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The 6 best recent books on building strong companies and teams

The 6 best recent books on building strong companies and teams

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. His newest book Fundamentals is available at Amazon or Check out his leadership video series at This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News. chief executive Jim Sullivan

Six months ago, this column began a detailed examination of the best practices of high-performing foodservice brands relative to employee recruiting, training, onboarding, retention and ongoing development.

I believe that outside-in expertise is as valuable as inside-out when it comes to improving a business. This month, I suggest a summer reading list of recent best-selling books that explore the topics of business-building and people-development in creative and insightful ways. They each share skills and insight that will improve the people, performance and profits of any business.

Read ’em and reap.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Crown Business, 2014) by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters. This is one of my favorite new business books. Peter Thiel is a technology entrepreneur and investor best known for co-founding PayPal and investing in Facebook, SpaceX and LinkedIn. The title refers to the notion that you can escape competition altogether by building a unique business instead of copying someone else. Thiel says that doing more of what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding only more of something already familiar. But conceiving and executing something brand new takes an industry on a new growth trajectory, from 0 to 1. For example, opening 100 more McDonald’s restaurants is a 1 to n progression, while transforming the cold ingredient sandwich assembly line of a Subway into the hot Mexican food ingredients of Chipotle’s burritos and tacos is a 0 to 1 advancement. Zero to One is chockablock full of great insight on how to spot opportunities where others haven’t and build innovative and strong teams in the Digital Age. Why not make things better instead of just different?

The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014) by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh. This book takes dead aim at misguided myths, like employees are “family,” and suggests we’re better off treating them as allies instead. A great way to develop allies versus hiring employees is to offer tiered and diverse development programs in stages that guarantees employees a wide breadth of expertise based on their interests and the company’s needs. The authors call these “Tours of Duty.” They detail how to design purpose-driven careers for managers, a philosophy that would work well to extend the tenure and careers of foodservice managers. The Alliance wastes no pages on filler and jumps right into it with great advice and an abundant appendix of lists, ideas, summaries and examples.  

Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (Hachette Book Group, 2015) by Laszlo Bock. Bock is the VP of people operations at Google, and shares detailed insight into the company’s unique perspective and practices related to finding, keeping and growing outstanding team members. There are rules underlying strong cultures, and values underlying great rules. These are the seven that Bock shares:

1. Take away managers' power over employees.
2. Learn from your best employees — and your worst.
3. Hire only people who are smarter than you are, no matter how long it takes to find them.
4. Pay unfairly. (It's more fair!)
5. Don't trust your gut: Use data to predict and shape the future.
6. Default to openness: Be transparent and welcome feedback.
7. If you're comfortable with the amount of freedom you've given your employees, you haven't gone far enough.

Each chapter explains the rules in detail, and foodservice HR and training Leaders would be well served to highlight each idea and apply the book’s insight into their team-development efforts.

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(Continued from page 1)

How Will You Measure Your Life? Finding Fulfillment Using Lessons From Some of the World’s Great Businesses (Harper Collins 2012) by Clayton Christensen. Don’t let the title turn you off. It sounds like a self-help book for 50-somethings, when in fact it’s a road map for anyone working in or running a successful business and wanting to also lead a fulfilling life. It shares great insight into how cultures form in companies and how the best leaders govern. I gave copies to all my kids as they turned 20, and re-read it every year myself. It’s a combination moral compass/success roadmap for any foodservice leader.

REWORK (Crown Business, 2013) by Jason Fried and David Hansson. The brilliance of REWORK is that it inspires you to rethink everything you “know” about hiring, culture, strategy, marketing, customers, training and getting things done. This cool book will make you challenge nearly every traditional business maxim and consider the author’s simpler, straightforward and occasionally contrarian approach instead. It’s a quick read, but full of concrete ways to build a stronger culture, smarter team and use one’s time more wisely. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a fresher, better, faster and easier way to succeed in this or any business.

Fundamentals: 9 Ways to Be Brilliant at the New Business Basics (Indian Creek Press, 2015) by Jim Sullivan. It may appear self-serving to include one of my own books in this list. But Fundamentals is already in its third printing and is used in over 112,000 restaurants worldwide, so its impact is legitimate and results proven. It’s a compendium of best practices from the most successful foodservice brands relative to focus, team building, leadership, service, marketing, and sales-building, all way through to execution. Plus, it includes a free online study guide that allows you to adapt and customize the insight to your own organization.

Smart restaurateurs periodically borrow the minds of good business thinkers via books and adapt their insight into their own organizations. If you get even just one solid idea from each book to apply to your business, you’ve quintupled your investment. This summer, take the time to work on your business instead of just working in it. All of these titles are available online or in retail outlets in a variety of formats.  

Jim Sullivan is a popular consultant and keynote speaker at foodservice conferences worldwide. You can get his free apps, ideas and product catalog at and follow him on YouTube and Twitter @Sullivision.

TAGS: Workforce
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