Work Book Club Success Stories

Two Companies Share Their Experience With Book Clubs in the Workplace

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Are you interested in how to put a book club together at work? Workplace book clubs have long been recommended as an effective, efficient form of on-the-job employee development. A book club provides benefits for the employee—and for the employer.

  • Employees learn new concepts and ways of doing things that they can apply in the workplace.
  • A workbook club builds camaraderie and teamwork among the employees who attend. It is a team building activity.
  • It provides an opportunity for employees to step up and practice leadership roles such as leading a group discussion.
  • When employees learn the same concepts, by reading the same book, they share a language and ideas that make the application of the ideas easier and more seamless in the workplace.
  • You can help your organization become an organization that continuously learns and develops.

In an earlier article, I recommended an overall approach to implementing work book clubs. In this article, a couple of employers have shared their book club success with my readers.

Sara Janes, Marketing Manager for Pinnacle Financial Partners and Scott Kriscovich, President of TrueBridge Resources (now North Highland Workplace Consulting), a national professional staffing firm, shared their experiences with book clubs in their workplaces.

Interview With Sara Janes of Pinnacle Financial Partners

Susan Heathfield: What was the impetus for the book club in your organization and how did you approach it?

Sara Janes: When Pinnacle was founded in 2000, learning was one of our core values. We wanted to make sure associates were encouraged to keep reading and honing their skills. The firm had about 40 associates in the beginning, so everyone would meet at President and CEO Terry Turner’s house to discuss the book he chose and strengthen their relationships over dinner. Terry is a voracious reader, so he would read several in search of the book that best applied to Pinnacle. Book clubs take place two to three times a year and are voluntary, but most associates choose to participate.

Heathfield: What was successful and not successful about your book club?

Janes: The concept has been so popular that some associates have formed their own book clubs within their workgroups. As Pinnacle grew, it became more difficult to get everyone into one room to discuss the book. We had to adjust and form multiple sessions. Everyone still reads the same book, but now they can sign into our online learning system, choose the date and location that works for them and request the book. Now that we have 750 associates, there are too many sessions for Terry to lead personally, so he hosts a discussion for 20 or so leaders who then go on to lead the rest of the book club meetings.

Heathfield: What has been the impact of Pinnacle sponsoring book clubs in the workplace?

Janes: Book clubs help associates see the big picture and apply what they have read about to their work. We’re a financial services firm, but we have learned a lot of lessons from Starbucks’ and Ritz-Carlton’s experiences. After the book clubs are over, associates will refer to stories from the books in meetings and talk about whether we can approach challenges in the same way. The book clubs are also a way for associates to have fun—they get to know people in other areas of the firm and deepen existing relationships. We have found that by participating in book clubs, associates are more motivated and committed.

Heathfield: What books would you recommend that made a difference for your company?

Janes: Some books we’ve read in the book club and that I would recommend include:

  • Onward: How Starbucks Fought for its Life without Losing its Soul,
  • Good to Great, and
  • The New Gold Standard about Ritz-Carlton’s customer service.

The latest book we read, Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? by Seth Godin helped energize associates in all areas of our firm. It makes the case that anyone, regardless of their title or place in the company, can make a significant contribution.

Interview with Scott Kriscovich, President of TrueBridge Resources

Susan Heathfield: What was the impetus for the book club in your organization and how did you approach it?

Scott Kriscovich: We decided to create a book club at TrueBridge Resources based on several factors: We started it from the beginning when we were a very small company because I was looking for ways to build a company culture and cohesion among our team at the offset. We’ve read several books where I’ve tried to incorporate those thoughts and ideas into our thinking as a company and how we run the business; it allows us to have a common language and common context. For example, when I talk about “hedgehogs” or “flywheels” from Jim Collins’ Good to Great, then everyone knows what I am referring to without my having to explain it.

Susan Heathfield: How is your book club set up? Can you share details with my readers?

Scott Kriscovich: Employees are provided with a copy of the book. They are expected to read the book and be prepared to discuss the book at the quarterly Book Review meeting. During the quarterly discussion, we will review aspects of the book that may help us to function better as a team. It could include setting action items and determining necessary follow-up activities.

Employees are divided into randomly selected groups of no more than 15 employees each for the book discussion. The discussion will be lead by a volunteer employee facilitator who will guide the discussion, asking probing questions as needed. The facilitator will assign one member of the group to serve as the note taker for the meeting. Since each discussion group includes a variety of internal employees from different geographic locations, the discussion will be held via a conference call.

Every employee is expected to serve as a facilitator at one point in their careers with TrueBridge Resources.

Heathfield: What was successful and not successful about your book club?

Kriscovich: Our successes include:

  • We all say that we want to read more, so putting a lightweight structure around it encourages and gives us a platform to do that.
  • It allowed us to connect and build a relationship with Joe Callaway, one of the authors whose books we’ve read. He ended up interviewing us for one of his upcoming pieces.
  • We just read The Southwest Airlines Way as we were launching and introducing our one TrueBridge Resources Way into our company culture. We were able to parallel what we read in the book to our own circumstances especially because both are considered commoditized industries. It allowed us to help define our unique differentiators internally and for our stakeholders.

Our challenge was:

  • It is difficult to hold a book club discussion with 12-14 active participants over the phone (our book club is held across all nine of our offices). We decided to max the group at 15 and then with at least four new people; we add a new facilitated group. Facilitators meet before each monthly book club call to come up with common discussion points and direction, then meet afterward to compile the primary takeaways to share with our entire team.

Heathfield: What has been the impact of Pinnacle sponsoring book clubs in the workplace?

Kriscovich: We encourage people to volunteer to lead book club discussions, and we have seen people from different teams and different functions hold that role. Different geographically, in responsibility, at level; everyone is part of TrueBridge Resources, and it gives us a common ground.

The other impact I’ve seen is that our staff is proud of the fact that we have a book club and make reference to it and what they’ve learned in business meetings and internally. Not everyone reads every book; it is a voluntary program because the minute you tell them they have to do it, the book club evolves into something else.

Heathfield: What books would you recommend that made a difference for your company?

Kriscovich: Because we have a system in place where we choose the books democratically, we have found that each book we have read has facilitated exciting discussion and affected our organization positively in some way. Here’s our booklist for this year:

  • Crucial Conversations or Difficult Conversations
  • Delivering Happiness: The Path to Profit, Passion, and Purpose or The Zappos Experience
  • Getting Past No or Getting To Yes
  • High Five or Raving Fans

Book clubs at work are an inexpensive way for employees to develop their skills both personally and professionally. Book clubs help you build your culture and develop your employees. They contribute to employee satisfaction, employee motivation, and retention. Why not try one?