How to Create a Successful Company Book Club

Crisis. a course in miracles books Shortfall. Recession. Like so many pebbles in a river, words like these have been flung far and wide in organizational hallways over many years.

Some in the learning and development industry feel as if they are swimming upstream with no way to reach shore. Some view drowning as an option. Yet, it turns out that those who withstood the racing rapids during the last decade have become creatively stronger for the effort.

Drawing on their leadership core, the innovators ushered in an underused and/or relatively new concept into the marketplace. It’s one that should find a home for the long-term. What is this simple and effective brainchild? A book club, organization style.

Smart learning and development executives took advantage of the many business books on the market, both fiction and non-fiction, and helped construct book clubs for staff in team environments. Whether reading and discussing various books in full or in smaller bites, the book club concept is quickly becoming the norm in corporate cubicles and public agencies as well.

Here’s an example from the public sector: With the California state budget under constant attack, the human resource leaders at the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR), CalPers and the Employment Development Department (EDD) decided to take action. Regardless of budget uncertainty, as more and more staff prepared for retirement continuing to build on the succession plan that was underway was essential.

After some investigation, the book club, at just the price of a book, became the answer. However, they needed an easily read book that shared appropriate leadership concepts plus something unusual that would motivate people to eagerly discuss in small, self-directed groups.

With their selection of The Offsite: A Leadership Challenge Fable, our concepts, and colorful characters readers could relate to as well as chew on in their book club sessions became the choice of the day. The initial effort, led by HR management, was to create the book club as a volunteer activity. No one was forced or coerced into the program. It was meant for the various small groups and intact teams to decide when to meet, how much to read prior to the meeting, what actions might be taken from each session and how to hold each other accountable.

Each department manager found some resistance at first. However, once underway, the word spread quickly that the book club was fun, enjoyable and not intimidating. Fence sitters quickly jumped. Naysayers came to the program over a short time in their usual quiet, skeptical way.

Each department manager quickly deepened their collaborative efforts by creating fun, engaging Leadership Learning Teams. The leadership lessons helped book club readers learn how focusing on your values in times of stress is the best antidote to what ails you and your organization; how to create a Vision Story that will help everyone move through the turmoil quickly and achieve great success; how unlimited thinking plus focused action combine for a 2+2=5 impact; how to engage others and help them perform at levels they never thought they could reach; and learn how servant leadership can change your organization as well as the world.

During their Leadership Learning Team sessions, participants shared the lessons they embraced with their fellow team members establishing dynamic discussions around the book’s characters and how their situations related to their workplace. Shared best practices were only one of the many benefits springing from these conversations. Hundreds of staff participated enthusiastically in the program. They even took the time to gather, physically and virtually, for a half-day program with the author. And their plan is to continue to have these sessions with other books as well. A great leadership habit to create in any workplace.

An example from the private sector is illustrated best by a division of Wells Fargo Bank that coupled their first book club activity with an author webinar at the end of the program. Their advice to would-be book club developers is to, of course, make the book available with a quick introduction and, like the example above, ask team members if they are interested in the book club discussion and to chat with the author.

Their next step was to schedule a virtual classroom session and encourage interaction/participation throughout the entire call. They provided a few ‘points to ponder’ – thought-provoking questions along with a list of key characters. Team members had these questions well ahead of time so they could really think about them. They also provided a quick and easy survey link folks could use to answer or ask a few questions. With the author’s assistance, they provided a simple seven-slide presentation to discuss the basic book philosophy, the cast of characters and their personalities, the points to ponder discussion questions and how to make positive change.

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