It occurred to me again at the fair for training managers in Leuven on 18 November. We no longer talk about ‘the learning organization’, but we do talk about ‘the social organization’. Social media and collaborative learning are very hot indeed.
As a HR professional, how do you get on board? How do you make your organization a ‘social organization’ in which staff make intensive use of social media to capture information, share knowledge and learn from each other? Here are a few tips & tricks to implement collaborative learning in your organization.
How do you set up collaborative learning in your organization? Here are a number of best practices:
1. The secret recipe: communities + technology + purpose.
Compare it to cooking: you need 3 ingredients for this recipe. Take away one of the 3 and it just won’t work.
Collaborative learning requires:
- communities (interdependent people who trust each other – without trust there can be no community).
- technology (to support the communities).
- a clear objective (sharing knowledge at random in a professional context leads nowhere).
About technology & learning
- Don’t fall into the IT trap. You need a tool to support the rapid exchange of information and ideas. But the tool remains a means. It is not an end in itself.
- Using social media is natural for Generation Y (technological savvy). That is not always the case for other generations. Make sure that you lower the threshold. For example: breakfast sessions for staff. How about ‘Yammer in the sandwich’?
- How do you handle resistance from IT in terms of security ? Make sure that you have a high level IT ally who is positive about the use of social media. And your best ally – as in most change situations – is always the CEO.
- Make it clear to users from the start what is and what is not allowed. Don’t waste time designing a complex policy that nobody reads. Use your common sense and devise simple guidelines with a few colleagues. For example: do not write any abusive personal comments – do not make political statements or comments about religion.
About communities & learning
- To introduce social media into your organization, you need to start a community: bring together people who are highly enthusiastic about the same purpose. Don’t try to do this alone – and certainly not with some colleagues from your own ‘hierarchical level’ within the organization. “Thinking like a node in a network and not as a position in a hierarchy is the first mental shift that is required to move to a social organization.” (Harold Jarche).
- Don’t waste time managing communities. They are by definition not ‘manageable’. What you can do is: make sure that there is one clear driver who is in turn surrounded by a dedicated team. Without a driver there is no community.
- When you start the ball rolling, other communities and networks will be created. You will see that communities are formed between people who do not compete with each other and who need each others’ knowledge. “Learning happens in interaction between interdependent people.” (Esko Kilpi)
About purpose & learning
- A community and a tool alone are not enough. With an objective in mind (goal-driven or opportunity oriented), it will succeed. The more focused the shared goal, and the more urgent it is for participants to reach that goal, the greater the likelihood of success.
- We have to admit: as HR professionals we often tend to see learning as an end in itself. But learning is only a means to an end – and that end remains to improve ‘performance’, the business results.
2. Also needed: first buy-in and then continued and explicit support at executive level.
Is your CEO still not convinced?
- Explain the results of the McKinsey study to him: “(…) social tools and technologies (…) continue to seep into many organizations, transforming business processes and raising performance.”
- Or even stronger: look for success stories of your competitors, successes that your competitors have achieved by using social media.
- Seek out ‘allies’ in the organization (for example, marketing & communications) and avoid the use of HR terminology. Don’t talk about ‘collaborative working & learning’ but about the hard business results: effectiveness of marketing, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing business agility.
Once you have the support of the executive level, this must be and remain very explicit. Silent consent will get you nowhere. Get the CEO to emphasise the importance of communities and the use of your tool in every communication. Success guaranteed!
3. The challenge: make your managers excited about their role in the learning process.
- An informed man or woman is worth 2: you will see that middle management is less likely to jump on the bandwagon. This is also linked to their natural role: that of “command and control” – and not: ‘encourage and engage’.
- And the most difficult hurdle to overcome – do away with the ‘learning killers’: not permitting and punishing mistakes. Failure tolerant behaviour and psychological safety are the key elements in a learning environment.
Finally, I have a few questions for you:
1. What resistance have you encountered in setting up ‘collaborative learning & working’? And also: how did you overcome it?
2. If we are now in a ‘networked world’: what will be the role of the manager over the coming years?
3. If Europe as an economy is ‘in decline’ and the East is ‘the rising star’ – does that also mean that social media is used more widely and more efficiently in the East?
I look forward to your comments!
 Harold Jarches blogposts / Edmondson, A. C. 2011. Strategies for learning from failure. Harvard Business Review (April): 48-55.