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The Power of a Reading-Focused Culture

September 24, 2014, Michel Koopman - If you want to boost revenue, increase productivity, and reduce costs, invest in talent development and encourage your employees to learn.
The Power of a Reading-Focused Culture

According to HR Magazine, companies that spend more than $1,500 on an employee’s training per year enjoy margins that are 24 percent higher than those of the competition. Companies see productivity increases as well. A study by Merrill Lynch found that for every dollar Motorola spent on employee training, $30 in increased productivity was seen within three years.

Training can also solve the talent shortage and retention issues employers face. Forty-one percent of employees who work in organizations with little or no training said that they planned to leave their companies in the next year, while in companies with high levels of training and education, only 12 percent of employees said they planned to quit.

The payoffs seem clear, but traditional programs can be expensive and time-consuming. Most companies focus on training for a specific set of tangible skills, such as technical knowledge. The result may be an increase in productivity or a decrease in mistakes in the short run, but these programs only solve immediate skills gap issues.

It’s the intangible skills — such as resourcefulness, flexibility, and creative and analytical thinking — that make an employee capable of adapting to changing markets and business models, making this person a valuable asset for the future of the Company.

How can you nurture the right type of Learning and increase the overall knowledge base of your staff on a consistent, fundamental level? The answer is simple: Turn your Company into a team of readers.

The Impact of Reading on Innovation

A reading-focused culture is one that values knowledge, creativity, and innovation. It systemically nourishes human capital. When leaders and employees are passionate about reading, their worldview is always evolving.

Readers have a better grasp of the external forces (industrial, economic, and political) that shape the direction of the Company. They’re able to leverage this knowledge into informed day-to-day decision-making and more effective long-term strategic planning.

In the long run, a reading-focused culture empowers your Company to embrace change.

According to author Andy Stefanovich, when you “look at more stuff and think about it harder” (something reading gives any professional the opportunity to do), you’re able to create new ideas and drive innovation.

Ongoing education should be a business priority because it creates future leaders who can bring new ideas and management practices to the organization, creating businesses that are capable of competing both now and in the future.

“Great companies — and great leaders — never stop evolving” is an idea that GE has promoted. Because of this belief, the Company has committed to spending $1 billion annually on training and development, with a portion of this dedicated to creating leaders who read regularly. We worked with GE to provide its entire global team with on-demand access to relevant Learning material; since then, GE employees have read more than 1 million book summaries.

The love of reading has become institutionalized throughout the Company, and it serves as common ground for leaders and employees. Together, they’re able to draw on an evolving body of knowledge as a source of inspiration and innovative thinking.

So, how can you create a culture of readers? Here are some first steps:

1. Curate a dynamic body of knowledge. What kind of insights and practical wisdom would your team find beneficial? Curate a collection of written knowledge assets that reflect a range of employee skill levels, departmental responsibilities, Company priorities, and industry trends.

2. Raise awareness and visibility. Once you’ve established a library of resources, promote it throughout your entireCompany. Recommend knowledge assets based on their relevance to different target audiences. Ensure that access is as hassle-free as possible.

3. Find evangelists. Create visibility around the employees who are the most active readers and sharers. Encourage others to follow their insights and recommendations.

4. Encourage reading through acknowledgment and incentives. When an employee reads, shares, and comments on a knowledge asset, reward her. Engage her in a public conversation about the reading in a way that’s both meaningful and appreciative.

5. Incorporate a reading in your next meeting or activity. Start sending out relevant articles, book summaries, or reports in advance of upcoming meetings. By incorporating a stimulating discussion in the meeting structure, you’ll help integrate reading into the organizational culture. Use a book’s summary to prepare for the next task.

You can also incorporate book clubs, reading assignments, and written resources in just about any interaction between employees and leaders. These are all great ways to spark productive conversations and collaborative Learning. In general, integrating summarized reading material as part of existing Learning and development activities and platforms is a great best practice. It will reinforce the stickiness of the content.

Reading as a Competitive Advantage

If a Company-wide love of reading still sounds too lofty to be a business goal, consider the fact that businesses with high-quality leaders are 13 times more likely to outperform their competitors in bottom-line metrics. This type of leader is only cultivated through ongoing education, an expansion of knowledge, and exposure to experiences and insights outside of the person’s day-to-day realm.

The written word is a powerful vehicle for disseminating knowledge, sharing best practices, and developing critical skills. Integrate reading in your core values, and you’ll expand your team’s ability to think critically and creatively.

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