Mark Miller says Culture Rules and I could not agree more. BOOK REVIEW: Culture Rules by Mark Miller

Aspiration. I define it as what you want to be or what you feel called to become. Mark Miller defines it as the hopes and dreams for your culture. While these two definitions may have slight differences, both look to the future and a desire to be the best you can be, and it is this positive, inspiring, forward-thinking focus that stands as the foundation of Miller’s new book, Culture Rules.

While there are three key “rules” in Miller’s game (I will explain this in a minute), Aspiration comes back over and over as a unifying element for everything else that comes.

Miller’s objective in this, his 11th book, is to “help leaders around the world create their own High Performance Cultures.” To meet this objective, he structures the book as if we are playing a board game and reading the rules in order to play it correctly. I must admit, when I started this journey, I thought, given this format, that this was going to be a slog, I mean, reading rules is pretty dry. To Miller’s credit though, amazingly, he pulls it off and makes it interesting, and he does it in an engaging, conversational way. I pleasantly got through the 249 pages in two short sittings, and I am not a speedy reader.

To get the ball rolling, Miller sets things up with a little talk about board games and rules. He then gets right to the point by diving in to the first rule, Aspire. He begins this by dispelling with the quagmire so many people get into over the differences between mission, vision, purpose, etc. Miller’s essential message here is, who cares, just define what it is you want your organization to aspire to and get to work. I love this kind of cutting to the chase. In fact, I had a little chuckle at how Miller swept away the complicated minutiae people get into that usually only amount to lofty debates over semantics. Instead, he talked about the importance of developing useful tools people can actually do something with.

Once Miller says his piece on this, he challenges readers to find what it is they and their organizations aspire to by envisioning the future, dreaming big, and committing to values. Miller does all of this without ever getting into psychological mumbo-jumbo or jargony business babbling. It is all presented in very practical terms and language.

From here, Miller presents two more “rules” of the culture game: Amplify and Adapt.

Amplifying refers to communicating and reinforcing the Aspiration throughout the organization. The key themes here are leadership by example and storytelling. When I got through this section (er… rule), I was in awe of how easily Miller presented the ideas and made them practical.

The last rule, Adapt, is all about continuous improvement. Cultures are living organisms that must evolve and change with the times. Miller makes it clear that changes in the world and inclusion of more people and diverse ethnicities, etc. mandate a constant vigilance and willingness to adapt. One warning he makes though is to keep values consistent and to be careful about any change to them. Values are critical to how your organization is seen and known. To make a sweeping change in what you stand for could be very damaging.

To end the book, Miller wraps everything up by sharing the exciting story of the great explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Through all of the ups and downs of Shackleton’s expeditions, he created cultures that enabled his team members to keep going through the most difficult and trying conditions. Overall, Miller’s retelling of Shackleton’s story served to not only pull together the ideas of the book but to inspire readers to go out and get their cultures engaged.

While this book gets high marks from me, my only dislike was in how Miller tends to use financial success as proof of thriving cultures. While I know money is the lens through which most business people see everything and the main proof they need for just about any change, it would have been nice to see some human measurements like customer satisfaction and employee engagement used as metric gauges. By using some of those, it would have helped send the message that business is, in the final analysis, a people game.

Regardless of that one caveat, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject of culture. I have read several books about culture and how to design or re-design it and I think this one might be the most direct, uncomplicated, and practical one yet. You do not need to be in HR or a student of organizational development, you can be a teacher, a scout leader, a clergy member, or even a parent to benefit from the ideas presented. Culture Rules makes sense for anyone who wants to build a culture that works together, serves together, sticks together, and prospers.

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