“Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” ― Toni Morrison
A new year, a new chance to shift our perspectives, understand one another and the systems around us, and take our strategic thinking to new heights. At Envisio, we believe in the transformative power of reading … which is why we’ve gathered together a list of the best strategy books!
We recognize the paramount role that reading plays in individual and organizational success—it helps to bolster memory, sharpen concentration, and cultivate more nuanced approaches to strategic planning, program implementation, and community building.
Reflecting on the success of our previous recommended reads in best strategy books to read in 2022, such as W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne’s “Blue Ocean Strategy” and Stacey Barr’s “Prove It! How to Create A High-Performance Culture and Measurable Success,” we’re excited to unveil a curated list of more essential strategy reads for the year ahead.
These books, chosen by local government leaders and thought influencers, as well as master strategists and performance coaches, guide you through steps to turn your plans into impactful actions. They also take “strategy” to have a broader, holistic lens—looking into the human part of why strategy matters, and what it means to really become a better leader. Our customers, colleagues, and partners, continually inspire us with their dedication to positive change, and they really are the guiding force behind this selection.
Trust us when we say that we’re diving into these reads right alongside you, eager to absorb the insights that will shape our strategic thinking in 2024!
1. Jordan Villwock, Management Services Director for the City of Ontario, California
Recommendation: “Performance Conversations” by Christopher D. Lee.
“I really enjoy the book “Performance Conversations” By Christopher D. Lee. The book prompts managers to spend more one-on-one time with employees and then explains how these conversations are critical to employee engagement. We all know the more engaged an employee is, typically the happier they are. The book suggests you should meet with employees for one-on-ones six to twelve times per year which will allow for employee development and higher achievement of performance goals.
Since reading this book I’ve been scheduling bi-weekly one-on-ones with my employees where they set the agenda. We talk about their professional goals, how the organization can support them, and any hurdles in achieving the goals that have been mutually set. I highly suggest this book for anyone who is wanting to level up their servant leadership skill.”
2. Heather Lee, Senior Customer Success Manager, Envisio
Recommendation: “Switch” by Dan and Chip Heath
“All of our customers can use the advice in it. Especially the customers who are just starting out using Envisio and are struggling to build an “internal culture of accountability”: it has practical tips for ways to make a positive shift in your organizational culture.
Some that I like the most are: a) scripting critical moves: set clear expectations with the help of leadership and ensure instructions are super simple to follow, b) build momentum by setting small achievable goals that are connected to a bigger ‘visionary’ type of goal. People are more likely to stay motivated when they feel like they’ve had some quick wins. Making your plan operational can help with this!
And lastly, c) making work visible in order to build some ‘positive peer pressure’: using reports consistently in team meetings is a great way to do this.”
3. Dorian Russell, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Program Manager for Washington County, Oregon
Recommendation: “White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How To Do Better” by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao
“I am recommending a book that you likely won’t find on the performance management shelf at your local library or independent bookstore. Rather than ask myself “what was the best performance management book I read this year?” I instead pondered: “What book made me a more strategic performance manager?” Whether you identify as nonbinary, a woman, or a man, this book is a must for white and white-passing people (and for absolutely anyone who wants to put names to drivers of common conflicts that inhibit our ability to collaborate well and advance strategic initiatives).
I work in local government because I envision a future where we can no longer correlate race, ethnicity, childhood income, disability status, gender, sexuality, and other identity factors to life-long outcomes related to health and wealth. Behind this lofty goal, the work involves designing accountability structures through performance management; however, this book is not about creating the snazziest widgets or glossiest data reports; the key value of this book for our profession lies in the gift of an antiracist paradigm shift and the skills needed to drive change.
“If we as government leaders do not set ego aside and grow through discomfort, we will fail in carrying out the hallmarks of equitable performance management: centering community in goal setting, identifying meaningful progress indicators, and providing decision makers with evidence-informed strategy options.”
4. Kirsten Decker, Manager of Strategy and Evaluation, Denver Public Library
Recommendation: “Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership” by Edward Morrison, Scott Hutcheson, Elizabeth Nilsen, Janyce Fadden, and Nancy Franklin
“A colleague and friend of mine shared how valuable this framework was in her community’s most recent strategic planning process and, knowing that I’d be leading my organization in a strategic refresh in 2024, I picked it up. What I loved about this approach is the focus on adaptive leadership in strategic planning and performance management. The authors provide tools that can be mixed and matched to best support your organizational needs, and they focus on how leaders can manage the reality that the work of our organizations is complex and collaboration, while critical, is hard.
“A mentor of mine once told me that “there are a lot of right answers,” and this has stuck with me over the years—it’s become a cornerstone of how I lead.”
“In the book, the authors talk about “One Question, Many Answers” and the power of framing strategic conversations with adaptive questions, rather than technical ones if we want to mobilize our organizations in a new direction.”
5. Ron Holifield, CEO, Strategic Government Resources
Recommendation: “The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design” by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt
“The best strategy book I read in 2023 was a Father’s Day gift from my son called “The Invisible City.” It is filled with stories of why and how so many aspects of a typical city came to be. Doesn’t sound like a strategy book on the surface does it? But it is: the book is filled with stories of urban problems everyone was looking at, and solutions that only a few strategic visionaries and thinkers could see and design solutions for.
The inscription from my son says it best: “This book changed my perspective on cities, design, and SGR’s place in the world. But it also convinced me that the overwhelming weight of human effort is directed towards making my world and life more beautiful, efficient, and safe. When we start to notice the values and decisions and creativity behind the mundane, our world is re-enchanted and less lonely. This book is a testament to the work you have devoted your life to.”
(Wow, a father and son pick… we love it!)
6. Elizabeth Steward, VP of Marketing and Research, Envisio
Recommendation: “Bridgebuilders: How Government Can Transcend Boundaries to Solve Big Problems” by William D. Eggers and Donald F. Kettl
“The premise of the book is that we need to cultivate true cross-sector collaboration and mutually beneficial partnerships in order to solve increasingly complex, multidimensional societal issues (think climate change, homelessness, or rebuilding after natural disasters). In other words, we need to become bridgebuilders! This means working across sectors and different levels of government to tackle horizontal issues.
Eggers and Kettl explore the need to nurture private partners and non-profits in this work, the urgency of bolstering public trust, and the importance of focusing on outcomes.
It is a truly compelling read, full of examples of bridge-building done well. And it left me with two critical questions at Envisio: Are we doing enough to be bridge-builders in our work with local government, and are our tools and training doing enough to support bridge-building activity?
“It’s about how local governments can get creative about innovation for better resiliency and, yes, sustainability.”
From civic innovator Nick Kittle, this guide explores the intricacies of navigating the landscape of innovation, particularly within government structures. The book offers tips on how to generate better ideas, transform them into viable pilot projects, assemble good teams, and translate creativity into action.
And that’s a wrap, bookworms! A massive shout-out to our strategy-savvy contributors—Jordan, Heather, Dorian, Kirsten, Ron, Liz, and Angelica. Thank you to them for sharing their go-to reads and the books that have helped them level-up their strategy and performance management prowess.
Here’s to a year filled with success, safety, and of course, the joy of discovering your next favorite read. May your strategies be sharper, your execution smoother, and your bookshelves brimming with more gems than ever before!