Book prize

This months Book Prize is a copy of - Above the Line: how to create a company culture that engages employees, delights customers and delivers results, Michael Henderson

Above the Line, Michael Henderson

Book review by Michelle Gardner - Above the Line: how to create a company culture that engages employees, delights customers and delivers results, Michael Henderson    Wiley - ISBN: 978-0-7303-1250-5

Henderson takes an anthropologist’s perspective on culture in organisations.  His central arguments are that culture is created by the people in an organisation, and that culture is more important than strategy in determining success.  Aligning culture with strategy is therefore immensely powerful but cannot be controlled by senior management.  However, the author sets out a structured approach and some actions for encouraging a successful culture.

A large part of the book is spent exploring what we mean by ‘culture’, its importance to organisational success, and the characteristics of ‘above the line’ (successful) and ‘below the line’ (unsuccessful) cultures.  The style is ‘chatty’ and slightly repetitive, taking the reader step-by-step in detail through definitions, explanations and arguments with plenty of examples from his experience.  It reads almost as if he is in the room, leading a workshop and trying hard to convince a sceptic of the value of his approach. 

The book is aimed at leaders in a position to influence culture, but might also be useful to those in a consultancy role as it rehearses answers to the opposition you might face on the importance of culture. 

If you want a book that gets to the point quickly or without business school jargon, this may not be for you.  Working for a disability charity I also struggled with the term ‘disabled culture’ as a below the line category (I note this is omitted from the list on the cover). ‘Diseased’ would equally have provided alliteration with ‘dead’ and ‘dying’?

Despite some of the irritations I had with the book, I think the author sets out a number of useful concepts for understanding culture and I will be returning to some sections to see how I might apply them in my organisation, but only alongside other literature on culture.

3 stars: Good, worth reading by a manager or leader

The book prize is generously donated by  


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