Why Did This Company Start a Book Club for New Hires?

MBX Systems credits its book club with helping it sustain a high employee retention rate.
By: | July 29, 2019 • 3 min read

Chris Tucker, the president of custom-computing hardware manufacturer MBX Systems, describes his company’s culture as “curious and quirky. If you’re off the beaten path, you’d most likely fit in pretty well here.”

Given this curious nature, perhaps it’s not surprising that the tech company has a rather unorthodox way of onboarding new hires and transitioning employees: having them join a book club.

In this case, the book club is an in-house one that discusses one book exclusively: business bestseller The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins. Each new hire arrives on their first day to find a copy of the book on their desk, along with a few welcome gifts. Newly promoted employees and those transitioning to different areas of the company also get a copy. For the first three months of their new position, employees meet monthly for a “Lunch and Learn” roundtable to discuss a few chapters from the book. They also have one-on-one discussions of the book with their manager. Tucker attends every meeting of the book club.

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“Starting a new job, getting married and moving—they’re some of life’s most stressful events,” says Kim Becker, the company’s talent manager. “The book club is a good way for people to meet others in the company and share ideas, and it lets them know we value them and take them seriously.”

The book club started out as a pilot program just for managers but was expanded to include all new hires and recently transitioned employees after participants kept saying “I’d love if my employees read this book,” says Becker, who originated the book club idea.

Read HERE about making your onboarding program strategic

The book club includes employees from all areas of the company, from software developers to warehouse workers. Having this diverse group of workers share ideas and insights from the book is another bonus, says Tucker.

“If you’re a new employee, it’s great to get to know some cross-functional people elsewhere in the organization,” he says.

The ideas within the book can help employees set themselves up for success in their new jobs, says Tucker. Warehouse workers, for example, have said reading the book has helped them gain a better understanding of their managers’ role and that the “Negotiating Success” section has given them practical ideas for having productive one-on-one meetings with their supervisors, he says. Newly promoted employees have credited the book with helping them be more effective team leaders.

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“Even people who’ve already read the book say rereading it gives them a better perspective on their new role,” says Tucker. The book club discussions also let them share ideas with colleagues who’ve held similar roles, he says.

Tucker and Becker credit the insights and shared discussions from the book club with helping MBX Systems achieve an enviable 93% employee retention rate (compared with 66% for the manufacturing sector overall). Future plans include possibly adding other business titles to the discussions, but those would be voluntary, says Becker.

For other companies that may be considering a similar idea, she suggests starting with a small group of employees and expanding from there.

“All the buzz today is about making the employee experience the best it can be, and a book club is just one more tool to help with that,” says Becker.

Andrew R. McIlvaine is senior editor at Human Resource Executive®. A Penn State graduate, Andy also spent two years in the U.S. Army prior to attending college and attained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army Reserves. He can be reached at [email protected]