Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Your Social Learning Initiative Just Needs a Purpose (and an Enterprise Social Network)

I originally saw the link to this Gartner post on the tibbr enterprise social network blog

There is an important lesson in this Gartner report that says social collaboration projects fail because they don't have a purpose. Ah…the nemesis of so many failed projects. Although this Gartner research was specifically on social collaboration projects, the same can likely be said for social learning implementations.  
Your Social Learning Initiative Needs a Purpose
What's Your Social Learning Target?

The last thing you want to do is implement social learning in your organization. Even though I am a proponent of social learning, have designed and implemented social learning interventions in organizations, and am even doing my dissertation on social learning, I would not recommend just starting a social learning initiative in yours or any other organization. 

They key is not to "implement social learning." In fact, implementing social learning is probably the worst thing you can do. 

Instead, the key (at least when starting out) is to leverage the power of interaction and create experiences in which your learners can gather and discuss specific topics related to a learning event. 

Here are a few ideas:

Idea #1: If you are conducting a leadership development program, why not facilitate a discussion on one of the topics using an enterprise social network instead of waiting to do it in  the class. 

Idea #2: Instead of conducting group activities in your exiting classes, select one and have people perform that activity as a team using the enterprise social network to have the discussion, post/share documents, and submit their work. Have participants do the work on their own and use class time to do your debrief and review.

Idea #3: Even more simply, stop doing those boring ice breakers and introductions at the beginning of all of your training classes. Move those into your enterprise social network, and have people meet each other there. That way, when they all arrive in class, they already know each other.

The purpose is not to "do social learning." The purpose is to bring learning closer to people's work and empower them to interact with and learn from each other in the context of their work.

What have your social learning initiatives been like? Share your successes and failures below. If you have done a social learning project, what did you learn and what would you do differently next time?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Trends and Career Prospects for Learning Professionals

This post was originally published on the Daily Mindflash blog. Included here is the lead and a link to full post.

We all know the cliche that when companies cut back, training is the first thing to go. The tendency for organizations to downsize training is a reality that can negatively impact career prospects in the learning and development profession. Let’s face it, the economy is sluggish and while the economy is growing, it is growing at a much slower rate than most people would hope. This impacts overall job growth, affecting career prospects in the learning and development profession.  

It sounds bleak, but there is a bright side.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Poll Results: How Long Does It Take to Learn a New Job?

In January, I ran an informal poll on Linkedin asking the question, How long did it take you to learn your last new job (to the point at which you felt confident and competent)? Over one hundred people responded to the poll, and 67% of respondents said that it took them between three and 12 months. Even more interesting is that 15% said that it took them more than 12 months to get to the point in their last jobs that they felt confident and competent.  

Granted this is an unscientific poll, but the results are likely to be representative of people's performance in their jobs. 

If we assume it takes this long to learn one's job well, why is it that most on-boarding programs are so short. Obviously, much of what one needs to learn about the job has to be learned while doing the job. Formal, on-boarding programs cannot cover everything.

On the other hand, leaving that "informal" part to chance is risky and expensive. How much money could an organization save (or earn) if instead of taking new sales people 12 months to learn their job well, it took 9 months? One could ask this question with just about any job function in an organization and come up with some hard dollar figures.

Why not target those numbers when we design employee on-boarding programs? I would like CEOs around the world would hug their training directors with that kind of focus.

What do you think?

Monday, April 22, 2013

MOOC as High Potential Breeding Ground

High potential programs sound so good, but are so hard to do well. Once people get busy, these programs get dumped into the abyss of "nice-to-have" programs. Selection is difficult and those meetings with stakeholders to determine the selection criteria are mind-numbing and frustrating experiences that make you want to go back to your desk and talk to screaming customers.

Certainly there must be a better way. And why are we trying to select high potentials. If someone has high potential, are they going to volunteer and self-select? Think about it, do people with high potential really need to be told, "Hey, you have high potential."

I think not.

Here is an idea…create a big giant MOOC (if you don't know what a MOOC is...Google it) in your organization. The topic of the MOOC is Self-Leadership and use the book Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Self Leadership. Design it well, with useful assignments that have people taking action on what they learn and reporting back into the MOOC their successes and failures.

Open the class up to everyone in your organization. Yes, I mean everyone. Don't tell people they cannot attend for whatever crazy reasons you can come up with. If people don't finish, who cares? You will probably know then that those who don't finish the course are not your high potentials. 

If you pay close attention, you will find that the people who take this course seriously, participate frequently and meaningfully, and complete the course….are your high potentials. Plus, you are developing their skills by the simple nature of the course…which is designed largely for their benefit and at their initiative.

Don't you think high potentials have initiative?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Every Manager Can Learn from a Trainer

This post originally appeared on the Cornerstone Blog. Included here is the lead and a link to the entire post.

I have yet to come across a manager who at some point hasn't complained about subpar performance on his or her team. The common refrain I hear: "No matter what I do, I can't seem to get through." 

I've also had many conversations over the years with managers who get frustrated about what to do -- but tend to fumble around. I've found a common theme there as well: Managers typically just want to tell the under-performers what to do and then expect them to follow through. More strikingly, they rarely, if ever, ask the employee to suggest a solution to the problem. 

Here's where legions of line managers at companies of every size can significantly improve their abilities as team leaders and coaches: take a lesson from the folks in business who know how to teach and train -- professional trainers. Here are a few insights that every manager can learn from a training pro. (And I'm not just saying that because I am one.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Are MOOCs for the Corporate Learning Environment?

I have signed up for two free on-line courses. The first one begins on Monday and is called, A Crash Course on Creativity. It is a Stanford course taught by Tina Seelig. It is based on her book, inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

I am taking this course because the subject interests me, but also because I want to experience a MOOC first hand. What interests me is how the course is structured and facilitated. Perhaps this method can be used in dispersed organizations, and I would like to know how they are designed.

There is potential for using this learning format in organizations and so does Udemy, which announced plans to launch a corporate training offering.

I will let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Motivate and Reward Learners with (Credible) Certificates

This post was originally published on the Daily Mindflash blog. Included here is the lead and a link to full post.

Last year, I had the opportunity to evaluate an industry certificate program with the intent of making it available to employees as a skill development program. My evaluation included completing an entire series of courses, at the end of which I received a certificate of completion. The certificate was automatically generated, and I was able to print it out as an official record that I completed the program.

I was evaluating the program and in no direct way would completing it help me get ahead in my job beyond the fact that I would be well equipped to make an informed decision about whether the program should be made available to employees. The program took a fair amount of work, I learned new things, and I was proud that I completed it. It seems silly now, but I printed the certificate and tacked it up on my office wall (for everyone to see).

Or was it silly?

[Read More]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Learning Impact on Customers

Learning professionals are so focused on employee development, we can lose sight of the obvious point that the purpose of well-developed employees is so that employees can make some impact on customers. That impact could be better customer service, selling something that improves a customer's life, or otherwise helping a customer solve a problem.
Customers pay the bills, so why not measure the success
of learning programs based on customer success?

In other words, customers pay the bills, and we exist (our companies) because of paying customers. So why it is that learning professionals do not somehow tie success to customer success?

Why don't you measure the success of the learning organization metrics tied to customer success? If you do, tell us how. Share your reasons in the comments below.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What is Social Learning?

We all need to be careful with fads, buzz words, and opportunistic organizations selling solutions. This is certainly true of social learning, which is too often described synonymously with social media.
Cathedral of Learning - Pittsburgh, PA

I even sat through a presentation from someone on the topic of social learning, most of which was focused on consumer social services like FourSquare, Pinterest, and the usual suspects including Twitter and Facebook.

This is fine and maybe I learn something when I used these tools. In fact, I have learned plenty. But using these services is not social learning. There are plenty of definitions and if one contains the phrase "social media" I discard it. Social media is a method or a tool. But it is not part of any reasonable definition of social learning.

Social Learning Defined

The best definition of social learning I have encountered in my research so far comes from a paper from Ecology and Society called, What is Social Learning?

In it the authors define social learning as a process that must:

  1. Demonstrate that a change in understanding has taken place in the individuals involved
  2. Demonstrate that this change goes beyond the individual and becomes situated within wider social units or communities of practice; AND
  3. Occur through social interactions and processes between actors within a social network.

After reading this definition, does social learning occur in your organization? And how can we implement social learning with these three criteria?


Reed, M., Evely, A. C., Cundill, G., Fazey, I. R. A., Glass, J., Laing, A., ... & Stringer, L. (2010). What is social learning?. Ecology and Society.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Four Ways to Use Video in e-Learning

This post was originally published on the Daily Mindflash blog. Included here is the lead and a link to full post.

Read. Click Next. Read. Click Next. Skim. Click Next. Click Next. Click Next.

Admit it. This is the way most of us take self-paced e-learning courses. Too often the e-learning we take contains nothing more than text on a slide, an irrelevant graphic, and on some occasions, audio narration. Not only is this not effective, but it makes e-learning predictable and boring. By slide three, we start clicking next before the narration is even complete.

It is unfortunate, but sometimes expediency wins the day, and learning designers just “get the content out there” under a tight deadline. The problem is, more often you release boring e-learning, the more likely that people will no longer want to complete your training, and you will lose credibility.

[Read More]

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Does Your Company Have a Skills Gap? Close it!

Now this is taking initiative. And I love the headline, Business Shouldn't Whine about the Skills Gap. Rackspace saw a skills gap in their organization for cloud computing and decided to invest in developing those skills. They knew they did not have enough people in their organization with these skills. They knew they could not necessarily hire enough people with those skills. And most importantly, they made the assumption that not all employees come ready-made with all the right skills.

By creating these certification programs to develop the skills they need, Rackspace is taking a financial risk for sure. But what is the financial risk of not making this investment (now that is thinking like an economist)?

Why don't more companies do this?

  1. It is expensive
  2. The payoff is hard to quantify
  3. Worried about people will take the training and take what they learned somewhere else
  4. Short-sighted
  5. Worried about making this quarter's numbers
  6. Assume recruiting just isn't working hard enough to find people with the skills they need
  7. Figure the existing training department isn't working hard enough
  8. Have not read this article

Whatever the reason...I love what Rackspace is doing, and for no other reason than an example of a company that identifies a problem, sees its value, and takes action to solve the problem.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Improving Sales Enablement with Enterprise Social Networks

This post was originally published on the Zyncro Blog. Included here is the lead and a link to full post.

According to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), U.S. businesses spend $15 billion per year on sales training and that many sales people find the training ineffective or less than useful. This statistic should drive business leaders crazy because it forces them to ask what they are getting from such a large investment. And this number is just in the United States. Imagine what that number would be if one includes businesses around the globe. Because of the large amount spent on sales training each year, there is great value in solving the problem of improving the effectiveness of sales enablement efforts in organizations.

The question is, “How can organizations improve sales enablement efforts, in order to get the most out of the large investment they are making in preparing the sales force to grow their businesses?” According to research, I believe there is promise in the use of enterprise social networks (ESN).

[Read More]

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Simplicity: What Are Your Babe Ruth Goals?

I like simple, which is not to say that I like easy. I wouldn't be training to qualify for the Boston Marathon, if I liked easy. But I sure do like simple.
When I run the Boston Marathon,
I want to buy a jacket like this.
Cool, huh?

So when I learned what Babe Ruth's life goals were, I thought I discovered for myself the pinnacle example of simplicity.

Here are Babe Ruth's life goals:
  1. Play for 20 Years
  2. Play in 10 World Series
  3. Hit 700 Home Runs
What could be more simple than that. Certainly not easy goals to achieve. But they are simple.

This list has inspired me to re-write my life goals in a similar fashion of simplicity. And this is my goal for April.

What are your Babe Ruth goals?

Monday, April 8, 2013

You Can Learn Anything

I found this blog post, The Future Employee Must Posses the Skill and Will to Learn, an important statement on the duality between employer and employee when it comes to training, skill, and career development.

Learning a new skill is
just plain hard work!
The bottom line is that employees need to take more responsibility for learning the skills they need to perform their existing job and to prepare them for future jobs. Employers quite simply cannot provide everything that is necessary.

Employees need to understand that skills development is ultimately up to them. Of course, great employers provide more and better development opportunities than average companies, but employees should not count on it.

And why should they? These days, you can learn just about any skill you want using free resources and some hard work. Think of a skill and do a search for how to learn that skill on YouTube and see what you find. I learned how to play Sweet Virginia by the Rolling Stones on my guitar by watching a YouTube video...in a weekend.

There are fewer and fewer excuses for not learning a new skill.

But even though I don't think a company can provide it all (though Rackspace is giving it a whirl), a company can do quite a lot to cultivate a culture of continuous learning.

Here are a few ideas:
  • Work everyday to convince people that they can learn new skills and those skills will be recognized, valued, and put to work. 
  • Actively seek employees who do learn new skills and put those people to visible work on new projects.
  • Provide access to resources - access to YouTube, blogs, and yes...even social networks (guess what, employees who use social networks on their personal lives are more productive at work than those who don't use them much).
  • Make tuition reimbursement programs more flexible. Meaning, not just for degree programs. In fact, the money budgeted for tuition reimbursement programs should be allocated also for conferences, seminars, workshops, etc.....ANYTHING!!! Allow employees to decided what is important to them.
  • Be creative about how to develop people. Think Authors@Google.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Social Media Gives Social Learning a Bad Name

If you are presenting a case for defining social learning in organizations and you bring up Foursquare, you've lost all credibility with me. Bring that up with a CEO and you might get laughed out of the room.

Don't get me wrong...I love Foursquare. I checked in to Beaver Creek Resort just the other day. And I might even be a Mayor somewhere.

I'm just saying that if we want to have serious conversations about social learning, we need to stop talking about the social networks we use with so much gusto in our personal lives.

We should not equate social media with social learning, but instead ground the discussion of social learning in the science of learning and collaboration. And in people learning from each other in the context of their work. And in making those interactions as frictionless as possible.

Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book On Emotional Intelligence That Will Surprise You

Hey, what can I tell you...I am perhaps one of the few training professionals who has largely ignored the field of emotional intelligence as a means for developing people in organizations. I did read Goleman's book many years ago, before I was in training. I remember it being smart and interesting, but I remember reading it as an intellectual (define irony) exercise...and then I moved on. I just didn't see it.

But I saw this tweet the other day that got me interested, and I didn't even know it was happening. 

If you had asked me 20 minutes before I saw this tweet, I would have said that was not for me...mindfulness is hippie talk or weird spiritual Chinese philosophy stuff (my wife is Chinese and IS into this stuff). But like I do from time to time, I try something new and outside of myself. So I got the book, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)

And you should too.
Search Inside Yourself

The author, Chade-Meng Tan is an introverted engineer, turned trainer at Google who developed a curriculum on emotional intelligence and called it (of course) Search Inside Yourself. Intelligent, analytical engineers who hate this stuff, now love this stuff and say it has changed their lives...at work and at home. 

I just got the book today and have read through two chapters, and I already want to implement emotional intelligence training. 

So for all you training professionals out there tasked with figuring out how to develop people in your organizations to be more effective, I suggest you get this book. I am glad I did. 

If you are not hooked after reading the Introduction (I bet you can get a free sample on your Kindle), there is no hope for you.

Designing Blended Learning Is Easier Than You Think

This post was originally published on the Daily Mindflash blog. Included here is the lead and a link to full post.

Everyone is talking about blended learning, but that does not mean everyone is doing it. At the 2011 ASTD Techknowledge Conference, Allison Rossett presented results of a study that showed that most learning professionals say that the use of e-learning is important but that very few are actually implementing it. This statement makes me wonder why. My guess is that people make things more complicated than they are.

This is certainly the case with blended learning. The thought of combining multiple learning modalities, synchronous, and asynchronous learning methods could make one’s head spin. But when it comes right down to it, blended learning can be quite simple.

[Read More]

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Pitch Social Learning in your Organization

Certainly social learning is a hot topic among learning and development professionals. And we all know intuitively that people learn informally and socially, but our experience so far is that when we bring up social learning to executive management as a means to improve performance in our organization, we are met with a blank stare and/or downright skepticism.
Improve Your Pitch to Sell
Social Learning in Your Organization

But we know social learning, if designed properly, can improve performance in organizations, and we know that the future of learning and development interventions will include more and more social learning.

So what is the problem?

I suspect the problem is with our pitch. We need to craft a pitch that will convince our stakeholders that social learning is an urgent imperative that must be undertaken now.

I recently finished reading the book, Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal by Oren Klaff. In it, the author lays out a simple pitch pattern called Trendcasting that focuses on market forces to make your pitch.

The three step process looks like this:
  1. Economic forces
  2. Social forces
  3. Technology Forces
Your pitch could look something like this:

Economic forces: As the speed of changes in our business increases, competition moves faster, and we become more globally dispersed, it is becoming increasingly expensive for the learning and development organization to support the organization's learning needs with a formal training model of live classroom sessions and static e-learning modules. This model is expensive and does not move fast enough.

Social forces: Most, if not all, of our employees use social technologies in their personal lives to keep in touch with friends and professional contacts, look for recommendations from everything from food to movies to plumbers, and they look for expertise. It is a naturally occurring social phenomenon that could be leveraged at work to improve effectiveness and performance.

Technology forces: Just like web 2.0 technologies have become mainstream in our personal lives, there are enterprise 2.0 technologies that are just as easy to use and designed specifically for enterprises that increase people's ability to work more effectively together and get what they need faster from each other. This is social learning, and this will help our organization remain competitive in an increasingly competitive industry.

There are lots of ways to create an effective pitch, and I think a pitch like this can improve our chances of convincing our stakeholders that social learning is an urgent imperative for remaining competitive and for growing our businesses.

How would you use this technique to structure a pitch in your organization? Do you think it will work for you? Share you comments and ideas in the comments below.