We look at our Top Five favorite business books, from the past 20 years, that shape Centric’s culture and successes.
I read non-stop. Over the past 20 years, I waded my way through a sea of reading material, at least skimming most of the widely acclaimed business books. Out of all of these books, Centric found five that so closely align with our business philosophy that we adopted them.
When possible, we have the authors speak to our entire company. We use concepts in each book to train our leadership team and employees, frequently giving out copies. Also, we developed internal training and workshops, applying the frameworks from the books to our business.
These are the five books most closely aligned with our thinking. In many cases, we arrived at similar conclusions, but we didn’t realize someone else already wrote books on the topics with much more clarity. These books helped us go more in-depth with our concepts and improve our desired trajectory. Each title supports our mindset and helps train everyone on how we approach our business. The approaches laid out in our Top Five is at the core of our success.
When you hear the “Frank the Cab Driver” story for the first time it will burn into your mind. You can watch him tell the story here. We were fortunate enough to have Shep tell the story in person at one of our company meetings. It perfectly captures many of the ideas laid out in his book on uniquely approaching customer service.
Our core purpose is to create unmatched experiences for our clients and employees. We want to deliver the best consulting customer service experience in the world. “Moments of Magic” helps our employees understand the mindset and processes needed to deliver exceptional service at our desired level of excellence.
Shep’s book teaches you to think about taking each touchpoint on the customer journey and making it truly special for the customer. We value these concepts so much, we interwove them into much of what we do. For example, we hand the book out to all of our employees when they attend our new hire orientation training. And, we send out a weekly Magic Monday email where we share ideas on how to improve customer service and even, more importantly, how to avoid Moments of Misery for our clients. We also use the language and concepts to help teach how to think in a customer service mindset continuously.
In response to making our list, Shep said, “Thank you for the incredible honor of making this list. It is gratifying to know that some of my work has impacted your incredible organization. May you continue to deliver the ‘Moments of Magic’ that help you create the “unmatched experiences” that your clients are always raving about!”
There are many books written on this topic, but few convey it in a way that matches our culture: a humanistic, fun, creative way to approach customer service.
Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni
If you haven’t read one of Patrick Lencioni’s books before, the fable format he uses is engaging and effective. The approach is an easy, fun and fast way to consume the business concepts he shares.
“Getting Naked” is about a fictional consulting firm in the Bay area. When I read it for the first time, I found myself saying, “Exactly,” over and over again. The way he portrays the business and culture model of the small, underdog consulting firm as contrarian thinking to the big, business-as-usual international consulting firm is exactly why we started our company in the first place.
The book lays out how Lencioni approaches his own service business. So many of the fundamentals he recommends are the exact underpinnings of our business model.
- You don’t have to kill people for profit
- You can do great work and still have work-life balance
- You can have a fun, engaging culture
- You can treat everyone like family
- You can tell each other, and our clients, the kind truth and build deeper relationships.
The “Naked” in the title of the book refers to the power of vulnerability. It is easy to say but so hard to practice in real life. We try to model honesty, humility and vulnerability to our clients and each other.
Crucial Conversations by Al Switzer, Joseph Grenny, and Ron McMillan
Honestly, our employees find this book hard to get through. It reads a little bit like a textbook. However, the concepts and techniques the authors recommend are gold.
Avoiding the hard, uncomfortable conversations is human nature. In many organizations, employees don’t talk to each other, and the lack of communication leads to painful politics and, ultimately, a bad culture. We are in the business of people. If a company fosters and trains everyone to have the hard conversations effectively, that company will perform at the highest level.
“Crucial Conversations” provides a framework for handling these challenging conversations—conversations where the stakes and emotions are high and translate into critical moments that either hurt a relationship or take it to a much deeper level. This book gives you the tools to have hard conversations and get great results.
We have taken these tools and become a much more effective, cohesive team. This practice helps us work through the tough choices and get to a final decision much faster. And, everyone smiles at the end of the discussion. Having honest conversations with each other builds trust and a cohesiveness that is part of the foundation for the culture we love.
We love to tell stories. We tell stories about our best successes and our most spectacular failures. We tell stories to start our meetings. We tell stories during our new hire employee training. We capture and record all of our best examples of customer service and special moments of caring for each other. Stories are not only a fun way for us to share and relive incredibly fun times in our history, but they play a more significant function as well. They help us explain and train everyone on our culture, and they help us convey who we are to our employees, clients and partners.
In 2016, Kindra found us. I’m not sure how she found us, but she called us and said, “You need me!” And, she was absolutely right.
She spoke to our company at that year’s Spring Meeting when she was getting her business started. We loved the simple, easy to understand methodology on perfecting impactful and engaging storytelling. After her presentation, we participated in her workshops to learn how to train everyone on storytelling.
She recently published her approach in her book, “Stories that Stick.” Even though we told many stories, we found we weren’t that good at compelling storytelling. The idea is that if you can learn to tell a great story, it will stick in someone’s head forever (just like the Frank the Cab driver story). The book lays out the structure and technique to tell a memorable story ever time— stories that stick in the heads of our employees, customers and partners for a long time.
When I let Kindra know she made our Top Five, she said, “I wrote ‘Stories that Stick’ because while more businesses and leaders recognize the importance of storytelling to connect with customers, clients, teams and the community, many still struggle to implement stories well. This book makes storytelling accessible to anyone, and I’m so honored to be in Centric’s top 5.”
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Yes, two of Patrick Lencioni’s books made our Top Five. In both cases, reading the books for the first time, I wanted to scream out, “Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly what we’ve been trying to do!”
Before starting Centric, every company we worked for had dysfunctional teams. There were personal agendas, game playing, people talking behind each other’s backs, passive-aggressive behavior and, of course, teams performing way below their potential. We couldn’t understand why it was this way. It seemed simple to us: tell the truth, be kind to each other and support each other toward a common goal.
Also told in a fable format, the ideas laid out in “Five Dysfunctions” were exactly what we wanted.
- Trust one another
- Engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas
- Commit to decisions
- Hold each other accountable
- Focus on collective results
From the start of Centric, we tried to model this behavior. Then we found Patrick’s book. He was way ahead of us. The book articulates the concepts much better than we could and provides a much better framework for teaching the concepts.
Here is why putting in the hard work to learn the concepts in the book is worth it: If you can successfully model the behaviors Patrick outlines, you’ll have a team that can achieve anything. We took years to achieve this level, but now our leadership team is performing at the highest level.
- We have passionate debates
- We make great decisions
- We move fast
- We love working together
The Hidden Connection between all Five Books
I didn’t see the connection between these five books until I wrote this blog article. Our Top Five books all reflect on the basics of human connection. Success for us was, and is, about doing the simple things to collaborate and care for each other. Everything else takes care of itself.
Living the concepts laid out in these books has made for a fun 20-year ride enjoying each other and, more importantly, building relationships that last a lifetime. We hope following these basic principles sets us up for 20 more.