May 11, 2009

Can the neighborhood reading club complement training initiatives

Companies are downsizing and focusing on cost containment and reduction. Team members are seeing their workloads increase as they see their pay decrease. Training organizations are shrinking and limiting what they offer. Managers are searching for new ways to educate their team.

Sound familiar? It should, and yet as leaders in our organizations, we still must keep our people educated and motivated.

As a training leader, I have peers ask me all the time for ideas that don't require travel, don't require multiple days, and aren't always web-based. One idea we have been testing actually goes back decades. I remembered it as an option while speaking with my mother. It sets up as a nice complement to more formal training.

A while back I received a call from my mom. During our conversation she mentioned that she had just attended her monthly reading group. As she excitedly talked about the latest book they were reading, it occurred to me that this concept would also work in a more formal setting. In fact, not long after that call, a management team I was part of, used this concept as a way of addressing some issues we faced with employee retention and team building. We selected a book, assigned chapters and discussion leaders, and spent time reviewing each chapter and its applicability to our world. It was informative, educational, and inexpensive. The only expense was buying copies of each book for everyone.

I took the concept and implemented it with a group of fellow leaders in a monthly leadership study group. We follow the same process. We select a book, establish a timeframe for completion, and set aside time at each meeting to discuss what we have learned, its relevance to us, and how we have or will apply the lessons learned.

So, does this idea work in a corporate environment? Can it serve as a supplement or complement to more formal training offerings? And, in times like these, can it substitute for some missing elements of the formal process?

My answer is yes. With the thousands of books available on the hundreds of business topics, there is a book that will work to address a particular issue you might be facing.

Here is what you need to do. First, determine the challenge or issue you want to address. Then select a book that addresses the issue. Buy a copy of the book for each person who will be participating. Note that some books include a separate workbook. Break the book into reasonable segments and assign them to a calendar. Pick discussion leaders and schedule when you want to meet for review. Have everyone read the book and come to the meetings prepared to share how they are going to, or have, applied the lessons learned in their role.

Try this and see if it works for you. So far it is working for us, especially for assisting fellow managers.

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