Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Don't Hire the Best


I have been catching up on my reading of late after my “to-read” list crossed 50. The most recent book I completed is Abhijit Bhaduri’s (@AbhijitBhaduri) Don’t Hire the Best. Intrigued by the title, I approached the book with some amount of curiosity. After completing it, I can say with conviction that it is a book all recruiters, HR and L&D personnel, leaders and managers ought to read.

The subtitle of the book is: An Essential Guide to Picking the Right Team. However, the book per se is much more than that. It weaves theory with case studies and narratives with effortless ease making what would otherwise have been a rather academic subject, fast paced and interesting. In his trademark style of simple writing (i.e., minus bombastic jargon) without being simplistic, Bhaduri breaks down the roles and skills required of those in a leadership position before going on to write about assessing those skills and organizational fit.

The thrust of his book is on, as the title says, “don’t hire the best”. While it focuses on guiding organizations to select the right people at the top, the lessons can be applied to recruiting, coaching, developmental feedback and team building. More than ever before, organizations need to build the right culture to retain the right people, be on the cutting edge and meet the flux of change. Hierarchical or not, all organizations are driven by people at the helm. And it is utterly critical to ensure that those recruited to lead the organizations are the right people. Bhaduri quotes stories of rock star CEOs and executives recruited from outside who failed to integrate into the culture and wreaked havoc without intending to. The loss incurred can go deep and permeate multiple levels from lost talent and credibility to irate customers. Hence, it’s not the best resume but the right hire that makes a difference. He doesn't leave us with theories and observations but deep dives into the details of how to conduct the evaluation providing many practical insights, implementable suggestions and heaps of learning.

The four areas assessed during the evaluation process are education, experiences, competencies and personality. The first two are relatively easy to glean from a resume, and a well-designed interview can assess the third aspect, competencies. However, evaluating personality is a different ballgame. And personality is the defining factor in how successful or not an individual will be in a position of authority and power in an organization. Without an appropriate organizational culture and personality match, the relationship is likely to be doomed. “The measurement of personality is the greatest predictor of fit with the role and the culture. The role operates in the context of the organization’s culture.”  This sentence underlies the main theme of the book.

The assessing of personality requires the use of appropriate psychometric instruments and individuals skilled to do so. Using the Hogan Assessment System as the base, Bhaduri highlights two aspects of one’s personality – the enablers and the derailers emphasizing that each of these must be assessed in the context of the role for which the individual is going to be recruited. The enablers in one organization and role may be derailers in another. Supporting each personality factor with a narrative drawn from his experience, he illustrates how each enabler and derailer works in the real world.

Hogan Performance Indicators (HPI) in the Hogan system are the enablers – “the characteristics that facilitate or inhibit the person’s ability to get along with others and to achieve his goals”.  While one would need to be formally trained in using the Hogan Assessment System, the book is a good introduction to the system, its applicability and benefits. HPI has seven scales, which the book explains in some detail: 1) Adjustment reflecting the degree to which a person can adapt and show resilience; 2) Ambition exemplifying the extent to which a person seeks status and values achievement; 3) Sociability representing the degree to which an individual likes to interact and be around others; 4) Interpersonal Sensitivity showcases a person’s sensitivity, tact and perceptiveness; 5) Prudence illustrates degree of conscientiousness and self-control; 6) Inquisitive typifies curiosity, vision and imagination; and finally, 7) Learning Approach reflects the degree to which an individual appreciates academic activities for themselves. Each individual will have a mix of scores on the seven scales mentioned. “All personality elements have to be interpreted against a role and the culture of the organization”.

Hogan Development Survey (HDS) lists 11 performance risks that can derail a person, his/her career and the organization if s/he in a position of power and authority. “Derailers are deeply ingrained personality traits that affect leadership style and action”. I won’t detail out the derailers; I highly recommend this book to all L&D and HR professionals, executive coaches, and leaders who are building or coaching their teams to become more effective – both for the org as well as for themselves. I have listed the derailers here: 1) Excitable, 2) Skeptical, 3) Cautious, 4) Reserved, 5) Leisurely, 6) Bold, 7) Mischievous, 8) Colourful, 9) Imaginative, 10) Diligent, and 11) Dutiful. At senior levels, leaders inevitably fail not because of competency issues but because of the derailers that make up the “dark side” of their personality.

The final section of the book gave me my Aha! moment where Bhaduri elucidates how to determine organizational fit using MVPI (Motive, Values and Performance Inventory) – the core beliefs that drive one’s behavior. “The values that leaders hold are important indicators of the culture that they create in the organizations they lead.” The MVPI has 10 scales like recognition, power, hedonism, affiliation, and aesthetics and so on. “…You will often see the organization mirroring the values of the most influential leader of the organization,” writes Bhaduri.


All in all, this slim book with its quirky title packs a punch. Thoroughly researched and eminently readable, it offers many practical advice and contains Bhaduri’s synthesized experience made accessible for all. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Instructional Design in the VUCA World

The current trends of technology, globalization, shifting demographics and a connected globe clearly portend a dramatically changing world. We are feeling the impact in all spheres of our lives -- professional, personal and private. In my last post, I took a macro-view of the changing landscape of work and learning. In this post, I am trying to dig a little deeper and take a micro-view to see how these changes impact us as individuals and as a part of L&D. 

L&D team's work has become more complex and challenging. The L&D needs to comprise some of the following roles to cater to the changing needs of the future of work:
  1. Instructional Designer/Learning Designer-someone who will do needs analysis, design learning in line with adult learning principles, structure learning events for different delivery channels, and so on
  2. Learning Delivery-tasks like facilitation / presentation of learning events, engaging learners, making best use of different media
  3. Learning Management-tasks include programme / project management, learning evaluation, stakeholder management, supplier management
  4. Community Manager
  5. Performance Consultant 
  6. Leadership Development (Coaching Skills)-coaching and developing leaders is going to be of significant importance in this era of rapid change and ambiguity
  7. Technology Enabler-someone who explores new technologies with an eye on how it can be used to enable learning at an organizational and personal level
  8. Business and Data Analyst-maybe the same person or two different people, this role essentially requires someone to see the patterns and trends being revealed by the data captured (via LMS, through feedback, interaction of ESNs, queries raised)
  9. Social and Informal Learning Evangelist and Guide 
  10. Organizational Development Expert
It is not necessary for an individual to play a single role. On the contrary, it is to the advantage of the individual, the team and the organization if people are poly-skilled in different aspects as per inclination and requirement. Some of these roles have existed for years (the ones in bold). Some are yet to become recognized roles. I have highlighted the ones that have been a part of L&D from times of greater stability and lesser complexity. However, even those roles can no longer function the way they used to. The roles need to be revisited and explored keeping in mind the shifting paradigms, their impact on workplace learning, and the place of L&D in the organization. It's critical for a CLO to have an eye on the changing landscape and enable new skill sets within the t 

Historically, L&D has been vested with the responsibility of keeping skills and knowledge of the workforce updated based on: 
  • Inputs from managers 
  • Current business requirements
  • Skill-gap analysis 
Most of the training programs were designed around "best practices" and explicit know-how gathered over the years. Training design, therefore, was not only top down but also past focused drawing insights from what worked in the past, getting expert inputs built in, and putting the content together in a linear and logical flow. This would then be packaged (ILT/elearning/blended learning) and delivered to the workforce in need of the said training. Context, conversation and collaboration weren't given much thought. These continued to happen but outside of the purview of the formal training. 

With the advent of big shifts and disruptive technology in the shape of Social, Mobile Computing, Cloud Computing and Big Data, all the old notions of work are falling apart. I wrote about L&D's Role in the VUCA World some time back. Here, I am narrowing my focus to the role of Instructional Design in the VUCA world

There have been paradigm shifts in what drives workplace learning today. And these in turn influence the role of instructional designers. Instructional design skills have existed as long as formal learning existed – from the designing of school curriculum to e-learning modules. However, it has changed in some very fundamental ways: In the past, instructional design presumed stable content and a fixed set of skills and knowledge. Design was linear. Children or adults – it was assumed that everyone had a set of skill and knowledge gaps that training programs could resolve. Today, that stability has been snatched away. We cannot design training programs for skills that are emergent and still unknown. Today, instructional design needs to be future focused. ID’s need to leverage existing and emergent power of technology that are inherently social and mobile. 
The table below summarizes the key shifts that impact how we design learning experiences today:
All of these together have fostered deep rifts in how we work and learn. As Instructional Designers, these are critical paradigms we have to consider when designing the learning experience in our organizations. In the infographic, Futureproof Your Careers shared by Jane Hart, we can see the top 10 skills that will increasingly be required by all. Instructional design thinking must not only keep the skills in mind but also be cognizant of the forces of Social, Local and Mobile (SoLoMo) that will drive user behaviour. 
Each of these forces have a transformational effect on our behaviour. Learning design must take these new usage patterns into account. Some of the emerging behaviours range from:
  1. A preference to view a short 2 minute video to know about a something over reading a 2 page PDF
  2. A predilection for images over text - with a smartphone at their fingertips, today's users prefer to share experiences via real-time video and images rather than long descriptive texts. Apps like WhatsApp makes it seamless to share.
  3. An inclination towards accessing one's network for answers to queries over taking a formal course
  4. A just-in-time, "let's get the problem solved attitude" over "let's learn in case we need it"
  5. An expectation of finding courses, programs and access to their learning communities on their personal devices 
These shifts have slowly but surely crept up on us one at a time. And now their cumulative effect is being felt in all spheres. A summary of how these paradigm shifts may impact the work and skills required of instructional designers are given in the table below. 
One of the implications of the shift is that instructional designers can no longer think about designing only formal training programs that will go on the LMS. They have to think of the entire spectrum and see it holistically. Jane Hart's Workplace Learning Continuum illustrates the learning spectrum very effectively. Instructional designers need to take both ends of the continuum into consideration and leave the choice of access to users. 
Depending on the need of the hour, users can access any end of the spectrum -- taking full-fledged training programs if they feel the need, or connecting and collaborating on the enterprise social network to solve their work-related challenges. The choice is theirs to make. 

Since we are so used to thinking of formally designed, LMS-driven learning programs, we flounder when it comes to thinking about Learning Ecosystem design. Based on the framework above, I have tried to put together a visual representation of what such an ecosystem could be. 
The ecosystem brings the offline and online world together. An instructional designer must think of all modalities of learning when design thinking. 

Some questions to ask could be:
  1. Are groups of users co-located? If yes, think of including some offline activities like Lunch & Learns, Hangout Sessions, and so on to strengthen informal & peer-to-peer learning. 
  2. Is expertise distributed? Have an Ask the Expert section. Anyone could be an expert on any topic; in this manner, the organizational tacit knowledge will get captured, interesting questions will surface, and the value of weak ties will be explored. Learning from the edge will come to the center.
  3. Do users work out of different locations, including home, hubs, etc? If yes, inculcate the practice of narrating one's work
  4. Is the churn in workforce high? If yes, have a robust online + offline on-boarding program which includes adding users to relevant communities, an online buddy/mentor, a clearly defined roadmap based on their current role.
  5. Does the workforce consist of different generations working together? Add some scope for mentoring and reverse mentoring. If the culture of the workplace is conducive, pairing individuals of different generations could be beneficial although it is important to keep in mind that stereotyping generational characteristics can be detrimental. 
None of these are likely to happen overnight. Nor are they one-time activities. Putting in place a learning ecosystem where individuals engage as self-managed learners require constant vigilance, robust design thinking, application of sound community management principles and a strong change management focus. Some of the core tasks are illustrated in the diagram below. 

Thus, an instructional designer today is required to not only understand the fundamentals of good instructional design but must also expand his/her skill sets to include an understanding of community management, the spectrum of learning from formal to informal, the impact of social, local and mobile on user behaviour, the need to equip users with self-managed learning skills. The latter is increasingly critical as we encounter unique challenges and requirements that call for emergent skills. No one can be "trained" for emergent skills. But the ecosystem can be designed to facilitate continuous learning, collaboration and communication. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Changing Face of Work and Workplace Learning


I am not the kind to crystal gaze. I lay no claim to being able to predict the future. Now that my disclaimers are in place, let me explain the premise of the post title and what I intend to discuss in this post. 

I am trying to re-imagine how my work will shape up five years from now. Five years seem like a pretty short time but in today's context, it can be a very long time. Anything can happen in five years. Companies take birth and vanish; business models come and go; technology appear, evolve and transform everything.

I am not doing (at least trying not to) today what I did five years back--not only in terms of professional and personal growth but with respect to the demands of the time. Technology has brought about unprecedented changes at a pace that is challenging all notions of flexibility and adaptability. Here are five things/phenomenon that did not exist five years back (at least not in the way we know them today):
  1. IBM's Watson, the AI driven robot that interacts with humans on human terms (in natural language). "You don't program Watson; you work with Watson". Here is a fascinating video on what Watson can do. Watson incidentally won on Jeopardy against former winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. (And as weird as it sounds, I am finding it difficult to write Watson with a lower case "w").
  2. Siri, the quirky and intelligent personal assistant has been an integral part of the Apple iOS since October, 2011. Here is a heart warming story of how interacting with Siri helped an autistic child make sense of the world at his pace -- How One Boy with Autism Became BFF with Apple's Siri
  3. 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing is evolving rapidly and we don't yet know of all the emerging possibilities. However, it is in the news with events like NASA completing first successful 3-D printing project in space. The power of 3D printing to impact domains as diverse as medicine to manufacturing is mind-boggling. Here is an article on Medical implants and printable body parts. 3D-printed, low cost prosthetic limbs will bring the smile back on many faces. 
  4. Cloud computing, while it has been around for a long time, is showing huge impact today. "In July 2010, Rackspace Hosting and NASA jointly launched an open-source cloud-software initiative known as OpenStack. The OpenStack project intended to help organizations offer cloud-computing services running on standard hardware. On March 1, 2011, IBM announced the IBM SmartCloud framework to support Smarter Planet." - Wikipedia
  5. The rise of mobile computing in the form smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices accompanied by ubiquitous Internet connection is creating unforeseen change--in how we work, learn, communicate, do business, conduct personal tasks, and myriad other aspects. 

As working professionals and L&D personnel concerned with training and organizational learning, capability building and talent development, we cannot ignore the implications of this changing landscape. While Watson and Siri may seem far removed from our task of designing learning programs, the reality is they are not. Anything and everything that impact how the future of work will get redefined are matters of concern to us. 

This brings me back to the point I started my post with. How do I see workplace learning shaping up five years from now? To be very honest, I don't know. But here are five things I envisage will be different...
  1. The need for creating meticulously designed training programs will be gone -- (Some compliance programs may still be around.) Communities of professionals collaborating and cooperating to learn together will be on the rise. Content will be continuously co-created and co-owned by the community members (much like the evolution of Wikipedia). Each member will bring their expertise to bear and share their knowledge and experiences. Learning will happen through conversations and participation. What will emerge is a network of diverse and connected workers skilled at PKM learning together to develop skills they can apply to their work. L&D will have to don the hat of community managers and become learners.  It will be a participative ecosystem with knowledge and skills being freely shared. Utopian? Maybe. But I see this as an emerging trend. 
  2. Workplaces will become communities -- This change is likely to be more subtle. The nature of organizations with their hierarchical structure is already giving way to more networked and democratic workplaces. Smaller organizations are emerging along with a movement toward generative business models where businesses build an ecosystem of mutually supportive relationships. Collaboration will replace competition. Sustainability and purpose will drive the ethos. Workers will move from "jobs for life" to a "life of jobs". Talent will exist in pools and not necessarily belong to one specific organization. Individuals in the pool will increasingly take greater ownership of their professional development to stay on the cutting edge and in demand. How will L&D be of service to such a workforce? Again, I go back to the notion of L&D becoming community managers. They will play a strategic role in helping organizations collaborate with such talent pools for the mutual benefit of all.
  3. Mobile devices will be ubiquitous and play a critical role in professional development -- We still have the luxury of debating whether workers will access the learning program via a laptop or a tablet. Very soon, that luxury will be gone. Workers will use mobile devices including wearables to learn at the point of need, access their network and communities of practices to solve challenges, share user-generated content in response to the community needs or just to share their learning. Social media and open resources like MOOCs will foster an era of self-driven learners who know what they need, where to find it and take their pick. The learners will come with a consumer mindset--valuing what they need, and not what is thrust on them. L&D will have to ensure that we have the requisite skills to facilitate this move or risk becoming redundant. 
  4. The talent pool will go global -- Ubiquitous connectivity, technological advancement and economic drivers brought about off-shoring which gave way to outsourcing. Then came automation taking over simple and complicated tasks that concerned processes and routine thinking. We are now in the age of creative economy with "no location jobs" and borderless workplaces. Talent can exist anywhere, work from anywhere as long as organizations are capable of attracting such talent. Yes, the balance has tilted in favour of the talented, the capable and those willing to continuously learn. L&D will have to cater to a global talent pool of diverse individuals with very specific and unique learning needs. L&D will need to work very very closely with HR to design a holistic ecosystem that participates and collaborates with prospective and existing employees for professional development. Moreover, a global talent pool will require cultural sensitivity and an inclusive mindset from L&D, HR and the organization. 
  5. Work will require multiple skills and diverse perspectives -- Most work will pan different domains. Teams of similarly skilled individuals will not be the greatest and the best when it comes to such complex problem solving. Diverse perspectives and subject matter expertise will have to come together to solve problems in the future. Projects with specific purpose and outcome will draw individuals together. The best-fit team will work on the project, bringing to bear expertise and experiences from their different domains, and disperse once the project is complete. This fluid and dynamic working model will be replicated in pockets across an organization. The teams may or may not be co-located thus requiring the organization and the individuals to have technological infrastructure in place. L&D will be faced with the need to support this dynamic and fluid ecosystem in different ways--designing collaboration spaces where project teams can collaborate to enabling communities of practices to evolve on the larger enterprise social networks. 
All of these are tectonic shifts and are already taking place. L&D and HR will have to evolve to meet this shift. L&D teams operating on old paradigms and processes will be ill equipped to keep pace with the change. The role of the CLO will be to drive this change NOW! @joyandlife writes about The Changing Role of L&D and CLO where he mentions adaptiveness, rapid reaction times, learning agility and flexibility as key requirements. The CLO today has to be able to scan the emerging landscape and build her/his team in a way that will enable them to meet the future. In fact, L&D teams should ideally be the initiator of the change before the deluge hits the org. 

L&D teams of the future will also require diverse individuals with different skills encompassing areas like strategic business thinking, analytics and cloud computing, mobile computing, community building and management, instructional design, content strategic and knowledge management, social and informal learning, and experience design.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Learned Vs. Learners - Revised

The classic quotation summarizes in a sentence what takes scholars and academicians reams of paper to theorize and prove. And this is the trigger for today’s post. The difference between the terms “learners” and “learned” and what it implies when applied to the experts in our organizations is crucial in today’s environment of constant change.
I have recently been reading Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement. This is a must read books for trainers/learning and development professionals/anyone interested in the phenomenon called learning.
Building Expertise deals with learning and training as it needs to be. However, before I ramble on, I want to clarify that this is not a book review. I want to highlight a few concepts from the book that impact how we think of learning and expertise.
It is understood that an organization’s ability to innovate and creatively solve problems are its competitive edge in today’s economy. In troubled times and when faced with critical challenges, organizations have always leaned on the experts to step in and guide others, and take charge. In this post, I want to examine a few aspects of expertise and what that means for the workers of the 21st Century.
Can we always depend on the experts to provide the best solution?
According to Wikipedia (2007) “…an expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability in a particular area of study.” ~ Building Expertise, Ruth Clark
Today, we need “experts” in more diverse and unknown areas than we can predict now. However, building expertise is becoming a challenge—an almost insurmountable one in today’s rapidly changing work context. In the earlier days, expertise came from experience. Often, years of it; 10,000 hours of it. This experience was then made explicit and codified into best practices. The next generations of workers were trained to follow the best practices and get the desired results. Predictable, measurable, trainable! This worked wonderfully (when the world was stable and work was routine) till it didn’t anymore.
We all know that we have reached a point where codified best practices have almost ceased to exist. Almost, because there are some routine tasks that still need to be done, but do human agents need to do those? It is very likely that whatever can be put into a flowchart and turned into a process will be automated. And it’s already happening. The future is here but just not evenly distributed. However, while various parts of the world are going through this “futurization” at different speeds, it is happening. And it will eventually reach our part of the world too.
Human beings will be left to do work that is creative, purposeful and adds value to themselves and to the larger community. To do this, we will encounter challenges that we can't begin to comprehend. Where does the question of expertise as we know it come in? With everything changing at an unprecedented pace, there is no time to undergo the same experience repeatedly for the building of expertise. Exceptions have become the norm, and old rules don’t apply. In such context, it is worth noting the 7 aspects of expertise that Ruth Clark points out:
  1. Expertise requires extensive practice
  2. Expertise is domain specific
  3. Expertise requires deliberate practice
  4. Experts see with different eyes
  5. Experts CAN get stuck
  6. Expertise grows from TWO intelligences
  7. Challenging problems require diverse expertise (this ties in with what Scott Page says in The Differencebut that is for another post)
I am going to focus on the last two - #6 and #7. My Aha! moment happened when I read about the concept of two intelligences. In the book, she talks about routine expertise vs. adaptive expertise and crystallized vs. fluid intelligences.
Quoting from the book below:
Routine experts are very effective at solving problems that are representative of problems in their domains. They are adept at “seeing” and solving the problem based on their domain-specific mental models.
In contrast, adaptive experts evolve their core competencies by venturing into areas that require them to function as “intelligent” novices.
Fluid intelligence is the basis for reasoning on novel tasks or within unfamiliar contexts; in other words, it gives rise to adaptive expertise. In contrast, crystallized intelligence is predicated on learned skills…and is the basis for routine expertise.
Routine experts are the learned ones who have deep domain-specific knowledge; however, often this deep knowledge becomes a hindrance in viewing the world through fresh eyes. The curse of the expert! They tend to see everything through the lenses of their domain. Adaptive experts, on the other hand, are able to take on the role of inquiring novices when required and are thus able to view a problem from different perspectives. They are the learners. Adaptive expertise requires a curious mind—a valuable quality to survive today.
Fluid intelligence gives rise to adaptive expertise. We have reached a point in time where most of what we encounter – at a professional or at a personal level – will be very different from anything known before. We won’t have the comfort of drawing from past experiences. Our way forward and success will depend on how quickly and intelligently we mold ourselves.
Point #7 is about diverse expertise. Learners welcome diverse perspectives since it gives them an opportunity to deepen their own learning. Today’s challenges and work context span the globe as well as domains. Bringing singular perspectives and viewpoints to bear on such problems is not likely to yield results. Complex problems require diverse heuristics and frames of references to solve. Hence, diversity is going to be of paramount importance to organizations looking to survive and thrive. The basis of Crowdsourcing operate on the principle of bringing together diverse sets of individuals to provide their perspectives on a problem, topic or task. It is defined thus:
Crowdsourcing is distributed problem solving. By distributing tasks to a large group of people, you are able to mine collective intelligence, assess quality and process work in parallel.
Based on the philosophy of diverse expertise, Innocentive offers InnoCentive@Work -- a collaborative SaaS-based innovation management software -- that enables an org to engage diverse innovation communities such as employees, partners, or customers to rapidly generate novel ideas and solve your most pressing problems.
In summary, organizations have to inculcate adaptive expertise and bring in individuals with diverse cognitive abilities to deal with the evolving and unknown future. The biggest threat to the survival of organizations could be “this is the way we do things here” syndrome coupled with a pool of learned experts unwilling to change and adapt.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Role of Community Management in Workplace Learning Today


When I read Rachel Happe’s (@rhappe) post, The Emerging Career Path of Community Professionals, I was reminded of my older posts on community management and the skills required. I wrote about the tenets of community management based on my experience. In this post, I want to highlight the importance of community management as a discipline that can enable organizations to take on the challenges and complexities of the future of work.

Organizations investing in enterprise social platforms (IMHO, more and more organizations are doing it and will continue to do so) require community managers who can facilitate activities on the platform. This requires anyone playing the role to wear multiple hats. In my post, I want to explore some of the "hats" a community manager needs to wear to execute her role. The premise of this post is that when an organization makes a conscious effort to bring in social collaboration and support their formal learning endeavors with more informal and collaborative sharing, it usually begins with the introduction of an enterprise collaboration platform. This shift calls for some intense community management and community building, and the post focuses on the different roles a community manager needs to play during this time.

The hat of a Change Agent
Just because an enterprise collaboration platform is in place doesn’t mean that everyone will take to it like duck takes to water. The natural adoption curve will set with some being early adopters and others trailing behind. However, the enthusiasm of the even the early adopters will rapidly wane if the platform doesn’t offer engaging content and meaningful conversations. This of course is easier said than done and requires well thought out change management plans.
As shown in the diagram, change management includes onboarding users onto the platform, enabling them to use it with ease and supporting them throughout. Onboarding typically covers conducting training, socializing the platform and defining different ways of contribution. Defining clear guidelines and directives go a long way toward user adoption. The table below summarizes some of the ways that users can contribute.

As change agents, we have to make two things very simple for them -- the act of making the shift and the reason behind the shift. As community managers, we have to remove obstacles from the path of change. We have to be obsessed with making the shift to the new collaboration platform easy.

There will be umpteenth obstacles beyond the control of a community manager ranging from the constraints posed by the platform itself to enterprise security policies that impact how users access the platform. Moreover, the steps needed to be taken to make the shift have to be crystal clear including what the expected outcome will be. Dan and Chip Heath says in Switch, "What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity." Ambiguity will doom any change effort.

The hat of a Trainer
All new platforms-- no matter how intuitive it may seem--require some training as mentioned above. This can be in the form of simple how-to documents, screencasts, videos, webex sessions, and any other form that works. What is important to remember perhaps is that designing and creating these training materials is not enough. We need to ensure they reach the users. This could mean creating a Training/Help Center on the platform that can be a one-stop shop for users. Reaching out to users proactively to find out if they need help makes adoption easier. Mapping the training to typical use cases is also important. Providing generic, platform related information is not too useful. Instead, the training material needs to focus on what are the typical ways users are likely to interact on the platform and why would they need to do so. Shaping the guidelines, screencasts and videos around these use cases can help onboard users quickly to the platform.

The hat of a Content Curator
Good content is one of the key pull factors behind why people would choose to engage on the platform. As people begin to access the platform, they expect to see meaningful content – these could be short capsules of learning, curated articles, links to interesting resources, discussions on the forum, blogs and micro-content from other users, and so on. It is the job of the community manager to ensure that the content is appropriately tagged and curated and thus findable. Each platform will have its own functionalities and features that allow a community manager to curate and aggregate. However, to be a trustworthy and respected content curator, it is important to know the interests, needs and passions of the community. This requires constant engagement with the community, listening to the community and having an eye for detail. It also means enlisting the help of community ambassadors who are likely to be experts regarding the interests of that community.

The bottom line is to never launch an empty platform. It must be populated with meaningful content prior to launch.

Here are some practical tips to make a community engaging for its users.
The hat of a Connector
Collaboration platforms are all about connections--between content and people, between expertise and need, between skill-sets and projects, between people and people. As community managers, it is important to set in place a system that enables findability and accessibility. This could mean anything from inculcating practices like tagging for searchability, helping users to fill out their profiles for findabilty, to manually connecting the nodes. Since community managers have a bird's eye view of their community, they are often best placed to spot a need and a corresponding solution--be it for a certain expertise, content or skillset. The role of a connector is crucial in creating business value for the organization and is a skill all community managers need to hone.

The hat of a Brand Ambassador 
Needless to say, we need to be cheerleaders for our community. There is no replacement for enthusiasm and passion. Marketing the platform--albeit subtly--is one of the tasks of a community manager. Telling stories of successful use cases, collecting examples of how collaboration is positively impacting workflow, business and innovation and narrating these stories-- all help in branding the community as well as in getting the skeptics on-board. It is important to find the evangelists and believers and encourage them to share their stories.

The hat of a Consultant
This is perhaps the most frequently donned hat and covers a gamut of skills including needs analysis, solution designing, influencing, facilitating, and negotiating. This calls for a post by itself but I will touch upon the key points here. Typically, in an organization/enterprise, a single community of all employees will not be an effective means of collaboration. They will split into teams and groups driven by many factors from functional areas and interests to roles and projects. These teams will form their own communities with their specific and unique goals and objectives. It's our job to help the teams articulate their objectives and enable them to design their community experience in a manner that supports their objectives. It also entails sharing best practices around collaboration--where collaboration implies fruitful comings together to achieve common objectives.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Working out Loud and Serendipity


I started my day reading a post by Rawn Shah called Work Out Loud because Everyone is Figuring Out Their Job. The post of course struck a chord and reminded me that this is #wol week. It is serendipity that I also happen to be reading Austin Kleon's Show Your Work! at this time. All of this made me think I should write a post on working out loud and its place in workplace learning.

As is my wont, I tend to look at everything mostly through my L&D lens, especially when it comes to learning and sharing at the workplace. I have been thinking for a long time about what we, as L&D, need to and can do to foster a culture of sharing and collaborative learning to meet the challenges of a distributed workplace with dispersed expertise and complex work situations. In my mind, working out loud can be one of the means to strengthen organizational learning. 

Working out loud not only helps people to share their "work-in-progress" but also enables sense-making by building a keen awareness of the processes being followed, decisions taken, mistakes made, and learnings thus gleaned. When we choose to "work out loud" as a sharing mechanism, we tend to do some of the following:
  1. Analyse our own work more critically
  2. Evaluate what we are doing and why we are doing it 
  3. Break down the constituent parts so that we can share meaningfully
  4. Make our work "narratable" so that it becomes a living document of our competencies and capabilities
  5. Begin to take greater pride in our work -- not only in the finished product but also in the ongoing process, the struggles and the wins
As John Stepper has aptly described:
"Working out loud is working in an open, generous, connected way so you can build a purposeful network, become more effective, and access more opportunities."
His post on the 5 elements of working out loud has good practical suggestions on getting started. The key word is "purposeful". Here, sharing takes on a different flavour from beating one's own trumpet. Sharing purposefully implies making my work visible as not only an end outcome but also the messy processes and thinking that goes behind it. Thus, working out loud is intrinsically linked to two critical aspects of becoming a good learner -- Personal knowledge Management (PKM) and building one's Personal Learning Network (PLN). Austin Kleon points out in his deceptively simply written book mentioned above, "Share something small everyday." He goes on to explain this: 
"Once a day, after you've done your day's work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share."
I find this simple advice very powerful. As an L&D person, if we can inspire and motivate everyone to share one little piece everyday--be it a method for project execution or an insight gathered from the day, over a period of time this can build up to be an immensely rich repository of knowledge and tacit experiences. More than that, the individuals thus sharing acquire the skills of sense-making through narration of their work. 

Sharing invites sharing. When we create a space and expose our vulnerabilities and challenges, we invite others to do the same. Such sharing can trigger serendipity and meaningful conversation -- two of the critical factors that can shape organizational learning. Sharing brings each one's unique strengths and perspectives to the surface. It is a great way to encourage the coming together of diverse minds thereby creating a space and opportunity for innovation. Only when perspectives and processes are out in the open can the combinatorial aspect of innovation and creative thinking come into play. Organizations that invest time in coaching people how to work out loud and do it consistently can reap huge benefits. 

Serendipity is another by-product of working out loud. We serendipitously encounter others who are similarly passionate, have overcome similar failures and taken similar learning journeys. Working out loud shapes serendipity. Finally, as Austin Kleon says in his book, sharing can "take people behind the scenes." 
"A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome." ~ Michael Jackson.
Coming back to the role of L&D, and the need for collaboration and continuous learning, and engaging workers on the ESN--working out loud could be a good beginning. It takes practice and initial support. But I believe this could be achieved through modelling the desired behaviour. If senior leaders, members of the L&D team and other influencers (experts, senior and respected workers) engage in sharing their work by practising #wol, it would foster similar behaviour in the org. By inculcating and encouraging a culture of working out loud, organizations can gradually begin to see greater engagement on their enterprise social networks as well. Meaningful engagement! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Changing Face of ID: An Experiment

I am trying to experiment with different ways of putting out bits and snippets of my work, thoughts and ideas. I thought I would try to put out my modern workplace learning presentation as a Pinterest board. I am not sure how good or bad the idea is but thought it would be interesting to have each slide as an individual image and see how much sense they make as a single, standalone image. The rationale being: Should anyone find any of the images useful, they can--in the spirit of share and share alike and combinatorial nature of creative work--freely use the images. 

Here is the result of my experiment...

Follow Sahana's board Changing Face of ID on Pinterest.

You can see the entire presentation on SlideShare:


All inputs and feedback are welcome!

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