SharePoint for Formal Social Learning

Sometimes (many times) you don’t have bottomless budgets and are “stuck” with the technology you’ve got. Well, true creativity happens in a box and sometimes that box is SharePoint. SharePoint as you are likely aware is a Microsoft enterprise platform that has many functions from document management, workflows, individual sites and department sites. Many organizations use it as their Intranet and can really pretty up the interface.  It has some features beyond document “collaboration” that, well frankly, get a bad rap when compared to their more robust cousins on the Web.  I’m speaking of the Blogs, Wikis, Discussion Forums, etc.

Recently Anne Scott and I co-hosted an ASTD Webinar titled Using SharePoint to Support Training.  Anne spoke of her experience on the design and development side and I, of course, talked of using SharePoint for more social activities like work narration and as a formative evaluation tool. Well, shame on me as I completely forgot about another way I used SharePoint to support training and felt I’d share it here.

In our Webinar, Anne and I laid out each example like this:

What was the problem

What was the approach 
What was the result

So I figured I’d follow suit in this post.  The example below is from my time working for a Dental Management company.

New Office Managers (OMs) were not communicating treatment plan activities and financing option details consistently with the patients.  They were not being malicious but the inconsistency could raise red flags and complaints.  Since most of the Finance experts and Trainers were based at HQ and the Office Managers were in the field offices, support was difficult. 
Working through and with peers is extremely powerful and often desired as many OMs worked alone. Working with the Director of Finance and several SMEs we developed a simple SharePoint site which incorporated document libraries, a wiki and discussion forum. A cohort of OMs had been identified as having some difficulty were granted access to this virtual scenario exercise. A virtual patient was created (see Edward Jamison above) and key  modified but authentic documents such as Health History form, Patient Information form, the doctors Treatment Plan and radio-graphs (xrays) were uploaded. 
The OMs were to review the material independently to better understand the patient and the doctor’s plan.  The OMs used the discussion forum space to collaborate and clarify their understanding and then the real fun began!
“The patient enters your consultation room…”
This simple statement was placed in the Wiki.  The OMs were given 24hrs to collaborate and generate a greeting.  Upon agreement they typed it in the wiki and a SME was alerted and,  acting as the patient, gave a response. This  dialog between OMs and a virtual patient advanced asynchronously over several weeks as they were in their work environments.  Email alerts would announce that their fellow OM’s had made a change and/or the SME (patient) had responded.  Leveraging the resources and each other the OMs worked together to educate the “patient” and move them forward humanely and ethically to accept the treatment they needed.  In this process they collaborated, compromised and engaged in a scenario that although was not authentic contextually it did involve real actors with endless possibilities.
This activity was part of a pilot program and done in conjunction with other performance improvement activities such as onsite observation and coaching by the OMs supervisors. As a piece in the puzzle it’s hard to say what effect it had but we do know that better performance was seen over all (i.e. less complaints). Moreover, in this exercise the OMs were able to “see” their conversation with the patient.  Not only could they be corrected by the SMEs on misinformation during and post event, they could also identify where they did or did not address a patient’s concern, where they could have redirected the patient or saved more time in the conversation.  Also, since it was in a wiki, it could be quickly edited and crafted as a reference document or function like a quick guide.  Overall the activity was robust for those who engaged in it but finding balance between work, this and other influences was tricky for some.
It’s important to remember that sometimes you have to dance with the date you brought. Platforms and devices can have somewhat hidden affordances that can be leveraged to create unique and focused solutions. So, like in my Webinar with Anne, I hope you can extract some best principles and see how they can be applied in your organization. 

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.

Easy Podcasting with Articulate Presenter ’09

I have begun a venture into podcasting…. well, the design of it anyway. Although we have not implemented a thing yet I have fleshed out a “program” strategy based on the needs in the org. One thing is for certain, we need to leverage the “wisdom of the crowds” (cliché, I know…but it fits). I have maintained for some time that our top down approach to organizational learning has its limitations in that we do a pretty good job of on boarding new hires. However I believe we need to increase our support of mid-level and expert-level performers.

Enter the Podcast!

To me podcasting is the perfect vehicle for the org to recognize the power of bottom up, pull learning. Start talking SoMe and the fear mongers come out. But podcasting can be a first step in harnessing peer-power!

My strategy is simple: try to mimic driveway moments. If you ever listen to NPR and their local affiliates you will no doubt have a driveway moment. Basically it means that you are so riveted by a story that even as your car pulls in the driveway you feel compelled to sit there and hear it out. As a kid my best friend’s parents used to drive us to school and we would fight to hear Paul Harvey and The Rest of the Story before dragging ourselves through the elementary school doors…Same principle. Compelling company podcasts could do this.

The advantage of podcasting over written text is the opportunity to conduct personable interviews. Podcasts convey unmistakable enthusiasm, place a human voice with the content, and are conversational which is much more compelling. Like driveway moment stories…they can convey 1st person reality… and a little guerrilla is OK by me.

OK, now to the tactics. First, we reach out to find best of kind operations from our employees. We connect with those who have developed innovative ideas that have shown measurable success (bottom up!). A pre-interview is conducted to capture the key elements of their success and from there we derive a series of interview questions. The key elements are listed simply on a series of PowerPoint slides and in the notes pane we prepare the interview questions. PowerPoint acts as a teleprompter to ensure the interviewee and interviewer remain faithful to the content. Articulate Presenter ’09 plug-in serves to capture the interview in the record narration mode. Since the key ideas and questions are distributed among several slides, each slide serves as an easy to replace/edit audio file in case interviewer or interviewee mess up. No need to start the interview over or spend time carefully editing one segment out and blending in a second take for one miscue.

When the interview completes, Articulate Presenter ’09 can publish to podcast. The published elements including the easy to use player (play, pause, slider, and volume control) and audio is published directly to a limited access SharePoint Library. I simply open the folder, copy the player location and create a link to the podcast. The link can then be placed within a blog for example to allow for comments and insights from the listeners and since the interviewee is accessing the blog as well, he or she can respond accordingly to any inquiries.

Peer sharing; pushed out in a matter of minutes and pulled at the time of need.