The Power of Books as Development Tools

By Beth Miller, an EO Elumni and Overdrive contributor

Last year at a Fortune Growth Summit, I was captivated by a video that featured Arnie Malham, Founder and President of cj Advertising.

Arnie, like many entrepreneurs, is constantly in search of new ideas that might work for their company. Early in his career, Arnie was in sales and read the book “Swim with the Sharks.” As he relates his story, he got more out of reading that book than the four years he spent in college. This experience got him hooked on books.

Fast-forward several years, and his bookshelf is over flowing and his wife wants him to purge some of his books. Like most “good” husbands, Arnie wanted to keep the peace. So several years ago he boxed up his 50 books and took them into work where he placed them on shelves in a common workroom thinking that employees would read them.

He was really taken back when the books started gathering dust and no one was reading them. So he devised an incentive program to read books, against the advice of his advisors. The payment for reading each book was based on how valuable the knowledge in the book would be to the company.

Today employees earn from US$25 to US$100 for each book they read once they have answered three general questions about the book. In Arnie’s view, this training is the cheapest ever invented. And to further support the learning, an internal tracking system was created so that employees know who read what book, when they read it and the answers to the three questions. This allows managers to talk to those employees in a way that from the book

The really interesting part to Arnie’s story is that once the tracking system was developed, the answers to the three questions for each book an employee read was incorporated into quarterly meetings. He found that there were employees reading books but not participating in the reward system! He discovered this because they wanted to be part of sharing their answers to the questions.

For Arnie, the company book club is a gift that keeps on giving. Anyone can add a book to the library by recommending to the “librarian,” who is the champion of the program. What started out, as a library of 50 books is now a library of over 400 books.

Beth Armknecht Miller’s passion for learning, and dedication to helping others, are strands woven throughout her distinguished career, which continue to guide her work with Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. 


Categories: Company Culture Entrepreneurial Journey Guest contributors Inspirational Lessons Learned


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