Starting a Reading Program Is Good For the Company and For the Employees

Getting employees to continually improve can be a daunting task. Externally motivating others to change is difficult. But what if you had the ability to internally motivate?

Getting your employees to make changes for themselves because they want to, instead of instituting the change from an outside standpoint might be easier than you think.

One way to do this is to start a company reading program. Having employees read industry, business improvement, self-improvement and various other titles can make them more aware of what is going on outside their own company, as well as help them improve their skills, while discovering what needs improvement – and how to do that — in their personal and professional lives.

A reading program isn’t a replacement for training and development. Think of it as a supplement that will broaden employees’ knowledge and understanding of themselves and the business – and do it at a cost even the smallest of companies can afford.

If you’re ready to launch a reading program, here’s what to consider.

Choosing the titles

The number of titles you select is up to you, but be sure that the number is large enough for variety. You want to afford employees some flexibility, allowing them to select material that’s relevant to their role and that interests them personally. Think of books that will help with common business practices such as time management or conflict resolution, as well as titles geared toward more specific roles, like management advice.

Don’t limit your title selections to business or industry titles either. Incorporating titles dealing with government, finance, history and current events can help employees pull in information from other fields to help them solve unique problems in the workplace.

In addition to books, add a few industry periodicals to the mix so employees can stay current with developments in the industry. You might also poll employees and select titles suggested by them to incorporate in your list. If they submit fiction titles, go ahead and include them. Research has shown that reading a novel can greatly increase brain connectivity.

Once you have a list of titles, create a cheat sheet for employees giving key details about each title such as a genre, topic, length and synopsis. This will help employees select titles pertinent to them. You’ll also need a place for your library; the lunchroom is a convenient place.

One last word about this. The material doesn’t necessarily have to be printed. Some employees – your millennial staffers, for example – may prefer to read on a portable device such as a Kindle or a tablet. Others may opt for audio versions, allowing them to listen to the material during their commute.

Get employees excited

When you institute a reading program, you don’t want employees to feel overwhelmed by another responsibility. Present it in a fun way that allows employees to see this is an opportunity for them to grow at work and in their personal lives. Try a “lunch and learn” meeting and invite a local author to speak about the benefits of reading or to discuss their latest title.

Involve management

Get company leaders involved. Ask them to share information about their favorite life-changing books or the periodicals and types of books they regularly read. Many executives already have an established habit of reading for personal and professional improvement. For example, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, read encyclopedias after reading all the books in his home and school libraries as a kid, according to the biography Elon Musk. Many leaders would not be where they are today if not for the influence of authors and their ideas.

Having company management lead by example can help motivate employees to get started.

Incentivize the program

In addition to involving leadership, when appropriate, offer incentives for employees. While this does introduce an external motivating factor, many companies offer incentive opportunities for their employees and this is one that would allow the company to benefit while keeping employees happy.

After reading a select number of titles, reward the employee with a gift card, movie tickets or other bonus. If structured in levels, have employees read progressively longer or more complex titles to reach a high-level reward such as lunch or dinner with the company CEO, or VIP tickets to a local sporting or cultural event.

Incorporating incentives can encourage participation, and while encouraging participation is great, avoid making the program mandatory. Doing so will only make employees think of the program as another task to check off their list instead of an opportunity to grow, learn and succeed.

Implement and follow through

Hold a company-wide meeting or meet with individual departments to spread the word and kick-off the program. Start passing out books or direct employees to locations where the books are available. Utilize the excitement of the program introduction as motivation.

Also, try to have enough book copies so that entire departments can read the same book simultaneously. This will allow co-workers to read together and discuss titles within their teams. Also, give employees the option to keep books they really enjoyed for future reference, returning others.

After instituting the program, give recognition to employees as they read. If an employee shares a meaningful insight they gained from reading, include in it in the company newsletter or post it on the company intranet. Or perhaps in their reading, an employee noticed an industry announcement or concept pertinent to the company, again share with others.

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Also, keep employees informed of new titles added to the library.  Post pictures of employees enjoying rewards from their reading as well. Doing these things will keep the reading program in the forefront of employees’ minds.

The benefits

Better employees mean better business. When each member of your team is continually learning and growing and striving to be better, the possibilities can be endless. Zappos, for example, wants its employees to read; it’s related to one of the core values – “Pursue growth and learning.” The company has an extensive library that it adds to monthly.

Not sold on reading yet? Look at the science.

The research on the benefits of reading is extensive and the results positive.

Want better writers in your office? Start with better readers. Research has shown that reading ability proved the strongest predictor of writing achievement among 46 variables (think of the possibilities — no more poorly written emails. Research has also found reading literary fiction improves emotional intelligence. Other research shows reading is linked to better vocabulary, general world knowledge, and abstract reasoning abilities.

Whether cracking the covers of a book or paging through them on a portable, reading has significant benefits that can help both employees and the business.