Going social? It’s not just about new social technology; but about new social skills

Two wooden mannequins pushing puzzle pieces togetherelearning age magazine, April 2013 

Many businesses are now adopting Enterprise Social Networks, like Yammer and Socialcast, to underpin new social practices in the organization. But becoming a “social organisation” will require more than just implementing the technology and training people how to use it. Rather it will be heavily dependent on developing and supporting a range of new social workplace skills so that employees can make effective and productive use of the technology for working and learning.  Without taking time to build and encourage these new skills, organisations are likely to find their social initiatives less than successful.  So in this article I want to look at what new skills will be required, how they need to be built, and what new opportunities this opens up for L&D.

What new social skills will be required?

All workers will need to develop a range of new personal and social skills. This will include

  • Personal knowledge management skills so that they can make sense of, and learn from, the constant stream of information that they encounter from social channels both inside and outside the organisation.
  • Collaboration skills so that they are happy, willing and able to share their knowledge, resources and experience with others, and work and learn productively in teams, communities of practice, and social networks.

Others will require some specialist social skills

  • Group and community managers will need skills to help them build and sustain vibrant communities of practice
  • Team leaders will need a new set of skills to help them manage their team effectively in the digitally connected workplace.

How will these skills need to be built?

Developing these skills will require a different approach than the traditional method of technology training. You can’t train someone to be social, you can only show them what it is like to be social, so it is more about modelling and demonstrating the new social behaviours and leading by example, than telling people to “be social”.

It will also require working closely with teams to build or enhance existing team sharing practices. It will inevitably also involve helping to build the right conditions for them to value sharing, and to feel comfortable about sharing themselves, and learning from one another in this way – particularly in an organisation that does not have a collaboration culture. It will also be important to help teams see knowledge sharing as an integral part of their daily work  – and not as an extra initiative.

Who should build these skills?

Although IT may well take responsibility for implementing the new social technological infrastructure, they are probably unlikely to want to take on the role of building these social skills, so this is a good opportunity for L&D to become involved.  But whoever takes on the task, will need to have excellent social (workplace) skills themselves.

Many organisations do recognise that an enterprise social network – or enterprise community as it is often referred to – needs some dedicated human resource managing and supporting it. Hence the role of an internally-focussed Enterprise Community Manager is now emerging. This role is much wider than just supporting one small group or community within the organisation, but having responsibility for building and sustaining the community across the whole of the organisation.

So if the L&D function is looking to expand its services from traditional training into developing and supporting the new social workplace skills more effectively, as well as having the chance to “join up” learning and working – for the first time – through a common platform, this is a way to proceed.

The role of Enterprise Community Management is quite significant and might include the following responsibilities:

  • integrating all (bottom up) social initiatives into a common platform
  • planning the new community’s strategic approach
  • supporting its use within training, (particularly induction) as well as for team knowledge-sharing
  • encouraging employee engagement on an ongoing basis, and developing an ongoing programme of both face-to-face and online activities and events.
  • acting as primary support for users
  • helping to build activity, and
  • measuring success in terms of business performance

So in a large organising Enterprise Community Management may usually need to be undertaken by a number of people.

A new future for L&D?

The new social workplace can therefore open up a brand new set of opportunities for L&D – if they are interested in taking on the challenge. And as face-to-face training goes out of fashion and e-learning is outsourced, this might be a way for the L&D department not only to survive, but to thrive. It may even be the time to consider re-designing the function, as some have already done, into a new Learning & Collaboration (L&C) department.

To provide the necessary skills for this new function, it might either mean bringing in new blood or upskilling existing learning professions who are interested in working in this new area. Either way, if you’d like to find out more about what these new skills entail, visit the Connected Worker site: www.ConnectedWorker.co.uk