by Daniel Coyle


Speaking of The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle’s fantastic book on culture and leadership uses inspiring stories and detailed examples to lay out the case for Safety, Vulnerability, and Purpose being the three fundamental elements required for building a great company culture. As Coyle reminds leaders throughout – culture isn’t something you are. It’s something you do. It’s something that has to be built and then curated over time by everyone in it. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, IDEO, and the San Antonio Spurs—and reveals what makes them tick. He demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation and explains how diverse groups learn to function with a single mind. 

Drawing on examples that range from Internet retailer Zappos to the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade to a daring gang of jewel thieves, Coyle offers specific strategies that trigger learning, spark collaboration, build trust, and drive positive change. Coyle unearths helpful stories of failure that illustrate what not to do, troubleshoots common pitfalls, and shares advice about reforming a toxic culture. Combining leading-edge science, on-the-ground insights from world-class leaders, and practical ideas for action, The Culture Code offers a roadmap for creating an environment where innovation flourishes, problems get solved, and expectations are exceeded.


Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 3


Dare To Lead

by Brené Brown


In truth, we could have included any of Brené Brown’s books on this list. From her initial viral TedTalk to her entire canon of books, podcasts, and lectures, Brown’s focus on vulnerability, empathy, and leading with love has completely changed the national conversation about what it means to build a great company culture. Engaging and insightful, we find her teachings are always fully congruent with the people we want to be and the company culture we’re working to create. Dare To Lead might just be our favorite. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

Leadership is not about titles, status, and wielding power. A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential.

When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions. We don’t see power as finite and hoard it; we know that power becomes infinite when we share it with others. We don’t avoid difficult conversations and situations; we lean into vulnerability when it’s necessary to do good work.

But daring leadership in a culture defined by scarcity, fear, and uncertainty requires skill-building around traits that are deeply and uniquely human. The irony is that we’re choosing not to invest in developing the hearts and minds of leaders at the exact same time as we’re scrambling to figure out what we have to offer that machines and AI can’t do better and faster. What can we do better? Empathy, connection, and courage, to start.

Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 4


The Power of TED: The Empowerment Dynamic

by David Emerald


You will not find a book with a simpler, or more powerful premise than David Emerald’s The Power Of TED. In this short, insightful fable, our longtime friend explains how when we as people and as leaders find ourselves stuck in the Dreaded Drama Triangle, we can quickly turn the tables by leaning into the far healthier, more productive Empowerment Dynamic. In life, and in building a transcendent culture, the Power of TED is nothing short of transformational. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

How you lead your own life has everything to do with how you lead in other areas. The Power of TED* is a tool for both individuals and organizations who want to create more effective communication and relationships. Learning how to transform everyday drama and opt for more growth-oriented solutions, is the priceless gift it teaches. 

The Power of TED* offers a powerful alternative to the Karpman Drama Triangle with its roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. The Empowerment Dynamic (TED) provides the antidote roles of Creator, Challenger and Coach and a more positive approach to life’s challenges. The teaching story provides a guide for learning and growing through the challenges we all face in our lives. Its message resonates with everyone who, at some time in their lives, feel victimized by their situation. 

Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 5


Creativity Inc. (Pixar)

by Ed Catmull


From its founding, the leaders at Pixar understood that while they had fantastic ideas, there was no cornering the market on creativity, or objective observations about what was or wasn’t working with a character, a script, or an edit. Creating a culture that would scare most other companies, Pixar has created an environment of safety and purpose where everyone is empowered to speak up with suggestions about how to improve the movies they make. It’s a culture of vulnerability where even when millions of dollars are at stake, leaders and followers alike aren’t afraid to raise their hands and say, “This isn’t working,” “I don’t know the answer,” or, “I need help.” Pixar calls them “BrainTrust” meetings, and everyone is invited. This is just the beginning of why Creativity Inc. is a such a great read and so visionary for companies striving for success. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner 23 Academy Awards and counting. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is

Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable. As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his co-founding Pixar in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on leadership and management philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention.


Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 6


Powerful: Building A Culture of Freedom and Responsibility (Netflix)

by Patty McCord


The Netflix vs. Blockbuster saga is our favorite cautionary tale ever. But what makes it that has as much to do with the Netflix culture that fuels the company as it does the nuts and bolts of the story. In Powerful, Netflix chief talent officer Patty McCord details how she helped build one of the most unique and high-performing cultures in business and helps show the way for those of us who want to achieve the same kinds of success enjoyed by the streaming giant. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

When it comes to recruiting, motivating, and creating great teams, Patty McCord says most companies have it all wrong. McCord advocates practicing radical honesty in the workplace, saying good-bye to employees who don’t fit the company’s emerging needs, and motivating with challenging work, not promises, perks, and bonus plans. 

McCord argues that the old standbys of corporate HR―annual performance reviews, retention plans, employee empowerment and engagement programs―often end up being a colossal waste of time and resources. Her road-tested advice, offered with humor and irreverence, provides readers a different path for creating a culture of high performance and profitability.


Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 7


Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows and Chicken Built An Iconic Brand (Chick-fil-A)

by Steve Robinson


Few brands, inside the Quick Serve Restaurant category or out, are as revered as Chick-fil-A. The perpetual leader in customer service (politely) boasts average unit sales north of $5 million a year while the competition scratches their heads wondering how they do it. The answer is culture. In Covert Cows, longtime Chick-fil-A CMO Steve Robinson gives us the inside story on how a small, regional shopping mall brand grew into the envy it is today with insights on how other brands can do the same leading with culture. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

During his 34-year tenure at Chick-fil-A, Steve Robinson was integrally involved in the company’s growth–from 184 stores and $100 million in annual sales in 1981 to over 2,100 stores and over $6.8 billion in annual sales in 2015–and was a first-hand witness to its evolution as an indelible global brand. In Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A, Robinson shares behind-the-scenes accounts of key moments, including the creation of the Chick-fil-A corporate purpose and the formation and management of the now-iconic “Eat Mor Chikin” cow campaign. 

Drawing on his personal interactions with the gifted team of company leaders, restaurant operators, and the company’s founder, Truett Cathy, Robinson explains the important traits that built the company’s culture and sustained it through recession and many other challenges. 

Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 8


Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe For Business and Personal Success (Southwest Airlines)

by Kevin & Jackie Freiberg 


As the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency, there are few challengers we love more than Southwest Airlines and their original underdog maverick Herb Kelleher. While few knew the airline industry better than the Southwest founder, no one understood the power of culture better than Herb. As detailed in Nuts!, Southwest leaned into culture before other companies even knew they should and to this day, the brand has maintained its culture through good times and bad. If you’re looking for a culture to emulate, they don’t come any better than Southwest Airlines. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

Twenty-five years ago, Herb Kelleher reinvented air travel when he founded Southwest Airlines, where the planes are painted like killer whales, a typical company maxim is “Hire people with a sense of humor,” and in-flight meals are never served–just sixty million bags of peanuts a year. By sidestepping “reengineering,” “total quality management,” and other management philosophies and employing its own brand of business success, Kelleher’s airline has turned a profit for twenty-four consecutive years and seen its stock soar 300 percent since 1990.

Today, Southwest is the safest airline in the world and ranks number one in the industry for service, on-time performance, and lowest employee turnover rate; and Fortune magazine has twice ranked Southwest one of the ten best companies to work for in America. How do they do it? Read Nuts! and discover how to transfer the Southwest inspiration to your own business and personal life.

Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 9


Good To Great

by Jim Collins


At this point, it seems cliché to put Good To Great on a list of the Best Books in ANY category, but its sheer brilliance and lasting power requires it be included. Jim Collins seminal book on leadership and culture is one of those books you keep within arm’s length and it’s certainly one we’ve leaned on repeatedly as we built The LOOMIS Agency from a small local agency to an Ad Age Small Agency of the Year. Good To Great explores why “some companies make the leap and others don’t” and the reasons are cultural. By now, it is an undeniable fact – companies that focus on building and curating positive, supportive, meaningful cultures simply do better. If you haven’t yet read this book, start today. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

Using tough benchmarks, Jim Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world’s greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.

The research team contrasted the good-to-great companies with a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to make the leap from good to great. What was different? Why did one set of companies become truly great performers while the other set remained only good?

Over five years, the team analyzed the histories of all twenty-eight companies in the study. After sifting through mountains of data and thousands of pages of interviews, Collins and his crew discovered the key determinants of greatness — why some companies make the leap and others don’t.

Best Books On Building Company Culture No. 10

The 5 Dysfunctions Of A Team

by Patrick Lencioni


Even when you’re focused on building a positive, inclusive, nurturing environment, things don’t always go as planned. People get sideways. Communication gets lost. Leadership gets distracted. And suddenly you find your company culture is being put to the test. In this best-selling fable, corporate thought leader Patrick Lencioni turns his attention to the complex world of teams and how a healthy culture can keep things together when dysfunctional circumstances threaten to blow them apart. It’s a great read with plenty to teach. Here are a few notes from the book’s description:

In 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Kathryn Petersen, Decision Tech’s CEO, faces the ultimate leadership crisis: Uniting a team in such disarray that it threatens to bring down the entire company. Will she succeed? Will she be fired? Will the company fail? Lencioni’s utterly gripping tale serves as a timeless reminder that leadership requires as much courage as it does insight.

Throughout the story, Lencioni reveals the five dysfunctions which go to the very heart of why teams even the best ones-often struggle. He outlines a powerful model and actionable steps that can be used to overcome these common hurdles and build a cohesive, effective team. Just as with his other books, Lencioni has written a compelling fable with a powerful yet deceptively simple message for all those who strive to be exceptional team leaders.

Best Books On Building Company Culture – A FINAL NOTE


The Voice of the Underdog: How Challenger Brands Create Distinction By Thinking Culture First

By Mike Sullivan and Michael Tuggle 


When we established The LOOMIS Agency in 2000, we did so with the intention of culturally building a company focusing on the positive experiences we’d had while eliminating the toxic elements from which we’d all walked away. In the 22 years since, we’ve put our culture at the center of everything we do. That hasn’t always been easy, but it has been intentional. 

In 2020, we published The Voice of the Underdog: How Challenger Brands Create Distinction By Thinking Culture First to unpack the poorly understood and grossly underleveraged connection between brand and culture. With each challenger brand we worked on, we observed the effects that cultures both good and bad had on their companies and ours. And over the course of two decades, we fine-tuned what we needed to do culturally to make a meaningful difference to our team and our company. 

In The Voice of the Underdog, we explore the seven foundational elements we believe are required to build what we call a transcendent culture. We look at the ramifications of cultures both good and bad. And we offer a blueprint for building a great culture for those behind the curve or starting from scratch. If that’s where you find yourself, we invite you to give our book at read. Then call us, and let’s talk. 


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.