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10 Books to Help You Create a Culture of Listening

July 02, 2024   ·  

Employee listening sometimes feels like a fairly new concept – especially the emerging focus on live and continuous insights.  

But, in fact, decades of research have led us to this point.  

We’re always recommending brilliant books to one another here at Harkn, so we thought we’d share some of them with you.  

These recommendations come from our team and community members. They cover everything from trust and relationship-building at work to diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

The common denominator in each book? They all focus on how improving the way you listen to employees can help you create a thriving workplace.  

If this is something you're working on right now, take a look at The Big Listen


1. Trust Factor: Paul J. Zak

Trust Factor by Paul J  Zak 

Trust is the first foundation of organisational culture, so this one takes the top spot. It’s also a favourite of Wendy Firlotte, our Head of Engagement.   

In Trust Factor, Paul Zak makes the case for how trust unlocks a healthier culture and boosts business performance. 

His discussion of oxytocin, the neurochemical that promotes trust, is particularly fascinating. This is no lofty theoretical book, though – in fact, it’s packed with actionable advice. Zak outlines the behaviours that help to boost oxytocin in employees, like recognition and building personal connections.  

In other words, Trust Factor advocates for the relationship-building we talk so much about.  

This book also gives us the illuminating statistic that care accounts for 84% of trust in organisations. It makes clear the impact of care – or a lack of it – on employee engagement and wellbeing 

Zak’s work features in our eBook, ‘Reviving Trust,’ which offers a practical framework for repairing trust and strengthening relationships at work.  

“I love this book because it combines scientific research with practical advice on fostering trust at work. Zak breaks down the neuroscience of trust in a way that’s both easy to understand and genuinely fascinating. Trust Factor is packed with real-world examples and actionable strategies that anyone could start using right away to enhance teamwork and morale. My copy is full of Post-It tabs!”  

Wendy Firlotte  

Get your copy of Trust Factor here.  



2. Leading the Listening Organisation: Howard Krais, Mike Pounsford & Dr. Kevin Ruck  

Leading the Listening Organisation by Howard Krais, Mike Pounsford & Dr. Kevin Ruck

Published earlier this year, this book coined the term ‘listening organisation’ to reflect the major shift taking place in employee communications.  

It’s written by three titans of internal communications, who all bring their own unique lens and experiences to the research. The intuitive, thorough structure seamlessly brings together the insights of Krais, Pounsford and Dr. Ruck.  

Leading the Listening Organisation explores the move from traditional ‘broadcasting’ approaches to a more dynamic and inclusive way of listening to employees. The authors unpack the concerns and fears preventing organisations from adopting a better listening strategy, and outline how to overcome those barriers. 

In particular, this book focuses on what we need from our leaders in the age of listening. Input from leaders of over 500 different organisations, as well as contributing industry experts, make this a practical and actionable guide to employee listening.  

This is essential reading for anyone working in the people, culture and communications spaces.  

Get your copy here. 


The reading list 


3. Feedback (and Other Dirty Words): Why We Fear It, How to Fix it by Tamra Chandler & Laura Grealish

Feedback & Other Dirty Words by Tamra Chandler and Laura Dowling Grealish

If you’re hesitant to activate live and continuous employee listening for fear of what you might hear, then this is the book for you.  

Tamra Chandler and Laura Grealish worked together at EY. Both are experienced people management consultants with a wealth of expertise in the connection between workplace culture and performance between them.    

Feedback (and Other Dirty Words) advocates for employee-centric approaches to performance management that are built on embracing continuous feedback.  

The book explores some of the common objections to inviting employee feedback, including its misguided associations with negativity and criticism.  

Instead, Tamra and Laura empower you to reframe feedback as a powerful tool for growth and development. They stress the importance of active listening when receiving feedback to make sure everyone feels heard and valued. 

Get your copy here.  

Not sure where to start with live and continuous employee listening? Our new 90-day initiative, The Big Listen, makes it easy for organisations to take the first step towards embracing better listening.  


4. Did that just happen?! By Drs. Lauren Wadsworth & Stephanie Pinder-Amaker  

Did That Just Happen?! By Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker & Dr. Lauren Wadsworth

This book comes recommended by Dr. Jacqueline Kerr, a public health scientist and culture change consultant.  

It’s written by two psychologists working in the diversity and inclusion space, Drs Wadsworth and Pinder-Amaker. The co-authors unpack their ‘addressing identities’ framework which helps leaders assess the impact of DEI actions.   

They also delve into empowering listening and apologies in the workplace, focusing on mastering the art of understanding and response. 

With inclusion matters becoming ever more prevalent in today’s workplace, this is a valuable guide to proceeding with curiosity, empathy and understanding.  

“I love guiding frameworks so I was intrigued... Drs. Pinder-Amaker and Wadsworth have different identities which brings an important intersectionality to their work. They have also worked in medical academic environments where the intransigence of the institutions is often stronger than in corporate settings. Lessons from making progress there would be robust in any setting.”  

Dr. Jacqueline Kerr 

Pick up your copy of ‘Did that just happen?!’ here. 


5. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell 

This fascinating book explores the communication barriers that hinder us when we’re talking to people we don’t know. 

Gladwell focuses on the misunderstandings and miscommunications that arise in such interactions. He discusses our tendency to ‘default to truth’ rather than dig deeper, and the biases and assumptions that mar our interactions with strangers. 

Talking to Strangers reminds us of the dangers of relying on ‘typical’ verbal cues and body language signals in the workplace. Gladwell presses the need for upholding and promoting transparency and trust in order to overcome these barriers. 

His case studies are mostly high-profile news stories cases, but many of the lessons can help us to better communicate with our peers at work and foster a more inclusive workplace 

Pick up a copy of Talking to Strangers here. 


6. Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork by Benjamin Hardy & Dan Sullivan  

Who Not How by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy

This one is recommended by Hedinn Sveinbjornsson, Team Wellbeing Coach (Handson Coaching) and valued Harkn advocate.  

Who Not How is written by the prolific entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan, together with Dr. Benjamin Hardy. It outlines his philosophy that success comes from building a collaborative network that leverages each person’s unique strengths.  

Sullivan presses the need for a fundamental mindset shift in how we think about work. He advocates for focusing on harnessing connections and building relationships to achieve more, faster.  

Who Not How reminds modern organisations of the wealth of insights that lie untapped in their workforce. It makes clear the need to harness the collective intelligence of your people by providing opportunities for collective sensemaking and collaboration.  

“Reading this book opens your eyes around which questions to ask when you want to accomplish something. In general, we are so focused on the ‘How’ (as we are taught at school) that we forget all about asking: ‘Who is around us, and who can we call upon?’”  

Hedinn Sveinbjornsson  

Pick up a copy of Who Not How here. 

For further reading on the importance of collective sensemaking in the workplace, take a look at this blog.  


7. Terms of Engagement: New Ways of Leading and Changing Organisations by Richard H. Axelrod  

Terms of Engagement by Richard Axelrod

This epic work was first published in 2000, with a revised and updated edition coming in 2010.  

The book focuses on how to effectively engage employees in change – something organisations are experiencing more and more of.  

Axelrod focuses on four key principles for enhancing engagement:  

  1. Widespread involvement  

  2. Democratic principles  

  3. The pursuit of purpose  

  4. Organisational learning  

In particular, the work stresses the importance of involving employees in decision-making processes to secure better outcomes. For leaders, this means actively listening to a diverse range of perspectives and taking that feedback into account.  

Although almost 25 years old, this book has never been so relevant.  

37% of employees resist change, according to a recent study by Oak Engage, and Axelrod’s work makes clear the imperative to solve this problem. 

Pick up your copy of Terms of Engagement here 


8. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Bréne Brown  

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

We’re big fans of Bréne Brown and she is a powerful advocate for the age of the listening organisation.   

She gained widespread acclaim for her TED Talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability,’ which garnered millions of views. 

Dare to Lead focuses on that same theme of vulnerability. Brown outlines why leaders must embrace vulnerability to build trust and forge strong connections at scale in the workplace.   

She stresses the importance of creating a culture of open and honest communication, by providing safe spaces for employees to speak up and making sure they feel listened to in the process.  

The book captures the critical elements needed for effective employee listening: empathy, understanding and action.  

Get your copy of Dare to Lead here.  

We’ve got plenty of further reading on the importance of creating a speak-up culture, but we’d start with this article. 


9. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink  

Drive by Dan Pink

We all want employees who turn up to work each day raring to go, but unfortunately, this is rarely the reality. In fact, Gallup recently found that 90% of UK workers are unenthused about work.  

Dan Pink’s seminal 2009 work on motivation, then, is timelier than ever.  

In Drive, Pink explores how traditional efforts to motivate employees often fail to hit the mark. He proposes a new approach based on three core drivers of motivation: Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose.  

The book is full of actionable advice on fostering employee motivation and achieving ideals like continuous improvement and shared purpose. 

We often say that to become a learning organisation, you must first become a listening organisation. This blog focuses on how to better understand sentiments like morale and motivation in your workforce in order to set about making meaningful improvements.  

Get your copy of Drive here. 


10. Bias was a Genius: The Diversity Practitioners Handbook by Tim Hardy-Lenik 

Bias was a Genius by Tim Hardy-Lenik

This is another recommendation for those involved in delivering on diversity and inclusion at work.  

Gil Goncalves, an expert on neuroinclusion at work and a valued member of our community, put Bias was a Genius forward. Gil recently ran a Harkn Academy webinar on this topic, which you can view here 

Bias was a Genius addresses a challenge many will be familiar with: Businesses are putting more and more emphasis on DEI initiatives, but many fail to have a meaningful impact. 

In particular, DE&I has been accused of tokenism and tick-box activities. 

Hardy-Lenik's answer is to integrate diversity and inclusion work more effectively into complex organisations. He advocates for an approach built on reflection, building connections, and leading with empathy – all valuable components of an effective listening strategy 

This handbook seeks to empower diversity and inclusion practitioners in leveraging a sustainable approach to DE&I that starts with accurately assessing where the business currently is on its journey.  

“If you are currently a DEI practitioner or aspiring to be one, Bias was a Genius is a great book to add to your collection. Tim’s level of knowledge and experience, superb writing style, and great sense of humour lead you to think on your own motivations to embrace this line of work and deepen your understanding of the moral and business case to deliver on relevant, transparent and effective DEI strategies.”  

Gil Goncalves  

Pick up your copy of Bias was a Genius here.  


Happy reading!

We hope you enjoy our recommendations, and that they help you put in place an employee listening strategy that transforms your workplace culture. 

You can find plenty of further reading on the topics covered over on our blog, and we're always happy to chat further over a virtual coffee

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Lydia Blundell
Lydia Blundell

Brand & Content Manager , Connect with Lydia on LinkedIn


Further reading