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The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0132779784
ISBN-10: 0132779781
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

“Reading Jim Heskett’s book is not some vague exercise in academic idealism. It is a well-written, practical, compelling manual of how to build an enterprise that will endure for 100 years or more. You cannot afford to ignore it.”

John C. Bogle, Founder, The Vanguard Group, and author of Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life 


“Jim Heskett has delivered yet another breakthrough in our understanding of how corporate cultures shape performance. If leaders take Heskett’s sound advice to heart, corporate performance will improve and trust in business can be restored.”

Bill George, Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School; former Chair and CEO of Medtronic; and author of Authentic Leadership 


“For those who might regard culture as an abstract, soft, perhaps ‘hippie like’ concept, Jim Heskett brings home its manifest value to both the organization and the sensibilities of its people.”

Herb Kelleher, Executive Chairman and CEO Emeritus, Southwest Airlines Co.


The Culture Cycle inspires leaders to start with people and shape their organizations’ cultures to drive engagement, inclusion, trust, innovation, and results. Jim Heskett has developed a new and valuable way to think about culture. This is a must read.”

Jane Ramsey, Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Limited Brands, Inc.


“Forget the squishy fluff; this book is hardcore, rooted in the numbers that drive margin. It shows the calculations…reveals the numbers for the ‘report card’ that predicts the future success of your company, division, or department…numbers every leader should know…and few do.”

Scott Cook, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee, Intuit


“Jim Heskett’s is the essential handbook for today’s organizations that care about their people and are determined that theirs is an organization of the future.”

Frances Hesselbein, President & CEO, Leader to Leader Institute (formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management)


In The Culture Cycle, renowned thought leader James Heskett demonstrates how an effective culture can account for up to half of the differential in performance between organizations in the same business. A follow-up to the classic Corporate Culture and Performance (coauthored with John Kotter), this book explains how culture evolves, can be shaped and sustained, and can promote both survival and innovation in tough times.


Drawing on decades of field research and dozens of case studies, Heskett introduces a powerful conceptual framework for managing culture and demonstrates it at work in a real-world setting. Heskett’s “culture cycle” identifies policies, practices, and behaviors  that are crucial to moving cultures forward and demonstrates how to calculate the economic value of culture through the “Four Rs” of referrals, retention, returns to labor, and relationships with customers.


Heskett’s insights will be invaluable to leaders, professionals, and consultants in HR, productivity, training, and operations–and for anyone seeking to optimize organizational performance.


A crisis in organizational culture?

Inflated expectations, poor experiences, or both?


How cultures are born, grow, flourish, wither, and die

From founder to failure: understanding the lifecycle of culture


Measuring and tracking the effectiveness of organizational culture

Beyond “strong” cultures to “successful” cultures


Leading cultural change

What only leaders can do–and how they can do it most effectively


About the Author

James Heskett is Baker Foundation Professor, Emeritus at Harvard University’s Business School. A leader in advancing management practice, he remains active at Harvard Business School; serves as a board member at Limited Brands; and consults with companies worldwide.  Heskett has won the Council of Logistics Management’s John Drury Sheahan Award; Sales and Marketing Executives International’s Marketing Educator of the Year Award; and the American Marketing Association’s Career Contributions to the Service Discipline Award. He is author and coauthor of several books, including Corporate Culture and Performance (with John P. Kotter); The Value Profit Chain (with W. Earl Sasser, Jr. and Leonard A Schlesinger); and The Ownership Quotient (with Sasser and Joe Wheeler).



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pearson FT Press; 1 edition (August 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0132779781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0132779784
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Adaptability is absolutely critical today. As change tsunamis relentlessly sweep the globe, adaptive organizations are getting stronger and unadaptive ones are being washed out to sea. Harvard Business School professor, James Heskett's new book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force That Transforms Performance, follows up his and John Kotter's earlier work with updated research, current examples, and pertinent observations. Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, IBM, ING, 3M, and Proctor and Gamble are some of the adaptive cultures providing insights to the enduring success growing from their highly effective cultures.

Steps in The Culture Cycle

The book's main framework is a circular diagram following these steps:

1. Mission, Shared Assumptions, and Values -- Alignment with Strategies and Methods of Execution
2. Setting Expectations
3. Behaviors Consistent with Shared Assumptions and Values
4. Expectations (e.g. leadership, recognition, job opportunity, personal development)
5. Core Phenomena (Trust, Engagement, and Ownership)
6. Policies, Practices, and Behaviors (e.g. self-direction, accountability, transparency, collaboration)
7. Organization Learning (e.g. continuous improvement, adaptability, agility, and speed)
8. Results (Four Rs, innovation, growth, and profitability)

Steps 2 - 4 are labeled "Causes (less visible)" and steps 6 - 8 "Effects (More Visible)." Step 1 is at the top of the cycle and both the beginning and the end -- or beginning of the next turn of the cycle. Step 5 is at a halfway point and bridges causes to effects.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
James Heskett asks what culture has to do with performance. Answer: "strong culture does not guarantee performance." [p. 61] Yet Heskett argues for the importance of culture as predictive of maintaining performance and future performance.

Performance is tied to perception. The key to successful performance is culture + strategy + execution. Context is also mentioned as part of strategy.

The table of context is very detailed and a great tool for finding information fast. Each chapter begins with a question then moves to anecdotal evidence. Then there is some informal research and speculation. The chapters are capped with the final summary of what was just said. This summary can be a short cut for busy people looking for specific information.

The key to understanding and evaluating the model (chapter six) Haskett proposes is the "Four R's." (referrals, retention, returns to labor, relationships) They are considered to be the results of a strong culture. Yes, Heskett admits they (the entire book actually) are arbitrary (and anecdotal) and not based on scientific research.

After the model is introduced there are a series of interesting chapters on culture and how it interacts with innovation (chapter 8), adversity (chapter 9), globalization (chapter 10), mission (chapter 11), and forces that challenge organization culture (chapter 12).

That leaves with the final question. How does one lead... navigate the opportunities and proposals in this book? That is found in chapter 13.

If you are willing to accept the theoretical, anecdotal, and subjective nature of a speculative book then do not pass on this one. The observations may be anecdotal but they are keen. Kick the tires, give it a spin. Heskett may be prophetic or not... either way it is a deeply thought provoking read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In working with many companies on helping them to become more engaged with customers and employees, one thing has become increasingly clear to me - the most successful companies in this area start from a foundation of a good culture. I've seen many companies apply what appears to be the same formula that another company applied in order to become more customer-centric, only to fall flat. More often than not, the difference was their culture. Without the right motivation, people will not be as motivated to make a difference.

Heskett does a great job not only defining what culture is and discussing approaches to establish a positive culture - but also in quantifying the value of a positive culture.

Highly recommended for those who are blessed with an opportunity to influence the culture within their business (that is: everyone who is working in a business!)
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Culture helps corporate performance in higher-performing firms and hurts it in lower-performing firms, according to James Heskett in this book. The culture cycle referred to in the book's title is a conceptual framework which enables the identification and analysis of elements of corporate culture and how they evolve and impact economic performance.

An organization's culture consists of the assumptions, values, beliefs, behaviours, artefacts, measurements and actions that determine how things get done in the organization. It influences both the way in which an organization's strategy is created and the way in which it is implemented. Strong cultures have a significant influence on performance, but not necessarily positive; culture has a positive influence on performance over the long term only if it is an adaptive culture.

The book considers the cultures of numerous companies and analyses their positive and negative aspects. Walmart and Southwest Airlines have strong cultures which have positively influenced their economic performance. Goldman Sachs has had a strong culture but its core values were not held strongly enough to keep it out of trouble in recent years. Service Master, IBM, General Motors, ING Direct, and Illinois Toolworks are amongst the other companies discussed.

In addition to describing in detail the author's culture cycle framework, the book considers the relationship between culture and innovation, how culture may or may not assist in handling adversity, organizational culture in a multinational context, special culture considerations for non-profit organizations, and the relationship between leadership and culture. One of the appendices contains an interesting survey for measuring the health and strength of a culture.
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