What is the best way to encourage/empower employees through reading?

I believe that the company I work for may benefit from employees reading books/articles on subjects like time management, health, industry studies, etc. Should our company invest in actual books similar to a library? Kindle memberships, Barnes and Noble gift cards possibly? Is anyone currently part of a similar program?

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13

When I coach executives on strategic thinking, one of my first questions to them is about their preferred style of learning. Some like to read, and a few welcome challenging texts that really make them challenge their own assumptions and beliefs. Others are only interested in superficial skims of best practices. Others like to learn in more applied, relevant ways that involve very little reading.

So, I'd view the idea of reading and libraries as appropriate and beneficial for some and not for others. Obviously, there is cost and sacrifice involved in your ideas, and the real test of value probably lies in how much value your culture places in curiosity, innovation, and self improvement.

I was an employee at a company that had a nice, shiny library with a dedicated librarian. I liked the place and used it. Very few others took advantage of it and it disappeared during one of the belt tightenings.

9

Ed's suggestion is a good one. You could also gamify a reading or self-development program so that people earn points and win something for certain levels of achievement by watching videos or reading books and articles -- and passing quizzes on them. If your IT group or a vendor could help you design it using gamification technology that would make it more appealing and fun. The knowledge or skill development provided in the content of tapes and books would need be applied at work to have more than temporary entertainment value.

7

Andrew, if employees want to read these topics it might be helpful. However, without a program designed to make use of this I'm not sure how far it would go. In my opinion I'd first propose a program that would include the book learning component that would have the buy-in of the management and employees.

7

I agree that everyone benefits in continuous learning.
On the other hand - Companies are in the business of making money. It's not really the company's responsibility to invest in employee education - for education sake. There should be a company-reason to spend company funds.
One recommendation is to tie your education to specific problems or pain points for the company. For instance, if the company/management wants to improve meeting management - they can require everyone read/listen/watch a recommended "meeting management" training video/audio/article on that topic. Then, as a team, put those techniques immediately into practice.
If your company needs to be HIPAA Compliant or some other industry standard, recommend everyone to read/study a specific industry recommendation. Then, as a team, put those techniques immediately into practice.
If there are processes that need to be streamlined to save money, or become more effective, etc -- then recommend specific video/training on time management, project management, critical path analysis, risk management, etc Then, as a team, put those techniques immediately into practice.
For the training to be effective for the company, your group needs to have an explicit need and immediately put the learnings into practice for the benefit of the group.
For the company to take responsibility for it -- have a company-related reason/goal for the employee education, followed up with practical and immediate use of the material -- and it will be more successful.

On the other hand - if you wanted to spearhead this movement yourself (without company funds), you can provide Brown-Bag-Lunch series on your own. Either give presentations or invite guest presentors to provide information on the topics you are interested in sharing with the various departments and co-workers. Encourage others to share their knowlege on interesting topics regarding time management, health, industry studies, etc. You can start a Brown-Bag-Lunch Book Club as well. You can also start a 'share book-nook' -- where you encourage your co-workers to lend-a-book and borrow-a-book. I've done all of these things in the corporate environment. I even created an on-line list of all my books and people would just request to borrow and return.

When you feel strongly about something, it doesn't have to be "someone else's" responsibility.

6

Most important here is to understand adult learning and how people comprehend and put it in practice. I can read a book on heart surgery, doesn't mean you want me operating on you. Things like accountability for implementing learning is how you make culture shifts (but that starts from the top with goals and examples.) It is also important to know that generational learning is changing. Because I love books I recently went to the library and got out 6 business books to browse and get inspiration, take notes (and steal the really good ides for my trainings). Tell a 26 year old you got out books and they will roll their eyes and say you should have just Google'd it or gone on YouTube.

Investing in training is how companies increase employee skills far beyond the practice of reading. Think about what your best teacher did to engage and inspire you, did you get the same thing from a book? Texts are great support but nothing beats good old fashioned "I'll tell you, I'll show you, now do it and you show me"...every day.

5

Andrew,
Your thoughts are noble but as Ed says, you may be disappointed in execution. That said, to develop a culture of personal self improvement reading is key. As a family owned business you can encourage people to read by referencing the books that are meaningful to you by referencing them in conversation and communications and by having them on or near your desk. Having the book of the month available in the office is the way to go. Some people will align with you on this, others maybe not, focus on the ones who do and you will be pleased.

I also do not think I would limit offering books to your employees, you may have clients that would benefit as well. (ie. We recently shared this book ___________ with our family of employees and we saw this _______________).

Self improvement and training are tangible ways in addition to a retirement plan and health insurance to say you care.

5

You will appreciate from the many insightful responses Andrew that your question suggests that you are definitely putting “the cart before the horse”. Neither the employees nor the company will benefit directly from reading about management topics. There are many worthwhile suggestions here as to how self-improvement programs could be established. Almost all of them may encourage a portion of the company’s employees to partake in some (usually voluntary) further reading. Most people may read some recommended follow up documents, if there is an incentive, others simply will not. Therefore, you should not invest in or rely on reading as your catalyst for change or empowerment. In your particular case maybe a good book on teambuilding, motivation and reward programs would be a more effective starting point.

5

Hi Andrew,

I believe your company could benefit from employees ACQUIRING knowledge in the subject areas you mentioned. To insist on the specific method is a prescription for stress on the part of both parties - especially when that method is reading.

A better approach would be to acquire some 15 minutes videos on the topics, establish a lunch and learn day, have the employees bring their lunch and show a video during lunch.

You could then organize a fun team building game or exercise between episodes. In this way, they are getting the knowledge, applying it and everyone benefits including the company.

Give it a try, won't you?

4

Hi Andrew,
I think this is a great idea. The company can provide employees with a gift card at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I would go one step further and encourage people to form groups and discuss what they have learned end experienced. I would say for $20.00 a month or something a company would get a great ROI. I would set up so the employees sign up for the program so you are not spending money where people have no interest.

4

Try to tell a story at the beginning of a meeting. Preachers do this all the time. They use a quote(s) from a book that ties into what they are saying. Application. They say the author and the title within the sermon. This can give employees the necessary encouragement to reading and researching based on the sermon so-to-speak.

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