In January 2019, we kicked off a new project at Take Back Work – the Culture Catalyst Book Club.

As with most good ideas, the inspiration came from listening and watching. In this case, posts about books on social media tended to lead to great discussions from people far and wide. That got us thinking – what about starting a virtual book club? Something free, that anyone could join, all with the aim of learning and growing the skills to spark positive change at work?

We figured it couldn’t hurt to try, so we picked out 12 books, made a reading guide, and created groups on Facebook and LinkedIn where our readers could engage in discussion. Each month, we captured the most insightful quotes and relayed them in a recap email to our members that also previewed the next month’s selection. One very happy surprise is that we were able to offer our readers three live Q+A sessions with authors, too – big thanks to Jason Womack, Carmen Medina, and Liz Wiseman for sharing your time and wisdom with us!

When you start something fresh like this, you never know quite what to expect. Would it be worthwhile? Would people appreciate it? Would we even want to do this again?

Luckily, the answer was a resounding YES!

Now, as we embark on year 2 of this Culture Catalyst adventure, I thought it would be fun to capture some of the highlights in a blog post. Ultimately, over 450 people from around the world signed up for the Culture Catalyst Book Club. Their reasons for joining were as diverse as their locations – but here were some of my favorites!

  •  From Raquel in Oklahoma: “I am excited to sharpen my leadership skills and learn with and from people who have been in leadership positions.”
  • From Richard in Texas: “I’m looking forward to discussing the books and related concepts with a group of like-minded individuals who can help me expand and refine my perspectives.”
  • From Ivanka in Belgium: “I’m always looking for ways to develop positive communication to motivate people & make them feel involved.”
  • From Kate in the UK: “I’m eager to learn more about the different layers of shaping and growing a culture in an organisation.”

This makes for a long blog post, but here you’ll find a snippet of why we chose that month’s book and one of the best quotes as a result of our virtual discussions. Enjoy – and I hope you’ll join us for 2020’s Culture Catalyst Book Club experience!

JANUARY: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Most of us start out the New Year with a handful of resolutions. But how many of those do we stick to? That’s why the first stop on our Culture Catalyst journey was Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit. The argument of the book is simple: whether you want to transform yourself or your organization, developing new habits is the key to success. This is a compelling read that weaves together science and story, equipping you with new strategies for better habits!

“What struck me as a personal takeaway from this is the potential symbiotic relationship between breaking a bad habit, and in the same motion, creating a positive habit. If there is a conscious effort needed to break a subconscious cycle, then it seems counterproductive to combat a bad habit by simply attempting to use willpower to overcome the urge. In essence, you’ve attempted to prevent an action by doing nothing, which requires a sustained deliberate effort that will eventually exhaust your reserve of willpower.”

FEBRUARY: Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More by Jason Womack

Whenever we take on something new, it’s common to get bogged down with everything else we’re trying to cram into the day. That’s why the second stop on our Culture Catalyst journey is Jason Womack’s book, Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More. It’s part time-management, part goal-setting, and part execution – a recipe for maximizing your performance. Don’t be surprised if it feels like Jason’s there with you as you read, coaching you on how to unlock your potential. That’s how I felt! Make sure you have a notebook close by so you’re ready to crack into the useful activities peppered throughout. It’s definitely worth the effort…

I just wrote out “My Ideal Day” for my current job… and determined it IS NOT POSSIBLE for me realize without changing several priorities/habits. The good news? Nearly all of it is completely within my control!”

MARCH: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Chances are that if you’ve experienced true engagement at work, you’ve had three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Conversely, think about the complaints you hear at work – they usually fall into one of those three buckets! Intrinsic motivation is a simple concept, but incredibly powerful when it comes to creating workplace cultures where people thrive. In fact, these lessons from Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us are the ones we used to transform the culture of our Air Force squadron.

“My serious “a-ha!” moment the first time I read Drive was the idea that traditional carrot and stick motivators are counter-productive in many scenarios. It’s something I’d known intuitively but hadn’t been able to articulate before.”

APRIL: Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock

 Some people think that in order for an organization to be successful, the well-being of employees must take a back seat. Good news – that’s not true! Google’s former head of People Operations wrote Work Rules! to share surprising insights from the technology giant as well as other industries.  When you begin to flex your Culture Catalyst skills at work, you’ll notice that you have more opportunities to influence the way things are than you thought possible. These examples will come in handy as you offer suggestions and alternatives to business-as-usual.

“Ok, this book has SO MUCH packed into it, but [what] particularly resonated with me [was] seeing large high performing companies reaffirming my belief – mindfulness helps increase productivity and creativity while decreasing stress.”

MAY: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Work hard, become successful, be happy – right? Or is there an alternative? In this month’s book, we learn the real connection between happiness and success, thanks to research done by Shawn Achor over the course of a decade. It doesn’t matter if you’re a glass half-full or a glass half-empty person – you’ll learn some habits that will help you boost happiness and in turn, engagement, creativity, motivation, and productivity.

“I’ve been working on…little ways to make “tasks” more fun, and people have actually started asking me why I have such a good attitude at work. It’s contagious, and it’s slowly making me a better version of myself!”

JUNE: Radical Candor: How to Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott

The skill of giving and receiving honest, constructive feedback fuels excellence. But far too often, we don’t get the feedback we need to improve ourselves or give the feedback we need to grow others. In this month’s selection, we dive into Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor for best practices on how to develop this crucial ability. As you read, consider the feedback culture of your organization – there are social norms at play here that influence the way things are done. Are you up for the challenge of putting your Culture Catalyst skills into practice to make things better?

It has definitely reinforced the importance of 1:1s for me. I’ve been pushing my work center to adopt some sort of informal feedback model since I experienced the benefits firsthand last year. Now I have more ammo and a solid reference that outlines the benefits!”

JULY: Give and Take by Adam Grant

Can “givers” really come out on top? The world of work is increasingly complex and driven by social interactions, and no one knows this better than Wharton professor Adam Grant. The research captured in his book Give and Take reveals insights about our professional interactions that may surprise you. Spoiler alert: You CAN be a giver and come out on top – but you have to learn skills for avoiding “takers” and the ensuing burnout!

“I strive to be the giver most often, but maybe as an 80/20 am also a matcher. I really do emphasize helping others succeed as a part of my yearly goals…for example, mentoring our interns, etc. Positivity and strength are multiplied when shared responsibly.”

AUGUST: Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet

What would it look like if the people in your organization practiced leadership at every level? Turn the Ship Around author L. David Marquet flipped the U.S. Navy’s traditional leader-follower model with fascinating results. Morale, performance, and retention soared as his sailors learned to carry out their duties with intention. This isn’t just a story about the sailors though – it’s about the lessons we have to un-learn as leaders. Can you give up control so that others may bring their full intellectual capacity to work every day? P.S. This is another book chock-full of activities. Bust out your notebook and better yet, discuss these questions and do these activities with your team!

“I love the way the author captured it actually… We don’t need to empower people, we need to emancipate them. “Empowerment sends the overwhelming signal that you are a follower.” With emancipation we acknowledge the brilliance within each individual. Such a powerful concept!!!”

SEPTEMBER: An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Have you heard of a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO)? I hadn’t until I read An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. They make the argument that too many people are wasting time and energy hiding their weaknesses and managing their reputations at work. Instead, the authors suggest that creating a culture of deliberate development year-round leads to personal and organizational growth. This month, I challenge you to think about everything you’ve read so far and how you’ve implemented the various lessons. If you had to compare where you were in January and where you are now, what would that look like? 

“I appreciated that they looked at companies who all seem to operate in very different – the kindness of Decurion and the intensity of Bridgewater – but the underlying things that make them successful are similar. It was an important note when they talked about flourishing: “When people hear ‘flourishing’, they think of appreciation and good feelings. But growth and development does not always equal ‘feeling good’. Our culture is not about maximizing the minutes you feel good at work. We ask people to do seemingly impossible things.’”

OCTOBER: Rebels at Work by Carmen Medina and Lois Kelly

As a culture catalyst, you are often sadly in the minority. But there’s something special about being frustrated with the status quo in your organization yet still having confidence that things can be better – and that you can improve it. I’ve tried to describe this outlook to people before by saying “I’m eternally optimistic but perpetually dissatisfied. There are lots of things to fix and I believe we can do it!” What I love about Rebels at Work is that it doesn’t just embrace this mentality, it offers a guide for staying sane (and avoiding landmines) while you forge new paths. Whether you work in a large bureaucracy or a small startup, knowing things like “what makes a good rebel?” and “how to navigate the organizational landscape” are key.

“The status quo always owns the ruler.”

NOVEMBER: The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson

When I first learned of the concept of psychological safety, I was intrigued. And whenever I share this concept with others, they’re intrigued as well. But how do you go about creating a culture where people feel safe to share their ideas, lessons learned, and questions? That’s where Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson’s latest book comes to the rescue – The Fearless Organization.

“When I first read about the concept of psychological safety, I got really excited to find a clearly articulated definition of this dynamic that I’d experienced such an absence of in so many places that I’d worked. Maybe I’m particularly sensitive to the absence or presence of psychological safety, but it has always struck me as completely insane how normalized toxic behaviors were in [my workplace] – behaviors that often intentionally increased everybody’s sense of interpersonal fear.”

DECEMBER: Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman

Throughout the year, we’ve focused on the individual, then the team, and ultimately the organization on this culture catalyst journey. Hopefully, you’ve put some of your lessons learned into practice along the way. Don’t forget to do a bit of reflection on how far you’ve come!

For our final selection of the year, we’re featuring Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. She divides leaders into two different categories: Diminishers, those types who kill ideas, sap energy, and drain people of talent and commitment. On the other hand, you’ve got (you guessed it!) Multipliers – those types who amplify the intelligence and abilities of the people around them. Liz believes the world needs more Multipliers – will you be one?

“As it turns out, things aren’t black and white – it’s rare that someone is purely a Multiplier or Diminisher, and most of us have Accidental Diminisher tendencies. Knowing what they are, making behavioral tweaks and having honest conversations about our impact on others can lead to major breakthroughs.”

As we close out the year, here’s a link to the 2019 Culture Catalyst Reading Guide for you to download. Plus, it’s not too late to join us in 2020! Just sign up here and you’ll receive an email with all the information to help you get started, including the new 2020 Culture Catalyst Reading Guide – all it takes is your first name and email address!

Happy reading, Culture Catalysts!