Sunday, February 1, 2015

L&D's New Hatrack

This article appeared in Inside Learning Technologies & Skills Magazine, January 2015
Our professional, personal, and private lives are being heavily impacted by a world that has become Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (a.k.a. VUCA). Sahana Chattopadhyay looks at this changing world -- and defines the new roles required by L&D departments everywhere. 
The future of work is going to be radically different from what we have experienced so far. An increasingly global and uber connected workforce, globally distributed organizations, dispersed expertise, ubiquitous connectivity powered by the affordances of social, local and mobile (SoLoMo) and the economy of individuals are giving rise to completely different working and learning behaviors. Today’s users with their mobile devices, anytime anywhere access to the internet, and connected to their networks via social platforms operate under completely different paradigms. In the light of these transformations and disruptions, It is glaringly evident that L&D departments can no longer function the way they used to, at least not if they want to be relevant and be a business partner to the organizations.

The onus lies on L&D to gauge the impact of these shifts on workplace learning, leverage technology and herald the change. This calls for the acquisition of new skills and roles in the team to meet the changing needs of a demographically diverse workforce.
I have briefly described some of the skills that are going to be critical in the coming years. 


Know how to build one's PLN

Workplace challenges are increasingly going to be unique requiring skills like analysis, problem solving, learning agility, adaptability, pattern sensing and exception handling; therefore, instilling the skills of “learning how to learn” is of paramount importance. This necessitates individuals to practice Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and build their Personal Learning Networks (PLN). To enable the workforce acquire these skills, the L&D team must "walk the talk". Since not all L&D members possibly use social media to drive their own professional development, acquiring the skills of PKM will require some time and effort. While most people today use multiple social tools, using these specifically to enhance and support continuous learning and professional development may not come naturally. Conscious effort must be made to build one’s PLN and transfer the skills to the workforce.


Be conversant in today's technological and demographic landscape

Today, L&D is faced with the challenge and the opportunity to empower a workforce spanning five generations and working in a ubiquitously connected environment. The affordances of social, local, and mobile (SoLoMo) have to be factored into all the aspects of learning ecosystem design. 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. 


Manage/facilitate communities and networks

Learning in the workplace will increasingly take place in communities – these could be Communities of Interest, Communities of Practice (CoP), or even communities formed out of project groups. Some will be temporary like those of people coming together for projects; some will be long term like CoPs where workers from across the organization come together to evolve their domain, learn from each other and add to the knowledge pool. While people may still come together to share and learn as they often do without L&D intervention, support from L&D in this area will not only make it more efficient and bridge silos but will also benefit the organization by providing a platform for the capture of the organizational hive mind. This is directly tied to the skills of community management and facilitation of virtual collaboration.

The role of community management will be one of the most crucial because of the global nature of organizations and dispersed teams working across time zones and continents. 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 to make this transition seamless.

Most organizations today recognize the needs of a distributed workforce and are investing in enterprise collaboration platforms to support their formal learning endeavors with more informal and collaborative sharing. However, this requires community managers who can facilitate activities on the platform. L&D has to don multiple hats to enable this transformation. 


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 a duck to water. The natural adoption curve will set in with some being early adopters and others trailing behind. However, the enthusiasm of even the early adopters will rapidly wane if the platform doesn’t offer engaging content and meaningful conversations. This requires well thought out change-management plans.
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 towards user adoption like telling them exactly how they can contribute and collaborate. The table below summarizes some of the ways that users can contribute.

L&D has to make two things very simple -- the act of making the shift and the reason behind the shift. As community managers, we have to remove all obstacles from the path of change.


The hat of a Trainer

All new platforms – no matter how intuitive they seem – require onboarding. 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 is that designing and creating these training materials is not enough. They must 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.


The hat of a Content Curator

Good content is one of the key factors behind why people choose to visit, stay and engage on an enterprise platform. The content can be in the form of short capsules of learning, curated articles, links to interesting resources, discussions on the forum, blogs and micro-content from other users. It is the job of the community manager to ensure that the content is appropriately tagged and curated and thus findable. 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. It also means enlisting the help of community ambassadors who are likely to be experts regarding the interests of that community.


The hat of a Connector

Collaboration platforms are all about connections--between content and people, between expertise and challenges, 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, 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 Consultant

This is perhaps the most frequently donned hat and covers a gamut of skills including needs analysis, solution designing, influencing, and negotiating. Typically in an organization, 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 requirements. It's L&D’s role to help the teams articulate their objectives and enable them to design their community experience in a manner that supports their objectives.


The diagram below is an example of a learning ecosystem that L&D teams may be required to create and manage – where the online and the offline world come together. 
As the churn continues around us, L&D must gear up to transform themselves and workplace learning to tackle the future of work.  

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