March is National Reading Month, a time when schools across the country encourage kids to pick up a book and develop a lifelong love of reading. Many HVAC contractors see a benefit in encouraging their employees to read as well. They find it improves thinking about the business and builds camaraderie.

Scott Merritt, owner of Fire & Ice Heating, Air Conditioning and Electrical Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, invests considerable resources in training his staff. Merritt’s firm operates an in-house training center where employees gain hands-on experience on all the equipment they will work on. But there’s also a lot of required reading.

“Thinking is the key,” Merritt said. “If you don’t think, you can’t change. And you don’t grow.”

After 90 days at Fire and Ice, all employees receive a copy of “The Richest Man in Babylon.” This classic by George S. Clason was first published in 1926. It uses stories set in ancient Babylon to present financial advice. This includes saving 10% of a salary, avoiding luxury purchases, and making sound investments.

“They’re not learning this stuff in school or from their parents, unfortunately,” Merritt said.

All managers are required to read “Multipliers,” by Liz Wiseman. The book presents the idea that managers need to bring out the talent intelligence in others and create a group intelligence. Wiseman offers examples of different types of successful leaders (multipliers) and unsuccessful leaders (diminishers), as well as advice on how to become more of a “multiplier.”

Rob Minnick, CEO of Minnick’s HVAC, Plumbing, & Insulation in Laurel, Maryland, is always looking for books that offer good advice and plans for action. Minnick said there are plenty of books like that, but many people fail to follow through on what they read.

Getting results from reading turned Minnick into a bookworm when he reached adulthood. He said friends who grew up with him can’t believe he picks up any book. Minnick wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning, works out, and then reads for an hour. He belongs to a lot of groups and is constantly asking for book recommendations.

“Once I started reading, I couldn’t put them down,” he said.

He shares his favorites with his employees. The latest book Minnick’s staff is reading is “Business Made Simple,” by Donald Miller. The book provides a 60-day plan to master various aspects of a business, including management, marketing, and personal productivity. Minnick said it helps all his employees regardless of their function at the firm.

“It helps them understand the why,” he said. “The why makes everything easier, especially the how.”

Another book that’s influencing the way Minnick operates his business is “The Game of Work,” by Charles A. Coonradt. This one took some extra work. Minnick read it and then read the author’s other book, “Scorekeeping for Success,” before he fully understood the principles.

The books focus on approaching work the same as approaching a game. Minnick’s now offers a rewards systems based on the concept. He compares it to football. An employee earns a certain reward for moving the ball, a bigger reward for scoring a touchdown, and the biggest reward for “winning a championship.”

No new systems came out of a reading program at Air Control Home Services in Lake Havasu, Arizona. It did help bring the employees closer together, though. Co-owners Amanda Zink and Jamie Jensen attended a session on encouraging employees to read at a conference and decided to implement that at their firm.

They put a different spin on it. Instead of just requiring staff to read a certain book, they created a book club. Zink said she became a more serious reader of business books in the past few years, but she never belonged to a book club before starting this one. The service manager and another employee had, so they helped her set it up. She also did some reading on the subject.

Zink and Jensen asked for recommendations and then put together a list of candidates. Employees then voted on which one they wanted to read first.

The first book was “Leaders Eat Last,” by Simon Sinek. The book presents that the most important function for a leader is to take care of everyone else. Zink said it gave the staff a good insight in the owners’ perspective. One service tech told Zink the book helped him in dealing with customers and co-workers.

The next book was “The EMyth HVAC Contractor,” by Michael E. Gerber and Ken Goodrich. This industry-specific book drew an even bigger crowd. Zink said she was pleasantly surprised, though, with some of the folks who showed up for the first book discussion. Participants came from all parts of Air Control, from warehouse workers to installers to office staff to service techs and plumbers.

The coronavirus pandemic put a hold on the book club. Zink said they considered doing it via video, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

“I think it would have worked, but I’m not sure you would have gotten the same participation and the same kind of camaraderie,” Zink said.

She said they plan on restarting it soon. Zink said the books spurred some interesting conversations. She said there is a sort of vulnerability to discussing opinions on a book.

All three contractors pay for the books in both print and audio formats. Many field workers listen to them while they drive. Minnick said he makes the investment for his employees with the expectation that they invest their time in the books. He said reading or listening for just 10 minutes a day will get them results. He constantly brings up the books in meetings.

Minnick said the reading benefits the employees as much as the company. It provides them with skills they can take anywhere. Merritt discusses the books with employees when he meets with them to discuss their goals.

“I have 40 employees, and we’re working with all 40 to make the most out of their lives and get the best out of them,” Merritt said.