Executive book summaries have been around for some time now and – thinking about it – were probably one of the first learning resources in the genre that we now call micro-learning. As a personal user of these, I’m hooked on them and would like to see them used more often to support learning and development.
With the now conscious move by many organisations to adopt learning approaches that blend formal learning with social and informal learning activities, now is the time to look again at where these fit in. Like the use of most generic learning resources, you do need to invest time and energy to see a return on your investment.
Here are my suggestions.
Why use executive book summaries?
Let’s first look at why we should use them.
Personally, I like to feel I’m up-to-date with the latest thinking and trends in my area of work. I also know that I rarely have the time to read a full book. Even my Kindle, through little use, now has a dead battery that can’t be revived, so even my experiment with eBooks failed. But being able to get the gist of a business book in less than 10 minutes allows me to get to the heart of each book’s content and to start the process of reflecting on what that means to me. Every now and again, I might go ahead and buy the full book, which avoids the need to make speculative book orders on Amazon, which might then end up being returned.
Executive book summaries are also great for when you want to get a sense of a topic that’s not your main area of interest and lots of learning requirements fall into this camp for our busy learners. Given the wealth of titles in the catalogues and the ongoing release of new summaries, they offer a lot of scope to meet the broader learning needs of our people.
I mentioned micro-learning in my introduction and I’ve also written before about the learning habits of learners. Executive book summaries were made for surface learners and allow strategic and deep learners to make informed choices about where they might devote their time and money on the full book.
So how can we realise a return on the investment we will be making?
Start with Yourself and L&D
This is the one time that you and your team really need to lead by example and start to use executive book summaries in your everyday work. They can be a great source of high level information about a topic, helping you to become an “instant expert” in the latest trends and enabling you to appreciate contrasting approaches or models, before making a final decision as to which you might use in a new training programme. They have proven popular with both the keen “readers” on the L&D team, as well as those who appreciate knowing just enough to not get “caught out”. They are also a great resource to help you meet those one-off requests for information on a specific topic, simply by sharing an executive summary or two with the requestor.
Executive book summaries are great for content curators.
Align to competency statements
This was one of the best practices that helped many of us successfully deploy generic e-learning courses when they were the mainstay of digital content. Competency statements sometimes only come alive in the eyes of learners when they are referenced up against pieces of content. Executive book summaries are great ways to explain and set the broader context of individual statements. Some vendors might also be able to customise the website part of their offer to showcase summaries according to your chosen competency categories.
Integrate into formal learning programmes
If you are looking to blend informal learning resources into your learning offer, then given the breadth of titles in most executive book summary libraries, you should have no shortage of options. Given how user-friendly they are – and portable – they are great for authoritative pre-reading, in-classroom reference and post-classroom refreshers. Think about how you could push a series of summaries out to learners for a few weeks after the main learning event.
Offer as part of graduate/line manager toolkits
If you aren’t able to offer executive book summary subscriptions to all your employees, then you’ll have to be more targeted. As well as you and your L&D colleagues, popular audiences are graduates – who do seem to appreciate this type of resource – and line managers. If the line management population is too large, then perhaps you can just target those enrolled on management and development training programmes. But remember that merely offering them this great resource is not the answer. You will need to help them to get the most out of it, using your best curation skills.
Align with regular internal communications
Executive book summaries can often be aligned with whatever is going on in the business. Get close to those who organise internal communications and make sure that two or three relevant executive book summaries are referenced in e-mail messages and e-newsletters. This way you will be able to constantly showcase the overall offer. Perhaps you could also use a specific title to help spread a particular message. In one instance, I saw a copy of leading textbook being given out to 100s of senior managers to provide the background to a major strategic initiative. But what about everyone else I thought? They could receive the executive book summary. Though I suspect their senior managers might have appreciated that too.
Adopt consumer marketing techniques
Many executive book summary services are also sold direct to individuals, so it makes sense to consider using consuming marketing techniques when it comes to promoting these subscriptions. Your aim it to keep them uppermost in people’s minds; to get them used to checking in on a weekly basis. If your provider doesn’t offer to do this already – sometimes customising the weekly “new” summary alert to suit you – then you’ll need to do this yourself, but think about how you could piggy-back on other communications too.
Create and maintain a marketing plan
Following on from both the previous suggestions, you do need to be proactive in the promotion of executive book summaries. Planning your promotion campaign as far as in advance as you can will make this process more manageable and resource-efficient. Look at which titles you could promote at certain times of the year, e.g. goal/strategy setting, budgeting, appraisal reviews, etc. When could you promote summaries related to major training programmes rollouts; and how about leaving one slot per month to promote something that is topical at that time? And would you be able to create a marketing plan for certain groups? For example, if graduates rotate assignments, what could you offer them at each rotation point?
Offer them as rewards or incentives
If you’re only able to offer subscriptions to a few select audiences, then perhaps also consider keeping some licences back to use as rewards or other incentives. This way, you can drip-feed them out into other parts of the organisation over time and maybe word-of-mouth recommendations will help to fuel higher levels of future demand that the business will then be willing to subsidise. As they say: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.
Use as a catalyst for social learning interventions
I’ve talked already about using executive book summaries as an informal learning resource. But they also have the potential to be used to create social learning experiences. My initial idea here is that a discussion forum could be organised around a specific summary. This is not unlike a university tutorial session, so you might consider adopting this approach within a blended learning programme, such as leadership development, where the trainer would facilitate a discussion about the content of the summary and how that might be applied in the workplace. Some subscription services also offer a website where readers also can like and comment on summaries.
Get the app
For me, executive book summaries are synonymous with mobile learning. As micro-learning assets, they are well suited for reading on the move and most – if not all – providers now offer an app. If fact, I would go as far to say that I wouldn’t launch them without there being an app and I’d actually promote the app first. This is probably the one learning solution that should truly be a mobile-first offering.
So now’s the time to look at where executive book summaries might fit into your training mix. Perhaps start in a targeted manner and make sure you have a plan to frequently reference and promote this valuable resource.