The First 15 Reading Program Introduction
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The First 15 Reading Program Introduction

4 years ago · 4 min read

Imagine walking into the office first thing in the morning, coffee in hand, to no computer screens glowing, no phones or tablets buzzing, and everyone with their nose buried into a real, physical book! When our team heard of such a reading program in place at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk, & Lloyd we couldn’t wait to chat with Chet Buchman more about it! We’re excited to share his insights and hope to inspire you to start your day reading. Here’s The First 15 in a nutshell:

What? A program that encourages and allows all firm employees to charge 15 minutes a day to reading a nonfiction book.

Why? Improve office morale, foster a culture that embraces lifelong learning, and improve firm production and revenue!

How? Provide a library of nonfiction books for firm employees to read for 15 minutes at the start of each work day. It’s that simple!

Curious to learn more and implement The First 15 in your firm? Read on for a more details from Chet Buchman CPA, CVA, CEPA, CGMA, managing partner of Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Lloyd, LLC and founder of The First 15 reading program.

A big thank you to Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Lloyd, LLC for their willingness to share this great program with PCPS! If you have programs you’d like to highlight and share with us, email us at pcps@acipa.org.

We pay our team to read

At my firm, Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk and Loyd LLC, we believe that a key component in overcoming the constantly changing and complex accounting profession is a commitment to helping our team members improve. We believe that our people are our most important asset, and our firm has always fostered a culture of investing in the talent we have to help them grow, and foster a culture of lifelong learning. There are several different ways in which we do this, including a mentoring program for all staff, specialized training to help team members grow their careers, and continually looking for various opportunities to serve our clients. However, one of the most successful, and unique, programs that our firm has implemented is our reading program. This simple concept allows our team members to read a nonfiction book for the first 15 minutes of every workday and the benefits have proven to be countless.

The benefits of reading

There is a direct correlation between reading and success. People who are truly successful, not just financially, but in all aspects of life, are readers. They have a commitment to learning and knowledge. Personally, I didn’t consider myself an active reader until about 10 years ago. Once I started, I was able to see the payoff in my own life and began to think of how I could implement this idea on a larger scale. I started talking with peers and colleagues about my idea, and kept hearing the same things: everyone could see the benefit potential; they just didn’t have the time.

That’s when I thought, “what if we paid our people to read?” You can’t control what people have going on at home, in their personal lives, but you do have the ability to influence what happens when they’re on the clock.

Our firm put a reading program in place in January of 2014. We asked, on a voluntary basis, that team members read for the first 15 minutes of every day, before they even turn on their computer. We ask that they read a physical book, no e-readers, as technology can easily become a distraction. We also request that they read nonfiction. That can be anything from self-help to spiritual to leadership and management. We believe it is important to choose books that have real application and that you can truly take something away from. Our firm provides the books, and we allow employees to take them home to continue reading if they prefer. We also have a web-based tracking component that allows team members to keep up with how many books and pages they’ve read. Before implementing the program, 90% of our employees were not reading. Now, in the last year, our team members have reported reading 439 books and a little over 76,000 pages.

The benefits of the program are very clear. Team member morale has improved considerably. The things they’re learning are not only helping them advance their careers, but their personal lives are improving as well. I receive at least one email a week from a person who has read something that has helped them through a personal or professional issue, or to ask if they can borrow a completed book for a friend or spouse or even their kids. The knowledge they’ve gained from reading a book by authors such as Patrick Lencioni or Jon Gordon has been enlightening.

Our production and revenue have also increased, which probably surprises people. Conventional wisdom would say that we would be losing both the hard cost of the reading time, as well as the opportunity cost of not working with clients during that time. However, all of our indicators are up. The program has definitely had a positive impact on our firm, our staff, and our clients.

Commit to learning

Talking about our reading program has garnered a lot of interest. We have even assisted a local law firm in implementing a similar program for their employees. Our exact model may not be a fit for every firm or business, but the key is being able to find what works. If you are interested in trying something similar at your firm, below are some key considerations.

  1. Make time. First thing in the morning may not be the best time for your firm, but it has worked very well for us. The most important thing is to make the time, wherever it is feasible for you. It will take a level of commitment and focus to make this effort successful.

  2. Build momentum. In the beginning, be sure to choose books that will be successful. Pick something short and easy to read (that also has application) rather than delving into something very dense and technical. We have found that once people finish their first book, they’re proud and excited, and that can build positive momentum very quickly.

  3. Be flexible. As with any new initiative, things might not work perfectly at first. You may have some obstacles or resistance. At our firm, we found that as more team members bought into the program and spoke positively about it, participation was not an issue. It will be vital to keep an open mind when working through any challenges that may arise.

Ultimately, investing in your team is crucial for your firm, regardless of how you do it. Nontraditional methods, models and ideas are becoming essential to keep up with the changing landscape of the profession. Embracing knowledge and constant learning will position you, and your firm, for continued success.

Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk and Loyd LLC is located in McPherson, KS; Hutchinson, KS; and Wichita, KS. They have 65 employees and 6 partners. Chet Buchman CPA, CVA, CEPA, CGMA is managing partner and founder of The First 15 reading program.

The First 15

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this paid time or on my own?

The time to read is paid and should be coded to “Reading” for a .25 hour each day.

(Please be respectful of everyone’s reading time. If you see them reading, check back later.)

What kind of books can I read?

Any non-fiction book is acceptable – this includes self-help, business, management, leadership and spiritual. If you have questions about if a book is acceptable, just ask!

Can I read my Kindle or other e-reader?

Only physical books qualify during The First 15. E-readers, etc. are not recommended – reading on an electronic device can easily lead to distractions so let’s stay focused for 15 minutes on a physical book.

Can I take a book home to share with a family member?

Absolutely – if you read a book you feel someone else would gain value from, please feel free to share it with them.

What time of day should I read?

The First 15 should be the very first thing you do when you begin your day – even before checking email/voice messages.

Can I read at home provided I do so before I start reading email?

Of course! We understand some of you may start your work day from home. If reading in your pajamas while enjoying your coffee is more suitable for you, please feel free to do so! Just remember to respect those who prefer to get their reading time in while at the office.

Is this a voluntary or mandatory program?

The First 15 is a completely voluntary program. You are encouraged to participate and support the program, but the program is not required. If you chose not to participate, please be respectful and try not to interrupt the reading time of individuals who are participating.

How does this impact my charge hour goals?

The reading program is viewed as an investment in your personal development that does not qualify for CPE. Charge hours have not been adjusted to offset the reading program.

Will it reflect on my performance review if I choose not to participate?

No, your participation in The First 15 is voluntary and will not impact your performance review in any way.

Is there a system for my firm to track books that are “checked out” or is the program on your honor?

The First 15 runs completely on the honor system. If you think it may be useful, certainly feel free to create a sign-out system for your firm; be sure to keep the operations in mind if a participant asks to lend the book to a friend or family member.

My firm has multiple offices, do you suggest the same library at each office, or should we have different books at each office?

We suggest having the same books at each library and adjust the quantity of each book based on the size of the office. People will start talking about the books they are reading, so it’s important and beneficial to have the same books available at each office.

What about days that I am at the client site; should I read first then too, or is the program reserved for days in the office?

The choice is up to you as a professional, use your best judgement and determine which works best for you. We suggest the following options:

  • Read in your car in the parking lot before going in to the client’s office.

  • Read over your lunch break or at bedtime to get the professional development in while on the road.

  • Some days it’s just not in the cards to read for 15 minutes . . . and that’s okay, too!

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