Building Leaders Through Book Club BY SARAH FISTER GALE
n 2016 Kim Becker, talent manager for MBX Systems in Libertyville, Illinois, had a company manager come to her asking for help. “He was struggling with the culture fit and trying to make a lot of changes fast, but it wasn’t working,” she said. She suggested he read a business book she’d recently come across called “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins. The book explores challenges that leaders face in times of transition and offers strategies to manage the most common pitfalls that new leaders encounter. The book had such a profound impact on that manager that he gave it to every member of his team, and soon leaders from across the $100 million supply chain hardware company were requesting the book and asking Becker about it. With interest so high, she decided to pilot a book club for managers to see if reading the book and talking about it together would help them in their
MBX Systems employees attend a book club meeting. Due to its success, the program has become a permanent fixture of the company’s onboarding program.
leadership journey. The pilot program was instantly popular, and one participant suggested that all new and transitioning employees should get to join in. Soon after, MBX Book Club became a permanent fixture of the company’s onboarding program. “It has 48 Chief Learning Officer • March 2020 • ChiefLearningOfficer.com
SNAPSHOT Niche technology company MBX Systems uses its book club to engage new employees and build leadership skills they will use for their entire career.
become a great way to help new employees get acclimated to the company and for us to show them that we care about their development,” Becker said.
Third Time’s a Charm When a new employee is hired or approved for a promotion, they receive a letter in the mail with a copy of “The First 90 Days” and a description of the book club. “It really made me feel like I made the right choice in joining MBX,” said Lisa Griesser, an account coordinator who was hired in September 2019. The book club is held once a month and includes employees at every level of the company, from frontline workers to senior executives. The company’s president also attends every book club meeting and openly participates and answers questions. Each new employee is expected to attend three months in a row and is assigned a different section to discuss for each meeting. The first month they are assigned the introduction through chapter 3; in month two they read chapters 4-7; and in month three they read chapters 8-10. Because it’s a rolling event, there are always several people ready to discuss each of the three sections. This format also ensures the conversations and connections participants make at each meeting are always different. “A lot of the meat of book club is the perspectives you get from others,” Becker said. Griesser admits that she was a little overprepared for her first book club. “I brought pages of notes,” she said. She wanted to put her best foot forward, especially in a room full of company managers and the president of the company. But she didn’t need to worry. “It is a very relaxed atmosphere and all of the leaders were so welcoming,” she said. “I didn’t feel intimidated at all.”