Real learning is a part of the work, not apart from it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Leverage the Greenest to Create a Collaborative Organizational Culture

One of the biggest barriers to bringing collaborative technology into the workplace is organizational culture. Not all resistant organizational cultures are due to extreme command & control issues, resistance to anything perceived to be "time wasting" or a security risk. In fact I’d bet most barriers are not rock solid and are actually more like Andy Dufresne’s cell wall in Shawshank Redemption... thick but porous.

The thickness is simply layer upon layer of misconception and long held beliefs about learning in organizations having to be formal and tied tightly to an L&D department. However the wall is also porous, caused by the need for agility in a poor economy, and a desire for innovation. In this environment change is not impossible but it tends to be evolutionary; like Andy, one can chip away for years and years with a small rock hammer and then have to wait for a big thunderstorm (i.e. a huge painful business problem) before they can punch through.

Typically culture change is desired BEFORE one can implement collaborative technologies.

Could one use collaborative technology and approaches to change the culture or change it faster?
That's the question I, with my teammate's assistance, have set out to answer as we have employed an approach that just may work and is far less evolutionary.

The focus of our effort to bring collaborative technologies to the organization's mainstream is not through using SoMe tools to solve a specific business problem, nor is it to work with middle management to drive acceptance both up and down the hierarchy. No, actually it’s by leveraging the greenest, least entrenched, least empowered group in the whole organization, the Newly Hired!

Let me start by telling you that SharePoint is our Intranet, and the source of all our organization wide collaborative tools. Although these tools can sometimes be less robust than desired, I am pragmatic and work first with what we have, bringing oil to the wheel only if it squeaks.

The L&D department is one of the first to make contact with new hires. For their first 2 weeks of employment they are in field offices getting exposure to the business. It is here I began to introduce training class specific blogs to them before they come to our headquarters for the first of several weeks of F2F training distributed over a 10 week program.

While in the field, we ask them to use the blog to introduce themselves to their peers in other training offices and share their daily experiences.

Once they attend a week long training in a F2F environment at HQ they return to the field for more practical applications of their training. Naturally they now have placed a face with a name and begin to have less formal conversations via the blog, albeit they are mostly related to their work experiences.

The group begins to form an identity. Less inhibited, they are comfortable posting questions, sharing a tip, sharing a joke, and telling stories of successes and failures. I’ve asked our trainers to try to refrain from answering their questions immediately and encourage their community to do so. Also the trainers are to seed the conversations with requests for members to not only share what their successes were, but what they did specifically to be successful (process not just product).

The trainees are geographically dispersed for the majority of their new hire experience, so the blog serves to keep them connected and helps maintain a support system of true peers. As their time in the training program advances, the L&D staff begin to leverage the blog to extend formal classroom learning initiatives. These efforts focus on asking the new hires to draw upon practical experiences to complete collaborative Q&A sessions, share situational best practices, and reflect on the content used in context.

This social connection is alleviating pressure found in most formal environments; the 10lbs of content in the 5lbs bag syndrome. We are now able to spread formal training out and allow for deeper reflection on the content.

Secondary to the training extension and growth of social media use for learning is that the blog is becoming an invaluable formative evaluation tool of our training sessions. The trainers can ascertain from the posts which performance objectives are being met and which the class is struggling with. This real time data allows us to quickly update and improving the curriculum.

After the new hires complete the training and are placed into their role, the community is kept alive by the participants. These CoP’s are helping the isolated staff to stay connected and continue growing with peer support.

Today we are working to roll the 15 + training groups consisting of over 100 people together into a single company-wide blog that is exclusive to their role. Homogeneous groups can only grow their knowledge and skill so much.

By reaching out to veteran employees, who have not yet been exposed to internal social media, we plan to have a select few guests post throughout the year to share insights and ideas in an effort to grow the community and its value.

As more and more new hires are introduced to the tools their comfort level and expectation to use them grows. In addition, the newest in the company become a strong voice in promoting the value. As class by class rolls into the organizational mainstream armed with SoMe rock hammers they continue to chisel away in unison until the wall simply crumbles.
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