How to run a corporate book club
Best practice shared by Engineering Community Manager, Jan Bleha
Does your company encourage people to read and help you to grow professionally? Do you have a library or a fund to cover individual educational expenses? Well at Kiwi.com, we do! Not only that but we have another great asset – the support of top management for individual initiatives.
Being the Engineering Community Manager at Kiwi.com, I wanted to read some books during lockdown that would get me thinking and ultimately help me to better myself and perhaps help me to become a better manager. I also wanted to involve more people in this initiative.
How did it start?
I kicked off the idea in our public slack channel focused on leadership growth. Initially, about 10 people expressed interest in joining the initiative. We came up with some titles we would like to read and felt would be relevant. Based on this, I drafted a structure, sought support from a C-level Manager, and consulted the initiative with our Learning and Development department.
The rules were simple:
- 4 books
- 4 weeks to read each book
- bi-weekly 30 minutes discussions over Zoom focus solely on clear actionable applications within our professional context
- Access the books in whatever way you want (borrow them from the Kiwi.com library or purchase them), if you prepare the notes for a meeting, you will get reimbursed.
So what kind of books were included?
- Radical Candor – improve your team communication skills.
- Extreme Ownership – improve accountability for yourself and the team (and the company).
- Measure What Matters – understand how to set objectives and how to measure results.
- Atomic Habits – incorporate all the findings into stable habits.
My 5 personal takeaways from each book
- Care deeply, challenge directly – truly care about people you are working with and never let a sun set over your uncommunicated feedback.
- Offer guidance in person and immediately – be humble, genuine and helpful.
- Do not personalize problems – make it clear that the problem is not due to some unfixable personality/cultural flaw.
- Do not push to grow people when they are good and happy where they are.
- Ask for criticism for yourself before giving one, let others challenge your ideas. Offer more praise than criticism, praise in public, criticize in private.
- Stop blaming anyone/anything else (COVID19, Americans, Chinese, Prime Minister Babiš…). I am the only one to blame for the failure of (and projects of) my team, there are no bad teams, only bad leaders – Enforce standards, do not tolerate bad performance – you are responsible for it.
- Cover and Move – Clearly differentiate the roles of my team, so we can cooperate, not just each of us working on separate tasks and use Decentralized Command – Trust people with delegating work you are responsible for.
- Believe and communicate to understand – Be crystal clear with your superiors about the WHY. Do not stop asking until you believe in the cause you are a part of, only then start leading your team towards it. Then prioritize and execute – be clear about what is a priority, changing priorities, always communicate both bottom up and top down and be fully responsible to explain everything well enough, so others understand. Communicate clearly and break complex things into simple chunks.
- Plan – a bad plan is better than no plan. Debrief after larger projects (and before starting new ones). Be decisive amid uncertainty – do not be paralyzed by fear, act decisively, there is never 100% right solution, no solution is (often) worse than a somehow good solution.
- Check your ego – It is not about me (being promoted, winning the Kiwi of the Quarter contest), it is about the overall success (of the team, of Kiwi.com) Build up your discipline – build up your habits, start small, personal, build up a character.
Measure what matters
- Objectives are the stuff of inspiration and far horizons. Key results are more earth-bound and metric-driven. Key results should be succinct, specific, and measurable. Completion of all key results must result in attainment of the objective.
- Be Ruthless Prioritization. Focus and commit to priorities: Less is More.
- Align and connect for teamwork: Set goals also from the bottom up. Promote engagement – frontline employees thrive when they can see how their work align to the company’s overall goals.
- Measure and track the progress continuously and also stay Flexible. If the climate has changed and an objective no longer seems practical or relevant as written, key results can be modified or even discarded mid-cycle.
- Be aggressive in setting goals, achieve most of them, pause to reflect on the achievement, and then repeat the cycle.
- To change habits, change how you identify yourself – and then via habits prove (to yourself) that you are that person. Instead of saying “I have to,” say “I get to”.
- Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long-run.
- To build good habits, the environment is more important than being motivated – build the environment, the habit will follow. Similarly to break a bad habit, reduce exposure to the cues that cause it.
- Bundle an action you want to do with an action what you need to do.
- Don’t try to make a habit perfect, just repeat it (even do it badly and always just for a short period of time) and never miss more than once. Repetition, not perfectionism is the key to building habits.
The Book Club was a fun way to learn not only from books, but also from other teams and their struggles. We helped each other to understand our contexts and with newly acquired knowledge we supported each other providing valuable advice. I am already looking forward to other bottom-up employee generated initiatives at Kiwi.com that help us grow.
Interested in joining Kiwi.com and improving your leadership skills with us? Check our open positions!