At Semify, we consider ours to be a learning organization. That means we prioritize the acquiring and sharing of knowledge in nearly everything we do.
We’re continuously learning new things. We take what we’ve found out from both our successes and our failures and apply that information to how we run our business, as well as how we communicate with one another.
There are numerous ways we put this concept into practice. We engage in innovation through experimentation, we hold autopsies without blame, we participate in lunch-and-learn meetings, we schedule ongoing training sessions, and much more.
Without a doubt, one of our favorite ways to learn is through our company book clubs. While these book clubs are in no way mandatory, most Semifyers have participated in at least one or two (though many team members do more!).
We’ve found that these opportunities can provide a way for team members to stay connected to each other and feel more engaged in the work they do. Whether the book is geared towards personal development or whole-company aspirations, these sessions have become an integral and valuable part of our culture.
Even if book clubs aren’t something you want to pursue at your own agency, that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from some of our favorite literary works.
Companies with great culture pride themselves on learning new things all the time. You can start growing your business by planting the seed of knowledge – and just one new book could make all the difference.
In today’s post, we’ll take a closer look at why we’re so committed to making book clubs part of our work experience and how you can join the ranks of companies with great culture by reading some of our favorite books.
Why Have Book Clubs at Work?
In a traditional workplace, cultural or learning activities might take a backseat to more practical job responsibilities.
With so much work to do, you might assume that you and your staff simply won’t have time to engage in a book club. Furthermore, you may even be hesitant to give team members permission to participate in this type of meeting on company time.
While there’s nothing that says you have to schedule book clubs during business hours, it’s worth considering that this move can pay off.
Although these meetings won’t necessarily generate revenue for your business in a direct sense, the shared knowledge gleaned from these books in a collaborative, professional setting can have positive implications for the future of your organization.
Investing just one hour a week in your employees’ professional and personal growth can have massive effects, especially when this is implemented as soon as a new hire is brought on.
Other companies have often found that book clubs can improve retention and employee engagement, as they create a sense of belonging and can clarify the values of your organization.
Book clubs also create safe spaces for honest discussion. They’re a place where all voices can be heard and feedback can reach those who may need to hear it most. They can even allow you to get to know your employees on a more personal level, which can allow you to act as a better leader and better mentor.
In that same vein, reading this literature and discussing it together can help your team members become better leaders. Here at Semify, we don’t follow a conventional top-down leadership model. Instead, we use a leader-leader model – a concept we learned from one of the books on this reading list! – to empower every team member to make decisions and to build trust throughout the company.
As such, we want every Semifyer to learn how to become a better leader. We’ve found that providing our team members with as much knowledge as possible acts as an important first step in that journey.
Understandably, book clubs can provide an opportunity for collaboration, especially across different teams. They can allow us to employ problem-solving skills, use our creativity, practice empathy, and improve overall emotional intelligence.
They can also help get everyone on the same page (pun intended). Although not every team member will read every single title on this list, there are a select number of books that we encourage everyone to look through and discuss in smaller groups.
This can allow everyone to speak the same language and understand the references we often make in team meetings. As we know from Tribal Leadership (just one of the brilliant books on our recommendation list), “Change the language in the tribe, and you have changed the tribe itself.”
It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean we encourage group-think or shy away from dissenting opinions. It simply means that we’re working with the same vocabulary and have the same foundation of knowledge.
When we make decisions as a team, we very purposefully avoid group-think and encourage team members to voice their dissenting opinions. We’ve found that our culture is much stronger as a result because our team members feel valued. When your aim is to become one of the few companies with great culture, that point is crucial.
It might not be common to every American workplace, but we feel that our commitment to acquiring and sharing knowledge through our book clubs really highlights what we’re all about.
With that in mind, let’s get into the good stuff: our favorite books for cultural and business development.
Semify's Recommended Reads For Agency Owners
Now that you understand how book clubs can help you become one of many companies with great culture, you’ll want to decide which works should be on your list.
We’re always adding new books to our shelves, as well as going back to reference titles we haven’t looked at in a while. While this isn’t a complete list, we always want to share our picks of good books for leadership development and the best books for business owners that we've found. Here are just some of the reads we’d recommend to our partners and our team members.
Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan and John King
Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization is typically first on our list for new hires, but it can be valuable for more established employees, as well.
No matter where you are in your professional career, it’s a great resource – especially if you’re determined to be ranked among other companies with great culture.
In this context, “tribes” are groups of people who get the work done in your organization. This book will help you assess the tribal culture of your organization (categorized by five different stages) and how leaders can help others on their journey through these different stages.
Although this book was published over a decade ago, it remains an important part of our culture. Its emphasis on language is particularly significant to us at Semify. We regularly reference and re-read this book and get more out of it each time.
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Another one of our literary mainstays is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't.
In it, Jim Collins and his team analyze some of the most well-known brands both past and present to discover why certain companies can truly be considered “great.” The reasons probably aren’t what you’d think.
This book has a ton of great takeaways, but the “Hedgehog Concept” is one of our favorites. Although this 20-year-old book could use some updating to reflect current market developments, its in-depth data and emphasis on innovation, level 5 leadership, and hiring practices are well worth considering when developing your own business.
The Lean Startup and The Startup Way by Eric Ries
These two titles have played an integral role in our development as a company and our approach to business.
In the first book, Ries suggests that startups adopt methods inspired by lean manufacturing to create a more agile environment focused on efficiency and innovation. In the follow-up, he establishes a system used by well-known enterprise companies that can be used in virtually any organization to facilitate sustainable growth.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
When Simon Sinek wanted to know the secret to some organizations becoming more innovative or profitable than others, he realized that those organizations all started with their “why.”
Customers won’t care about your products or services (the “what”) if they don’t understand and connect with the “why.”
Sinek provides a number of real-life examples that can illustrate this point and help you find your own “why.” We recommend checking out his wildly popular TED Talk, as well.
Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Radical Candor is all about implementing a feedback-centric approach to management.
Ideally, we want to care personally while challenging directly. But too often, managers become manipulative, overly aggressive, or detrimentally empathetic. Kim Scott’s framework helps us create a healthier workplace culture that helps build relationships and see better business outcomes.
In many cases, good employees leave due to bad management. Scott’s book has undoubtedly helped us improve our staff retention rates and allow us all to communicate more productively.
Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
When we mentioned the leader-leader model earlier in this post, this is the book we were referencing. Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders presents a fascinating look at the real-life challenges of a Navy captain who was tasked with improving the culture and operational style of an underperforming staff aboard a nuclear submarine.
While that might not sound like it has much to do with running a conventional business, Marquet’s approach to leadership speaks volumes. The astounding transformation showcases that empowering your people and developing leaders can translate to incredible success.
The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmonson
The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth speaks to the importance of developing and maintaining a culture where the truth can be heard and where mistakes can be made.
We mentioned earlier that we welcome dissenting opinions. While accountability is certainly one of our core values, we veer away from creating a culture of blame. We aim to have a workplace environment that’s free of fear and that allows our team to feel safe expressing their thoughts.
Edmonson’s book brilliantly outlines the intrinsic link between psychological safety and a high-performance culture, as well as actionable steps that organizations can take to foster an improved sense of psychological safety at work.
How to Be Heard by Julian Treasure
Julian Treasure is one of our favorite thought leaders, so it’s only natural that How to Be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening is on our recommendation list of good books for leadership development.
Treasure provides exercises to improve your own active listening and communication skills, as well as what to avoid in order to become a better speaker and listener.
At Semify, we use Treasure’s “RASA” concept in new hire training sessions and apply it in virtually all of our meetings. This book will make a valuable addition to any bookshelf, whether you’re a solopreneur or work for a larger organization.
The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath
As the name suggests, this book is all about the power of short moments and how we can create these kinds of moments at work (and in everyday life).
Whether you’re looking to build lasting relationships with new employees or to retain customers for the long haul, this book highlights the ways in which we can create these significant moments that make all the difference.
Listen Up or Lose Out by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton
Designated a must-read by several of our team members is Listen Up or Lose Out: How to Avoid Miscommunication, Improve Relationships, and Get More Done Faster.
Another book that deals with communication and active listening, Listen Up or Lose Out takes it a step further by incorporating empathy and covering valuable skills like reflecting the speaker’s feelings and taking criticism out of the equation.
The way we initially learn to listen isn’t always the best way to ensure others feel heard. The knowledge acquired from this book can help you improve both professional and personal relationships by truly becoming a better listener.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
While not a traditional business development book or even a read for cultural improvement, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are has proven to be a transformative work for several Semifyers.
Brené Brown has become a wildly popular speaker and researcher, thanks to her emphasis on vulnerability and honest storytelling. Although perfectionism is often revered, Brown reveals that living an authentic (and imperfect) life is the only way to truly connect with others.
For those looking for a more workplace-oriented read, we’d recommend checking out Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead to build a more courageous culture.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
Contrary to popular belief, happiness actually fuels success (and not the other way around).
Shawn Achor’s book, which inspired another immensely popular TED Talk, outlines how we can rewire our brains for happiness and have positive effects on our relationships and our career aspirations.
While it’s worth noting that there are real mental health concerns that can’t simply be addressed by changing our perception, Achor’s concept was born out of the largest happiness-related study ever recorded.
By shifting our outlook and not waiting around for new life developments to change our point of view, we can feel more empowered, more productive, and more fulfilled.
The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
When you’re looking to join such a select group of companies with great culture, it’s easy to get caught up in the things that won’t actually make a real impact.
In The Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle demystifies where good culture actually comes from. Featuring actionable tips on how to revamp a toxic workplace culture and how to avoid common mistakes, this book can empower you to help your team come together to accomplish incredible feats.
Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller
When we decided to rebrand our business in 2020, we knew we’d have to put a lot of work in to really distinguish who we are, what we’re all about, and why we do what we do.
Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand has helped us take some crucial steps in our own marketing and has given us more clarity on how to communicate even more effectively through the content we create for our clients.
When you feel like you’re missing the mark with your marketing, this easy read can help you resonate with your customers.
Open a Book and Enjoy a Longer Shelf Life
Whether your goal is to be on an official list of companies with great culture or you’d simply like to increase your own knowledge, there’s nothing better than learning from the experts.
When you dedicate yourself to continuous learning, you’ll be able to take what works for you and apply it to your business for long-term growth.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a voracious reader, think of these books to be an investment in your business. Take the time to read them and reflect on them. You might not implement every single suggestion, but acquiring as much knowledge as possible will help you become a stronger competitor and a better boss.
By starting with just one of the books on this list, you’ll likely enjoy a longer “shelf life” as a business owner – and will probably find more fulfillment overall.