Mon, Jan 24, 2011
In a previous blog post titled hire for attitude, train for everything else, I wrote about the importance of why employees should be required to read books. At the time, it was just an idea spawned from observing another company and how they operate. However, I am now giving this kind of idea serious consideration in my own organization. See, this year we are going to focus on emphasizing our corporate culture as a recruiting tool, and this is just one more thing (strategy) to set us apart from the average employer.
Before I try to sell this idea, I want to explain why reading matters to me. According to some (terrifying) statistics, in 2002, nearly 90 million adults in the US did not read a single book. That might not have an impact on you; but it should. I’ll put it another way.
Those are our employees. Those are our managers. Those are the unemployed who so desperately want to find jobs. Reading has taught me so much that I never would have learned in my job experience or formal education. Picking up a book and gleaning a new idea from its pages is something akin to magic. You are literally absorbing someone else’s ideas into your own brain.
Compared to other learning activities, it’s extremely inexpensive. If you purchase a book for $20, and you get one really good idea you can use to enrich your career, then you got a really great deal. While seminars and training programs can cost hundreds of dollars, reading has a relatively high ROI.
By now you should understand how passionate I am about reading and how it can benefit you. Now let’s jump into how you can develop a program that encourages employees to read, learn, and grow.
New employees receive a few books when they are hired as a gift from their new employer. They have 90 days to read them and sign off acknowledging that they have completed the task. This isn’t just another “sign it and get it back to me” form. It has real significance in how the employee feels about the organization and how he or she fits in from the very beginning.
If you have read anything I’ve written before, you know how much I believe in the power of solid core values that a workforce can be committed to. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Zappos at this point. Zappos requires new employees to read specific books, and they tie the reading requirements to one of their core company values: Pursue Growth and Learning.
Holding people accountable for the reading gives Zappos a platform to encourage further study. Getting people involved in their own long term development is a great way to increase retention and job satisfaction. When people feel like they are in control, they are generally happier.
In my own organization, we have “inspire innovative solutions to solve customer needs” as a core value. That’s pretty specific. How innovative would you expect people to be if their knowledge consumption includes the DJ on the morning commute and three hours of sitcoms every night?
Now imagine you’ve given them some tools to help further generate ideas and encourage creativity. I’m feeling more confident in our ability to innovate with the latter!
If you get into the midst of a program like this and find that it’s working well for you, there are ways to make it even more engaging. Some organizations have libraries where employees can borrow books to continue building their professional development. Companies can even hold workshops and lunch and learn sessions to explore the main themes from the books.
There are so many great books out there to fit the program to your organization that I hesitate to recommend specifics. From customer service and technology, to innovation and leadership, there are hundreds of excellent books to target your needs and have the most impact on your company. It defeats the purpose if you require someone to read a book that isn’t remotely connected to your organization or industry.
I can hear it now. But wait, we have a book club in our company. Isn’t that the same thing?
Face it, book clubs might sound neat, but it’s really just made up of people who would be reading whether there’s a club or not (hail, fellow geeks!). Or it’s full of people who feel like they need to do it because their buddy is in the group as well and they’d like yet another opportunity to socialize. And the nonparticipants? They just look at the book club as a silly fad that will die off eventually. Getting everyone engaged and involved by setting some required reading is a better alternative and less likely to seem like an exclusive clique.
Yes, this is the default response I always hear. But my employees can’t/won’t/don’t read now. What do I do?
Let’s look at reading as a job requirement. Do your employees hate staying current on industry trends and competitive news? Is “I don’t like reading” an acceptable excuse when it comes to reading company reports? This excuse will only be a barrier if you allow it to be.
There are so many great book options that are short enough to hold some great ideas for any attention span. One of the things I often tell people is everyone can love to read if given enough time and encouragement, and if presented with interesting material.
So, what do you think? Is this something that you might explore for your own organization? Why or why not?