5: Social Learning strategies

This is the fifth Chapter of the Social Learning Handbook 2011, a new version is now available SOCIAL LEARNING HANDBOOK 2014 

Now that “social learning” is becoming a hot topic, organizations are beginning to consider how they can implement or operationalize it.

We have already seen that social media is a very different beast from normal enterprise tools, particularly because it is being used at the grass roots rather than being implemented top-down by the organization.  Social tools are not only changing the way that we think about “learning” but also how we apply them. This then begs the question, what is the best way to implement social learning within an organization?

Top down versus bottom up approaches

The traditional way of implementing any new trend or technology – we have seen it with e-learning and the LMS – is to do this top-down.

Someone or some people decide what tools/platforms are best for use within the organization and these are then purchased, installed and set up for employees to use.  They then have to get the employees to use the tools, perhaps even train them to how to do so.

Those who looking to implement social learning in the traditional way, will probably be asking questions like this:

  • How will we get people to use social tools?
  • How will we get people to collaborate and share?
  • How will we ensure what they share is accurate?
  • When are they going to have time in their workday to collaborate and share with their colleagues?
  • What platform can we ensure everybody uses to allow us to track every piece of social activity that takes place?

In other words, the traditional top-down approach to implementation is seen in terms of imposing social and collaboration tools on the workforce, compelling them to share and collaborate, and then controlling and tracking what they do share.

But this approach is unlikely to work well with social learning and collaborative working, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Those that are already collaborating, sharing and learning with one another, will resist attempts to force them to use other social tools or platforms in order to track and control what they are already doing.  This may well push their activities even further underground.
  2. Those that have yet to experience, understand and feel comfortable with social media will not want to be forced into sharing and collaborating when they are not ready for it, and are likely to resist attempts to make them do so.

It is very probable that organizations that take a top-down approach to implementing social learning will report that it has failed; that workers are not using their collaboration system, or that they are not sharing and that it is not effective.

A more appropriate approach, therefore is to use a supportive bottom-up approach, which is more about supporting those individuals who already are sharing and collaborating with one another and encouraging others to experience the benefits of social working and learning. It is also about recognizing the fact that social learning works best when individuals and teams have a genuine purpose, need or interest to do so, e.g. to deal with a common issue or problem or to support one another – rather than because they are being told or forced to do so.

Smart organizations are therefore asking very different questions about “implementing” social and collaborative approaches for working and learning, e.g.

  • How can we support those who are already working and learning collaboratively?
  • How can we build on what is already happening?
  • How can we encourage those who are not already working and learning collaboratively, to do so?
  • How can we provide services to individuals and teams to help them address their learning and performance problems using collaborative approaches?

In organizations who adopt this approach, social learning and collaborative working becomes an organic process. And as more and more people recognize the value of it, they will become involved, participate, share and collaborate.  It is these organizations who will be more likely to report job and business productivity improvements, increased customer satisfaction and an improved bottom line.

3 key principles of the supportive bottom-up approach

There are a number of fundamental principles that underpin a supportive bottom-up approach to social learning, which we will look at below.

1 – L&D doesn’t “own” social learning

When Marcia Conner, the author of The New Social Learning, was asked, in a recent interview with Esteban Contreras for SocialNerdia [1], “should social learning be led by cross-division teams or should it be ‘owned’ by a specific division/group?”, she gave the following answer:

 

“The idea any group or cross-division team can own social learning is like asking one department to be responsible for organizational health. The only people who can own social learning are the individuals who themselves are learning each day, from one another, based on their work and in the flow of work.

One department can set strategy and review tools, and even document and advertise healthy social learning practices, but at the point when they give the impression it is their responsibility to manage the learning, they step back in time to an age when we thought training (or knowledge management, or human capital development, or..) was a discreet set of activities and events that could be turned on and off like a light switch.

Rather, learning and collaboration are ongoing actions taken by individuals in concert with one another to produce something greater than anyone alone could create. And that is owned by (and directed by) every individual all of the time.

Remove the obstacles in people’s paths to do what is hardwired into their DNA—to learn together to grow strong—and you’ll find it creates healthy organizations where social learning is their lifeblood.

These thoughts are reinforced by the following viewpoints on learner autonomy, the need for trust and for L&D to “get out of the way”.

2 – Autonomy is a powerful motivator

In his latest book, Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us [2], Dan Pink explains how autonomy (along with mastery and purpose) is a powerful motivator.  He shows that the secret to high performance and satisfaction at work is the deeply human need to direct our own lives.  Here are some of the key points he makes:

“Human beings have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another.  And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

The opposite of autonomy is control.  And since they sit at different poles of the behavioral compass, they point us to different destinations.  Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.

It means resisting the attempt to control people – and instead doing everything we can to reawaken their deep sense of autonomy.

A sense of autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude.  According to a cluster of recent behavioural studies, autonomous motivation promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout and greater levels of psychological well-being.”

If you haven’t got time to read Dan’s book, then take a look at this powerful message in his TED video [3] or watch this animation of a speech he gave at the RSA [4].

Autonomy is not just good for the individual, the need for autonomous or self-directed learners is also becoming a corporate imperative. Timothy Clark and Conrad Gottfredson,in a CLO magazine article, Agile Learning, Thriving in the New Normal [5]wrote:

“As competitive environments increase in speed, complexity and volatility, organizations and individuals are compelled toward a dynamic learning mindset. Dynamic learning is defined as rapid, adaptive, collaborative and self-directed learning at the moment of need.”

So, it is not about managing or controlling what workers do, but letting them get on doing what works best for them.

3 – Better results come from “getting out the way”

Encouraging learner/worker autonomy is something that scares many organizations, particularly letting people loose on the Social Web – as they might see it! It certainly requires a culture of trust within an organization.

Andy McAfee, a principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management, who coined the phrase “Enterprise 2.0”, writes in an article in Fortune Magazine, Taking the social media plunge: Learning to let go [6],  about the difficulties organizations have “letting go”:

“They’re worried, in short, about what will happen when they actually do empower their employees with the digital toolkit of Enterprise 2.0. They seem quite concerned about what will happen when they give demonstrably powerful tools to their most important assets.”

But Andy McAfee goes on to say

 “… virtually all the evidence I’ve seen over the years convinces me that people (whether employees, partners, or customers) can be trusted, and do predominantly use the new social software platforms in ways that provide benefit and credit to the companies that establish them.”

In fact he goes further than this, and says:

“If you want a good outcome, back off on process and get out of the way of people. Let them come together and interact as they wish, and harvest the good stuff that emerges.”

Trina Rimmer, in a posting with a similar theme, Is Your Training Path Full of Traffic Lights (Instead of Roads) [7], asks

“Are we building traffic lights or are we building roads? If the answer is roads, you may want to embrace some radical ideas, turn off the traffic lights (at least some of them), and focus on designing better roads and maps that help trainees find their way.”

Clearly, much of this requires a new mindset not just for Learning & Development but also for management as well as for the workforce. Clark Quinn sums this up well in a blog posting, Shifting Perspectives [8].   In the extract below he explains the new thinking that will be required for the workforce:

“The old thinking was that the thinking is done from the top and percolates down.  Whatever skills are needed are brought in or identified and the learning unit develops it.  There’s a direct relationship between the specific skills and the impact on the business.

The new thinking is that the goals are identified and made clear and then the employees are empowered to achieve the goals in the ways that seem best.  They can provide input into the goals, and adapt the skillsets as needed.

This is important because of speed, productivity, and outcomes.  First, the world is moving faster, and there is no longer time to plan, prepare and execute. It has also been demonstrated that employees are more productive when they’ve bought into the plan and have responsibility.  It’s also the case that bringing more brains ‘online’ to help achieve goals ultimately makes better decisions.

The necessary components are that workers need a context where they can contribute safely and are empowered to work.”

Let us now look at some practical suggestions for putting the supportive bottom-up strategy approach into practice – in terms of how to support Personal Directed Learning (PDL), Group Directed Learning (GDL) and Intra-organizational Learning (IOL)

Encouraging and supporting Personal Directed Learning

It is clear that many people are naturally autonomous, self-directed workers who are already making good use of social media tools for working and learning – so it is just a matter of getting out of their way and letting them get on with what they are doing.  But it is true that others will need help to become comfortable and competent to address their own business and performance problems.

They will need a range of new skills and literacies to become autonomous workers and be able to manage their own personal learning, to work collaboratively with others, as well as make responsible, safe and effective use of the new social tools.

Here we’ll take a closer look at the new skills they will need to acquire.

New skills for self-directed learning

Autonomous, self-directed learners will need to be able to:

  • identify their own problems and find the most appropriate solutions to those problems
  • understand the solution to a job performance or learning problem is not always a course, although there may be  times when it will be the most  appropriate solution
  • become aware that they are already learning informally  – whether they realize it or not .. and that there are tools to support  them
  • understand the value and importance of collaboration and of sharing knowledge, resources and experiences
  • discover the tools that are available to them for personal and collaborative learning
  • identify trusted sources of content and people

New Information skills

As people become more autonomous they will need help to survive in the new information world. Charles Jennings, in Less is more: a different approach to L&D in a world awash with information [9], has written about the critical skills that will need to be supported to help people develop so they can operate in this “ocean of information”.  These are shown in Table 8 below.

Table 8:  Critical information skills


Search and ‘find’ skills
To find the right information when it’s needed
Critical thinking skills To extract meaning and significance
Creative thinking skills To generate new ideas about, and ways of, using the information
Analytical skills To visualize, articulate and solve complex problems and concepts, and make decisions that make sense based on the available information
Networking skills To identify and build relationships with others who are potential sources of knowledge and expertise, within and outside the organization
People skills To build trust and productive relationships that are mutually beneficial for information sharing
Logic To apply reason and argument to extract meaning and significance
A solid understanding of research methodology To validate data and the underlying assumptions on which information and knowledge is based

How to deal with information overload

One of the key skills will be dealing with “information overload”.  However, Clay Shirky [10] at the Web 2.0 Expo in 2008 points out:

“What we’re dealing with now is not the problem of information overload, because we’re always dealing (and always have been dealing) with information overload..Thinking about information overload isn’t accurately describing the problem; thinking about filter failure is.”

Individuals will need to develop personal strategies to deal with information overload.  Harold Jarche [11] provides some useful guidance through, what he used to call Personal Knowledge Management but now refers to as Networked Learning, and which he describes as a continuous process of seeking, sensing and sharing (see Table 9).

“Seeking is finding things out and keeping up to date. Building a network of colleagues is helpful in this regard—it not only allows us to “pull” information, but also have it “pushed” to us by trusted sources. Sensing is how we personalize information and use it. Sensing includes reflection and putting into practice what we have learned. Often it requires experimentation, as we learn best by doing. Sharing includes exchanging resources, ideas and experiences with our networks and collaborating with our colleagues.”

Table 9: Networked learning

Share

Mutual Engagement
Co-create, Formalize
Participate, Evaluate, Challenge

Sense

Ignite Passions
Create, Converse
Tentative Opinions

Seek

Finding & Likening
Listen
Observe, Study

How to gain benefit from serendipitous browsing

Despite the concern about information overload, a case also needs to be made for serendipitous learning.  Jim Gritton, in a posting on Futurelab, asks and answers the question, Can serendipitous browsing lead to serendipitous learning[12]

“For many people, browsing and surfing are perceived as little more than idle, time-wasting activities …

Despite their frivolous connotations, it is important to remind ourselves that browsing and surfing are also valuable research tools …

There can be little doubt that anything which encourages exploratory behaviour and leads to learning should be encouraged, but whether serendipitous browsing is a sensible or prudent learning strategy is another matter. Like a lottery, therewards can be high for very little outlay, but the reverse can also be true.

Serendipitous browsing does, however, have the potential to reveal connections between ideas that may otherwise go unnoticed, to stimulate ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, and to challenge our mental models so that new learning can take place. In this regard, serendipitous browsing can lead to serendipitous learning in my view.”

How to use social media responsibly and safely

Individuals who have yet to try out social media tools or who have only used them for personal purposes, might need some guidance on using these new tools safely and responsibly in the workplace.

Table 3 showed that social media is being used for many different reasons, so an individual may be using them for 3 main purposes:

  1. for personal use – for interacting with friends and for dealing with personal content
  2. for  professional use – for interacting with colleagues and for dealing with professional content
  3. for organizational use – when working on behalf of their business (or other organization) and dealing with organizational content

It is of course where these activities overlap that there are sometimes issues for either the individual or the organization.  So the question is, do organizations need a social media policy or is all that is required is to educate people about using social media tools responsibly? It is often said that people are more comfortable if they know the rules, whereas others prefer a more hands-off approach.

A number of organizations have introduced social media usage policies and guidelines. Social Media Governance [13] has a large collection in its database – some of which are quite heavy-handed.

Other organizations rely on workers’ commonsense and have simpler policies. Jonathan Hewitt’s corporate Twitter policy [14] has the extra added benefit of being itself twitterable!

“Our Twitter policy: Be professional, kind, discreet, authentic. Represent us well. Remember that you can’t control it once you hit ‘update’. ”

Nevertheless most commentators agree that with the right culture in place, it is more a matter of education, i.e. understanding what tools are available, how to use them and the prevailing cultural norms.

Education might even be done by internal power users who understand the company business, culture and what works within it. Telstra [15], an  Australian telecommunications and media company,  opted for an interactive online course to explain its 3Rs of social media engagement for its people.

Whether or not your organization has a social media policy, it is also worth helping individuals develop their own personal social media policy, particularly if they want to try and keep some sort of separation between their personal and professional/organizational identiftes.  Angela Conner provides some food for thought in her posting, Have you developed your own social media policy? [16]

Even long-time users of social media might well find it useful to review their own practices of keeping their information private online as outlined in 11 ways to protect your private information and personal reputation in 2011 [17].

How to build a Personal Learning/Knowledge Network (PLN/PKN)

Those new to social media will also need guidance, advice and support on how to build their Personal Learning or Knowledge Network, in particular how to select

  • trusted resources – whether it be internal, company-specificsources or  trusted external sources
  • trusted social networks  - which they can join to meet with other like-minded individuals
  • suitable and specific social media tools – for their specific needs, whether it be a good browser, RSS reader, blogging tool, etc.

Encouraging and supporting Group Directed Learning

There are probably already teams or groups making use of social media tools in your organization, so once again it is best to just get out of their way and let them get on with what they are doing!

Successful group collaboration requires a number of individuals who are happy, willing and ready to work together, sharing knowledge and resources. Some teams may need help to learn and work collaboratively, so in the early stages it is easier to work with groups who already have the right frame of mind and want to work together – rather forcing groups and teams to do so.

A group of people working together is often referred to as a “community of practice”.  Etienne Wenger [18] defines a community of practice (CoP) as

“groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”

CoPs are not new, as Etienne explains:

“Communities of practice have been around for as long as human beings have learned together.”

and they have an important place in workplace learning.

“Communities of practice enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need, recognizing that, given the proper structure, they are in the best position to do this.”

Communities among practitioners create a direct link between learning and performance, because the same people participate in communities of practice and in teams and business units.”

One way of helping an existing CoP to learn and work together is to bring them together for some training or networking event, make good use of social and collaboration tools and encourage them to continue using them for group working and learning activities.

Building an online community involves much more than just making use of social media tools though, as Community Spark [19] points out:

“Your community won’t be a success overnight … You need to take a long term approach – remember, you’re building human relationships here. You can’t rush this.”

Clark Quinn [20] also explains that CoPs will need help with “seeding, feeding and weeding” too.

Encouraging and supporting Intra-Organizational Learning

If there is significant social media use in the organization, then it would be useful to observe what it is being done and what tools are being used.  It would also be valuable to find out if groups are happy with the tools in use and whether particular additional enterprise tools (e.g. micro-sharing services or collaboration platform) would be of benefit to them and what functionality or features they would like.

It would also make good sense to work with these groups to develop an enterprise infrastructure, by building on what they are already doing – rather than replacing it.

Traditional implementation projects involving a number of users normally start with formal pilots to test out systems and new practices.  They usually involve at least the following steps:

  1. Piloting  around a specific event or project
  2. Choosing the right group
  3. Populating  some initial content
  4. Assign specific tasks to pilot group
  5. Promote, launch and follow up

But once again this may not be the best approach to take with encouraging the use of enterprise social and collaboration systems, as Michael Idinopoulos explains in  his posting Enterprise 2.0: Skip the pilot [21],  His main concern is about the size of pilots:

“Size matters. By constraining the size of your pilot, you significantly alter the way your company can and will use the tools.”

Size does matter, of course. But in fact, there is still the issue of how you can get people engaged without compelling them to do so – something we have already described as being unproductive.  A number of organizations are actually preferring to use a “lead by example” approach”, as these two examples show.

Bill Ives, in a posting on his blog, Implementing enterprise micro-messaging at Océ[22] describes how Samuel Driessen, Information Architect in Océ approached the use of social media in his organization:

“Samuel said that part of his role is looking for opportunities for taking Web 2.0 social media inside the organization. They have tried a number of formal pilot programs. Some succeeded and others were dropped. He decided with micro-messaging that he would not try a pilot program but simply start and lead by example.” 

Samiel Driessen explains how he started out in a posting on his own blog, Implementing Enterprise Microblogging with Yammer [23]:

“For about a month I was completely alone, talking to myself regularly. But, then something strange happened. Colleagues started joining Yammer. I’m not sure how it happened (- because I was pushing them, telling them about enterprise microblogging?! -), but it happened. And now it’s taking off.”

A similar reaction was recorded at Nationwide [24]:

“The director of social media at Nationwide, Shawn Morton, tried Yammer and initially thought it wouldn’t be useful because it was too similar to Twitter and Facebook. Then, several senior leaders, including the president and chief technology officer tried it, which set off a chain reaction within the company. “We went quickly from a dozen users to thousands of users over the course of the next few months,” Morton says. “It’s growing all by word of mouth.” 

At the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, we have also found [25] that when promoting social and collaborative approaches within organizations, that viral marketing techniques work well.  Our advice is work first with groups that are enthusiastic and want to be involved.  Encourage them to talk about it with their colleagues; and sooner or later others will want to join in.

Here are a couple of other lessons that the Centre of Learning & Performance Technologies has learned from helping organizations introduce social and collaboration platforms.

  • Growth – Let the site grow naturally and organically; tend it and nurture it but don’t force it. Slow steady growth is better than fast use and then tail-off. Evolution is often better than revolution!
  • Terminology – The way you describe the platform is important. Calling it a “social network” or even a “social environment” often doesn’t work well, as the term “social” is still not felt to be business-like.  Calling it a “collaboration platform” works much better. It’s also important that the platform uses appropriate terms within it.  For example, terms like “friends” and “friending” are not seen as appropriate within a business context, whereas “making contact with colleagues” is much more acceptable
  • Usability – Bear in mind that when people have used other social networking systems, they will be influenced by them.  Users new to social media often seem to engage faster as they have no preconceived ideas of what a platform should look like or how it should behave.

Michele Martin[26] offers 5 further suggestions for strategies for supporting bottom-up  use of social media.

  1. Ask employees what they need from management to support the project
  2. Focus on removing barriers to social media use, rather than erecting new ones
  3. Provide employees with resources and ideas that will help them implement their project
  4. Highlight their successes
  5. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities.

The aim is therefore to help individuals and teams become self-sufficient so that they can address their own learning and performance problems. Those who aren’t able to do this themselves, will need help.  This has traditionally been the role of training, but here we want to consider the concept of performance consulting services and how it differs from training.

Performance consulting services

Learning & Development departments are frequently asked by managers to create a training solution to solve a perceived problem. In other words, they have already decided on the solution to that problem. They often ask for an “all-singing, all-dancing” content-rich e-learning course, too!  For a long while we’ve compared this approach with using a hammer to crack the proverbial nut!

Performance consulting is very different from providing training services.  Rather than applying the traditional approach of developing training to address the symptoms of a problem, performance consulting involves getting to the root of a problem and working with the individuals concerned to devise an appropriate performance improvement solution.

Problems which might be due to be a lack of communication in a team, inadequate resources or even an issue with the work process itself, might then be addressed in very different non-training ways, e.g. by building communities of practice, as well as other collaborative approaches to working and learning.

It also has to be said that non-training solutions are often far less costly than training, and can usually be achieved much more quickly and easily, so for that reason alone should be given more consideration.

So when should training take place? Harold Jarche [27] has the answer.

“Only when there is a genuine lack of skills and knowledge, is training required [repeat as necessary]. Training should only be done in cases where the other barriers to performance have been addressed. A trained worker, without the right resources and with unclear expectations, will still not perform up to the desired standard.”

Harold has created a diagram (Fig 10, reproduced below) which steps you through the process of deciding whether training is the most appropriate way forward.

Fig 10: Is training the right solution?

The traditional training process v  performance consulting

In the traditional training process, once a learning/performance problem has been identified, the normal process is:

  • to carry out a Training Needs Analysis (TNA)
  • design training/e-learning
  • deliver and manage the training
  • assess test/course completions

The performance consulting process involves:

  • carrying out a Performance Analysis (note: this can also be done even if a performance problem has not yet been identifieddevising an appropriate solution in conjunction with the people concerned
  • helping to put the solution in place – with the people concerned
  • where any training is involved – working with trainers to design appropriate training
  • finally assessing the success of the solution – in terms of how well it resolved the problem and what additional benefits there were

The key features of a performance consulting approach are that:

  • the solution is devised together with the people concerned – and is NOT one imposed on them – they need to be part of the decision making
  • the solution is operationalized with the people concerned – i.e. NOT one created by others for them to use.  They need to help set it up as well as use it so it works for them!
  • the success of the solution is determined by how performance has improved  – NOT by the number of people who have passed a quiz or completed a training course

Here are 3 case studies that show that there are often other ways to solving learning and performance problems – particularly by the use of collaborative approaches that involve new social media tools – rather than by traditional training approaches

  • Case Study 1 shows how by working collaboratively across departments, the need for sales training was reduced if not eliminated.
  • Case Study 2 shows how performance problems which might normally be addressed by training, were solved by changing work processes.
  • Case Study 3 shows how employee induction was carried out without the need for online or onsite training, but by newcomers learning from others in the organization.

Case Study 1 – Need for sales training eliminated

The Sales Manager of a consumer electronics company approached the training department because he was concerned about the length of time it was taking to create and deliver the online training courses for new products and new product updates.  This had a knock-on effect that meant that his sales people were not able to talk intelligently about these new products to their customers, which often led to poor customer satisfaction results and also weak sales in the early days of a product launch.

The Training Manager‘s response might normally have been that they could reduce the time taken to create and deliver the online courses by a number of weeks, by bringing the development work back in house and hiring a couple of instructional designers, and then purchasing the authoring software as well as all the multimedia production and editing kit that was necessary to create the course.  This would however incur some additional costs.  But instead he asked the Performance Consultant to look into this.

The Performance Consultant convened a meeting of product managers and sales people to discuss the problem.  She found out that they normally worked in complete isolation and very rarely had any communication with one another.  She also found out product training took place after launch because that was just the way they had always done things!

She asked the product managers if they would be happy for the sales team to find out more about the products before the launch date and answer questions on them, and they said they would be delighted.  She made the suggestion that the product managers might like to set up blogs about the new products and write regular postings to keep the sales team up to date with their development. They might describe the key functionality, show images and mock-ups they had built,  and of course answer any questions the sales team had about the products.  This was agreed as a way forward and a pilot was set up on a couple of products to try it out.

The next step was for the Performance Consultant to show the product managers how to set up the blogs (they used freely available blogging tools for this) and how to make their postings.  She then showed the sales team how to read the feeds from these blogs in a feed reader (so they didn’t have to waste valuable time visiting the blogs to see if they had been updated).   She also showed them how to write comments on the postings with their questions or feedback.

During the pilot, the Performance Consultant remained on call to help with any blogging and RSS problems that might arise; there were very few.  Once the product neared launch, the product managers posted the specification sheet on the blog which the sales team could download and print off if they wanted.

The result: at product launch, the sales team were ready to start talking to their customers about the new product.  Sales in the early weeks of new product increased and customer satisfaction scores shot up too.   The pilot was deemed a success, and a brand new open source blogging platform was installed within the company firewall to take the project further.

Additionally, it brought the product development team and the sales team closer together and from then on they held joint meetings to discuss new innovations and product design.

Case Study 2 – Word processing training would have been the wrong approach

A senior manager of an organisation approached the training department because his new PA, Ann, was struggling with producing the documentation for the Strategy Committee.  He thought she needed some further training.

The Training Manager‘s response might have been to look at the schedule of a training provider and tell Ann she could have a place on a 3-day Word course in a few weeks time.  But instead he asked the Performance Consultant to pay her a visit.

The Performance Consultant went to meet Ann.  She was a hard-working and efficient PA with considerable experience in using Word, the word processing software.  However, she admitted she was struggling with the “track changes” functionality.

The Performance Consultant asked her what she was trying to do.  Ann explained that she had to send out papers to the members of the Strategy Committee to create a number of strategy documents.  She emailed them a first draft, then each member of the Strategy Committee was asked to make amendments and additions on the document (using track changes) and send the amended document back to her.  She then had to put all the amendments onto one master document for final review at the Strategy meeting.  It was taking her ages to do this, and her boss was getting quite alarmed at how much time she was spending on it.  She asked if she was “missing” something in the track changes function; and thought that some training would help.

The Performance Consultant said that it wasn’t a fault of the “track changes” functionality nor her lack of training, but rather that the process itself was causing the problems.  She explained that it would be a much better idea just to create one common document that all the members of the Strategy Committee could have access to and amend themselves.  Ann sighed with relief, as she realised this would solve all her problems in one go.

The Performance Consultant then discussed the different software options available; their pros and cons and ease of use, and before finally agreeing on the use of Google Docs as the preferred solution, they ran the idea past Ann’s boss.  He was delighted with the suggestion and immediately could see a number of possibilities for using it for other work. With respect to the strategic documents they were creating, he said he could start them off himself by entering some notes, then Ann could take over and work them up into something more professional.  Then they would invite the members of the Strategy Committee to make their amendments directly on the document.

The Performance Consultant then showed both Ann and her boss how to set up a Google Docs account, how to create a document and share it with others.   Once the first document was ready for the Committee, Ann sent out instructions on how to access the document as well as edit it. The Performance Consultant remained on call to help with the very few teething problems in using the software.

The use of Google Docs proved to be very successful, and freed up Ann to work on some other more interesting and exciting projects. Ann’s boss was very appreciative of the work of the Performance Consultant, and asked her to spend more time in his department to try and improve the productivity of all the members of his team.  He also recommended to the Senior IT Director that they use Google Apps throughout the company, and this is likely to take place very shortly.

Case Study 3 – Induction by learning from others

A line manager was concerned that the company’s traditional induction workshop took place so irregularly that a new employee was often in post for a good few weeks if not months before s/he attended it.  The situation had now come to a head as one of his new promising employees had resigned before attending  it, and has stated this was due to the obvious lack of interest of the company in integrating her into it.

The training manager’s response might well have been to turn it into an online induction course which would be available to all employees as soon as they joined the company, but instead they asked the Performance Consultant to take a look.

The Performance Consultant met with the line manager concerned together with some recent new hires in his team to find out more about the issues.  In addition to the delay in getting a place on the workshop, it also transpired that the content of the workshop focused on presentations about the history, vision and mission of the organisation rather than on practical issues like where you got your PC from and where you purchased your lunch and refreshment card. These things the new hires had to find out for themselves in the early days and although their colleagues were willing to help out and answer their questions, they were unable to spend too much time with them because of their own workload.  It was also clear they were not interested in taking what would be the equivalent of a day’s workshop as an online course.

The Performance Consultant wondered if induction shouldn’t actually start BEFORE the new hires stepped through the door on the first day, and the employees unanimously agreed that this would be ideal.  The Performance Consultant suggested setting up a social network type space where new hires could go before they started work as well as after they had joined up to find information about the company (this might be in the form of presentations, documents, etc), how to get set up in the first few days of being in the company as well as providing a place where they could ask questions and post their comments and views.  Those in the meeting thought this would be a good idea, so she asked them if they would be prepared to help with the project in terms of populating it with useful content, as well as helping to answer the questions of the newhires.  She explained that as more and more people joined the group over time, then their participation would be reduced.  However, they were all happy to become the pioneers to form the community space.

The Performance Consultant then took the idea to both HR and Training to get their feedback on it, and the idea was received favourably.  It was certainly a much cheaper option than creating an online induction programme. Once the space had been set up and was ready to go, then HR would invite all new hires to join it as soon as they had accepted a job offer.  HR and Training decided they would also take the opportunity to change the format of the induction workshop and make it more of a networking event.

The Performance Consultant set up the group space using a freely available networking platform and made it a private group so that only those invited could join it.  She first invited those from the meeting to sign up and they set up their own profiles with their pictures and information about themselves.  They each then took it upon themselves to find useful resources to populate the group space.  The Performance Consultant wrote the welcome message on the site’s front page which also explained the purpose of the site, and the group induction space was ready to go.  HR sent out the first invitations, and the new hires began to sign up and fill out their profiles.  They asked questions in the discussion forum which were quickly answered, and which sometimes led to further resources or links being added to the site.

After about 6 weeks the Performance Consultant ran an informal survey to get their feedback.  They all felt that this was a very welcoming approach and that as they had established relationships with colleagues before they had arrived, it was very easy to fit in. They also knew where to go to get everything sorted out in the first few days. The face-to-face networking event then allowed them to meet people in the flesh they had come to know in the group space.  It was therefore decided to continue the Welcome group indefinitely.

Embedding social training and performance support solutions in the workflow

When a solution has been agreed with a team, it should ideally be embedded within the community, group or enterprise space – rather become available in a separate place.  This is particularly the case for a social training solution, which might otherwise be hosted on a separate system, e.g. a LMS, where trainees would otherwise be required to use different social media tools. (Where there are compliance and regulatory requirements, the only things that actually need to be tracked are the assessments.)

The main advantage in embedding training and performance support solutions in the workflow is that users can work on them on a regular basis using the tools that they are familiar with. It also means that other community members can take on the role of coaches or provide peer support with the formal learning.

Next chapter: The SMARTER Approach to workplace learning


1 -  bit.ly/gJtPv1 Marcia Conner on Transforming Organizations through Social Media and Social Learning,  Esteban Contreras, SocialNerdia, 18 September 2010

2 - www.danpink.com/drive Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, Daniel Pink, 2010

3 - bit.ly/gxpv01 Dan Pink on the surprising truth science of motivation, TED, July 2009

4 - bit.ly/fAdkY1 RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, on YouTube, RSA, 1 April 2010

5 - bit.ly/ikxpzX Agile Learning: Thriving in the new normal, Timothy R. Clark and Conrad A. Gottfredson, Chief Learning Officer Magazine 29 November 2009

6 - bit.ly/dH7DhG  Taking the social media plunge: Learning to let go, Andy McAfee, Fortune Magazine, 1 November 2010

7 - bit.ly/dMaB5w  Is Your Training Path Full of Traffic Lights (Instead of Roads), Trina Rimmer, Mindflash blog, 18 October 2010

8 - bit.ly/gNV8Sf  Shifting Perspectives, Clark Quinn, Learnlets, 23 September 2010

9 - bit.ly/dT9zgw  Less is more: a different approach to L&D  in a world awash with information, Charles Jennings, 9 May 2010

10 - bit.ly/guKLcj  It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure, Clay Shirky, Web 2.0 Expo NY, 2008

11 - bit.ly/dVIRBa Networked learning: working smarter,  Harold Jarche, 22 October 2010

12 - bit.ly/ePZTAH Can serendipitous browsing lead to serendipitous learning? Jim Gritton,  Futurelab, September 2007

13 - bit.ly/fEGbC5 Social Media Governance

14 - bit.ly/hcS9sW A twitterable Twitter policy (Gruntled Employees), Jonathan Hewett, hackacedemic, 26 June 2009

15 - bit.ly/hFSGTN  Telstra’s 3Rs of Social Media Engagement – Intro, YouTube

16 - bit.ly/eBpgp4  Have you developed your own social media policy? Angela Conner, Online community strategist, 5 January 2011

17 - bit.ly/idygSW  11 ways to protect your private information and personal reputation in 2011, the kgbpeopleblog, 11 January 2011

18 - bit.ly/f4iRqT Communities of practice: a brief introduction, Etienne Wenger, 2006

19 - bit.ly/hyP7W4  How to build an online community, Community Spark, 14 September 2009

20 - bit.ly/fo2GNF  Seed, feed and weed, Learnlets, Clark Quinn, 17 September 2009

21 - bit.ly/enw1En  Enterprise 2.0: Skip the Pilot, Michael Idinopoulos, Socialtext blog,  27 August 2009

22 - bit.ly/e3tiG5  Implementing enterprise micro-messaging at Océ,  Bill Ives, the app gap,12 August 2009

23 - bit.ly/eFgZtE Implementing enterprise microblogging with Yammer, Samuel Driessen,  infoarch, 11 November 2008

24 - bit.ly/h0vFyR At Nationwide, Yammer links rank-and-file with the C-suite, Lindsey Miller, Ragan.com, 23 November 2009

25 -  bit.ly/huqEPs  Creating a social learning environment, Jane Hart, Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, November 2009

26 - bit.ly/gNXxn4  5 strategies for supporting bottom-up social media use, Michele Martin, Bamboo Project, 7 December 2010

27 - bit.ly/eChbQM Compliance of an industry, Harold Jarche, 13 May 2010

 

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