Staff Development

Novant Health: Shared reading program is a novel way to influence culture

February 10, 2020 3:54 pm
  • Novant Health, a North Carolina-based network of 15 medical centers, uses a shared reading program to engage team members in change initiatives.
  • Called Novant Health Reads, the voluntary, system-wide free-book program encourages team members at all levels and in every role to read the same book and participate in discussions to explore themes.
  • Books are chosen to support either a Novant Health priority such as improving end-of-life care or readers’ personal development.

A few thousand colleagues and I just read In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope, a physician’s account of suddenly becoming a dying patient and what she learned about the healthcare system from her experience. In Shock was the most recent selection for Novant Health Reads, our voluntary, systemwide free-book program, and 17,000 copies were distributed to team members across the organization.

For the past five years, Novant Health Reads has been influencing our health system’s culture through our annual shared-reading experiences.

Our reading list to date:

  • Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. This book helped fuel Choices and Champions, a Novant Health initiative to improve end-of-life care by focusing on knowing and honoring our patients’ wishes.
  • The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life. This personal-development book by Shawn Achor supported our efforts to improve team member engagement and reduce burnout.
  • A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction. This book by former congressman Patrick Kennedy advanced our system’s efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic and inspired the creation of a committee focused on eliminating the stigma surrounding substance use disorder. In addition, discussions about the book led to changes in our insurance benefits that make it easier and more affordable for Novant Health team members to receive mental health and addiction services.
  • Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World. This book by Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston prompted the formation of a formal organizational resiliency model for Novant Health.

How the book club works

Our “NH Reads” steering committee developed criteria to guide how we choose each year’s book. We look for books that:

  • Will positively influence our organization’s culture and/or support our mission
  • Are readable — engaging and thought-provoking but not overly academic
  • Are easily available and affordable for bulk purchases
  • Add value for our team members, something they view as a gift and a source of personal enrichment
  • Are written by a credible author

A small group of us reviews books and vets suggestions made by team members. We also base our selection on the author’s availability to come speak. Once we feel that we’ve found the right book, we share our recommendations with our executive sponsor — Novant Health’s COO — who makes the final decision.

We contract with the book’s publisher for a special printing that includes our company logo and a letter from our CEO. We also work with authors and their agents to arrange a special event that supports our reading program. Our Being Mortal read, for example, culminated with a presentation by Dr. Gawande that was broadcast live to 180 locations throughout the Novant Health system. In addition to participating in an author event for our team members, Patrick Kennedy came to Charlotte to meet with physicians, administrative leaders and members of our government relations team to discuss efforts to improve mental healthcare.

Getting started with a book club

Designing and implementing a shared reading program for a large organization is a bigger job than I first realized. In our first year, my department tried to set up all the book discussions throughout the organization, as well as distribute thousands of books, and those processes proved unmanageable.

Over the years, the program has evolved from something primarily managed by my team to a true system initiative involving leaders and departments throughout the organization. Today, books are ordered and distributed from a central warehouse with the help of teams that manage supplies for our system.

We also have designed more of a “self-service” model for the book discussions. We provide tools — information about key concepts and discussion questions — to leaders and ask them to lead book discussions in their areas. This past year, we leveraged technology by hosting numerous virtual book-club discussions through Zoom. These modifications have helped ease the administrative burden. We still have opportunities to deepen engagement, but it truly feels as if the entire system is helping to carry the program.

Other lessons learned:

Make participation optional. The books are intended as gifts to team members, not as required reading that adds to their workload. Leaders may choose to order books for their entire team and encourage participation, but they need to be careful to avoid creating an impression that reading the book is mandatory.

Choose themes carefully. The more closely the book’s themes align with work already underway in the organization, the easier it is for team members to see the relevance of the selection and the greater the potential impact of the shared reading.

Don’t dwell on measurable outcomes. Try to fight any pressure to calculate an ROI or to overly focus on metrics. A systemwide reading program, like other initiatives, will have its limits. Some books will be wasted when team members order the book but do not read it, and some team members will not want to participate. Neither of these factors diminishes the impact on those who do read the book, and there is no way to truly measure how a book touches the soul or changes thinking. The things that are most important can’t be measured.

My guiding principle: I don’t choose books that I cannot personally recommend. Each individual should gain personal value from reading the book. While some books may be enjoyable to read — and we hope they are — our goal is to pick books that challenge thinking or expose our team members to a new idea that they can use in their personal or professional lives.


googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text1' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text2' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text3' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text4' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text5' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text6' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text7' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-leaderboard' ); } );