Social Media Oneness

Yesterday I had a very salient moment regarding my use of social media. Until now my use of it has been very conspicuous and conscious; social media is something that has been an add-on in my life and in my work.

Currently, among other initiatives in the formal learning space I am also deeply engaged in exploring enterprise 2.0 tool use at my organization. In addition to tinkering around with Chatter (SalesForce) features, I’m am also using it and promoting it’s use to exclusively communicate with various individuals in the pilot effort we are crafting. I firmly believe these tools are not something to be trained in but rather believe all must jump in to really learn them and see their value (learn by doing).

In addition to discussing features and functions of this particular tool, I am also raising issues related to culture, transparency, and the philosophy of networked community for 21st century organizational learning. I am sharing and discussing articles, and posting findings from my Twitter PLN in an effort to show value outside the island that is enterprise social media tools. I am using the chat feature with key people in marketing to drill down about video creation, style guides and debate intranet pros and cons. I am sharing stories and humor with business analysts I’ve never physically met and this is all happening each day, sporadically, as the need arises or as a new discovery drives me to share with this new network. These are the things I engage in outside of my work context, with my PLN, speaking at conferences, educating my peers, etc.

Yesterday, in a teleconference meeting with another group, I was asked to share what I’ve been working on. Without pause I launched into details regarding the work I am doing in supporting a new software roll out and its performance support. I briefed them on the self-paced orientation I created and plans for future needs analysis. However I left off the very item I am most immersed in, the one which I believe can transform the organization, the very thing that is threaded continuously in each and every day…only until prompted did I remember!

Why didn’t I lead with it?

In short I think it’s that social media and the social learning and networking it enhances and empowers has simply become a part of me. Social media, like mobile devises that support it, has become ubiquitous to me as it has for many others. So I didn’t see the internal social media effort as being a project…because social media for me just is.

Have you experienced the Oneness?

Community as the Cornerstone

There is a rush to social everything today. Organizations who rush to connect their workforce often painfully find out their big efforts fail.  I must say, that the idea of a completely connected workforce sharing and collaborating with knowledge flowing freely through Wirearchies is very enticing and frankly the right goal to strive for.  I want to be there too …but I am willing to move somewhat slower as I fear that what is being lost is the fact that social media, in its simplest definition, is a tool.

The social media tools we have today are useful for building up community, increasing collaboration and for sharing. If you have a business problem that can be addressed by one of these three, then social media should be explored and as success is achieved, expansion can be the next logical step.  Maybe if we target smaller problems first through a “Trojan Mice” approach as Euan Semple speaks of, we will change our organization’s collective belief about “social” and ultimately change the culture… one collaborative practice at a time. 

“Culture is an emergent property of the many practices that happen every day. Change the practices and a new culture will emerge.” – Harold Jarche

An area I had the opportunity to target with a social solution was Employee On boarding.

The two high level goals of on boarding are: 

1.  To make new employees feel welcome and comfortable in their new surrounding.
2.  Minimize the time before new employees are productive members of their new team.

The reality is that most on boarding efforts fall quite short of meeting each of these goals. A 2011 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed some very sobering data:

• Most on boarding lasts less than 8 days.
• Only 8% of organizations surveyed do extensive monitoring of their formal on boarding programs.
• Only 15% of organizations surveyed conduct an extensive evaluation of their on boarding program’s effectiveness.

Of significance also is that only 57% of surveyed organizations provided new hires a personal mentor and 35% engaged the employees in any significant socialization efforts with their new work group. Yet 94% said these two activities are critical!

The biggest culprits noted:

Lack of time, Lack of resources, Lack of management support, and Lack of financial support

In the end, 6% of organizations surveyed reported that on boarding is longer in duration than it was 5 years ago with less responsibility given to newcomers to “figure things out for themselves.” Well intentioned I’m sure but is the right direction one that provides for less autonomy when organizations are clearly struggling to provide an effective formal on boarding program?

It would appear that most on boarding efforts are top heavy, top down formal approaches. And frankly… formal is failing.  The truth is most organizations I fear focus on goal 2 (job skill development), for good reason but unfortunately they completely neglect goal 1 (socialization).
The Business Problem:
I was presented with a business problem related to on boarding new employees for a single department and I wondered openly about the current approaches in this area and what role social media could play in this effort. The head of recruitment intended to more than double the size of his recruitment team (9-20). He expressed that he needed help getting them up to speed on the company and the various roles they need to hire for (i.e. Dentists) These folks were experienced recruiters but not experienced in our industry. He hoped I could develop a training plan for them. Though he expressed that it wasn’t ideal to bring them in for training as they would lose productive time in the field. On a secondary note he was tired of answering the same questions over and over in 1:1 calls and emails with his current group as this was taking him away from more strategic activities.

I believed the answer to his business problem was not a formal approach but in flipping the focus and 
getting the new employees to productivity by placing community (Goal 1) as the cornerstone and build knowledge through this community rather than begin with formal training programs detached from the job (Goal 2). 

Step 1: Buy-in 

Its more common than we want to admit but many present the solution before really knowing the problem. Digging deeper and having the executive articulate the real issues made it much easier to present a different approach and shake the training default mentality. It’s nearly impossible to argue with ones own data.

Step 2: Partner with Your People 
On boarding should be a group effort. There are benefits for all involved to have the new hire succeed so all should play a role in making that happen. 

I suggested he ask his current experienced recruiters what the top questions Dentists interested in our organization ask during the recruitment process.  The group generated 85 unique questions! We placed these in a wiki and then had different recruiters answer each of the questions. The executive was able to review and was surprised at some of the inaccuracies but pleased that they were surfaced to be corrected. This short process provided a knowledge base immediately useful for new hires to draw upon.

Step 3: Social Media Introduction
My current use of Yammer in a small pilot within L&D made the tool selection easier. Plus, although it has many features, it is relatively simple to use and mirrors familiar personal tools like Facebook. Since the group was small I was able to take an opportunity to have all Recruiters in a 2hr discussion and overview of social media. The emphasis was on “why” not how.  I started by using a frame game I adapted from Thiagi, “Improved Solutions“, where after being presented with an authentic problem the groups move through sessions where they generate, criticize, defend, collaborate and ultimately produce a viable new solution. I then collect all the papers, ripped them up and threw them in the garbage.  I remind them that this is what happens when we use email or phone calls to share and collaborate.  It resonated quite well and then we shifted to start playing with Yammer…yes, playing. Doing this together allowed more savvy folks to share with others on the “how to’s” and I spent most of the time leading with phrases like “check this out.” and “now you can …”. It was impactful because it was casual, experiential and meaningful to their work.  

Step 4: Encourage, Model, Acknowledge 
No training. The main ingredient is consistent leadership activity and my executive partner was more than willing (yes, maybe I was blessed or maybe it was due to step 1). Each email or call he received from one of his team members he asked that they post it on Yammer and get more heads around it – this took a major mind-shift  He was quick to jump into conversations and not give the answer but to stir up discussion and seek more voices. He used hash tags and shared them, he posted humorous material to show that it was OK to just chat and share. He leaned on me for advice and encouragement to stay the course early on and it paid off.

By January, only 8 months after launch the 24 member Yammer group generated over 1600 posts/comments.  We analyzed each and placed them into categories with the following percentages:   

Community: 34%wit, wishes, jabs, and kudos
Collaboration: 36%problem solving Q and A
Sharing: 30%serendipitous offerings

The solution was small in scale: focused on a key group, and targeted results (rapid OTJ learning in work context). Social media could be leveraged to eliminate the need for out of work flow formal activities and allow the new hires to tap into the expertise of the veteran to find solutions, information and collaborate in real time. Furthermore it allowed the new folks to openly share their learned knowledge from previous organizations with the senior team members; adding value and with it a deeper sense of purpose to the community.

In the end the approach addressed many of the barriers to on boarding noted in the SHRM survey:

1. Limited monitoring and evaluating 
What could be easier and more transparent than using social media? Current efforts to monitor involve subjective feedback and delayed evaluations all well past the opportunity to impact those involved. Social media enables continuous monitoring and a sort of
formative evaluation when adjustments can be made very quickly and benefit the new hire the most.

2. Lack of time
No longer was there a need to pull people out of production (HR, Training, etc) to support a new hire, they have a Community of Practice at their fingertips not only getting useful approaches and valuable information but gaining critical context from those within their work group, who really know the ins-n-outs of the job and the organization.

3. Lack of management support
When a solution calls for limited financial contribution and less drain on “human” resources it’s a bit easier to gain agreement. CoPs with active community facilitation can guide a new hire to productivity quickly, efficiently and without all the unnecessary hand holding that is typically seen.

4. Lack of financial support
Our total monthly Yammer expense was 5.00 per person per month.  Small in comparison to using multiple professionals for training and material development, travel expenses, opportunity costs etc.  In the end, the on boarding project became a ongoing program reaping benefits far beyond ramping up a new employee. A community exists now that moved from basic knowledge and skill acquisition to collaborative innovation.

Start Small, Think Big, Go Fast!
It’s time to rebuild on boarding programs around community and not control as the cornerstone of the new structure; we can’t afford these any more. Moving away from formal designs, as social media charged networks offer a cost effective, resource relieving, transparent solution to the shortcomings inherent in formal on boarding programs. A slow growth strategy is one that if employed can strategically solve a specific problem in the short-term while working to create an collaborative culture in the long-term. 

Frankly, I don’t believe organization wide social media platform adoption should be the terminal goal. The real goal is workers employing Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) skills in fertile networks both inside and outside the organization.  Platforms should then serve to support social initiatives and groups but should eventually exist as only a part of the workforce’s overall network and tool set.

Below is my Webinar with Jane Hart from April 2012 which digs a bit deeper into my use of Social Media for learning approaches beyond this on boarding effort.

Going Tech-for-Tat

In a Twitter conversation with Craig Taylor, who had recently surfaced a year old post he had done titled “I got it wrong…Or did I?, regarding the reaction to using technology while in a traditional face-to-face meeting I noted that the perception of technology use in meetings is still less than favorable a year removed.

Many still assume the worst when people are taping away on a screen rather than placing pen to paper. The misconception of course is that if on a device the individual is likely engaging in texting with a friend, accessing social media or playing a game; i.e. technology is folly and the devils playground. Ironically none of these same critics would ever consider the reality that the “notes” being documented by others using more traditional methods may be nothing more than the scribbling of cartoons or the start of a grocery list.

I may propose that what follows could be a solution for those who dare to wear the 21st century on our sleeve and work tirelessly to change beliefs and practices. This is a true story of a solution that involves not simply defending actions but proving them valuable.

A few months ago in a meeting a manager raised the issue that in a prior meeting she was discouraged by people texting on their phones during the event and proceeded to take a few moments to share her perspective with our group. Several people subtly slid their phones off the table and others seemed to distance themselves from their devices fearful of vibrating notifications or god forbid a call.  I was singled out with a sly comment by her of oddly enough, “not to single you out Mark…” but of course I was being singled out; lumped in and judged for I recalled the very meeting she was referencing and I did in fact use my phone. Of course I felt the immediate need to defend my actions and I let her know that I was actually documenting key points at which she interjected “likely story” with a slight smile… and the pushed on with the meeting.

Later as we wrapped up, she asked me how she could adjust push notifications on her new iPhone – and there it was! My eureka moment of how to turn from victim to vanquished.

In addition to providing her assistance in the request, I casually asked her about the apps she was using and suggested she look into Evernote. Time being money of course I simply said “well, we can chat off line about that.” and we went our separate ways.

Later that day I shared my Evernote (via email) from the meeting that prompted her concern. When sharing a note from Evernote it prompts you to provide a message of which I wrote:

“This is Evernote that I told you about. You can see that it not only allows me to capture information on any device due to it being cloud-based but it allows me to share the information with anyone. Here are my notes from our May 10th Intranet meeting.”

Snarky? Cheeky? Passive aggressive? …maybe but remember:

“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” – Samuel Adams


Intra-Transparency and Openness – My Chat2Lrn Guest Post

I was recently asked to write a post for the Chat2Lrn folks of which I titled Intra-Transparency and Openness.  The approach of this Twitter chat is to use a post/article like this to stimulate the conversation (good approach). I suggest that you take a look at the transcript from the chat too as it was highly active and most importantly it was not the “group think” that often occurs when like-minded folks get together. It echoed the very critical point I shared in my post that CEO Margaret Heffernan made in her TED talk Dare to Disagree 

When we create conflict we enable the people around us to do their very best thinking.”

The Mind of a Performance Specialist

I’ve written before that in this new era of learning that believing is seeing.  The more we connect, read, reflect and engage in practices that challenge our paradigms how, where and when learning takes place the more we see things from a different perspective… even everyday things.

Take for example my attendance at a recent running race.  A group of onlookers noticed that some runners were getting tripped up as they crested a small incline in the final turn in the race. The culprit was a small berm near the end of the 5K route. It was inconspicuous but damaging to many as the elevated road was just high enough to catch an exhausted runner’s foot and cause them to stumble. This stumble could simply be a small glitch that throws the runner off for a few seconds or could have led to severe foot or knee damage that could have ended their race or even careers a mere 100 yards from the finish. Either way performance was being negatively impacted for many.

One onlooker (we’ll equate him to a Training Professional) took immediate action to weave his way through the runners and stand on the curb near the berm. Once there he pointing the hazard out to each passing runner, shouting instructions [sage on the stage] to the bewildered, inattentive, and tired athletes to go around the relatively unnoticeable spot in the pavement [knowledge dump]. Many ignored this intrusion due to their focused state and the fact that having someone shouting anything other than cheers was just plain incomprehensible in the heat of the moment [contextually abnormal]. Although well intentioned, the effort to improve performance was an intervention that was labor intensive for the onlooker, caused more of a distraction at a critical point in performance, and in effect had very little impact as still many runners clipped the berm resulting in stumbles. The runners who did safely avoided the hazard really only did so by watching their peers fail and quickly make an adjustment [social learning].

After several minutes, and the passing of numerous runners, another onlooker  (We’ll equate him to a Performance Specialist) grabbed a nearby traffic cone, being used to mark the race route, and placed it upon the berm [performance aid].  The runners approaching saw the cone well in advance, made slight adjustments in their paths and finished the race without a damaging spill.

Our Performance Specialist  was pragmatic, respected the workflow, the context, and the “workers” themselves. He drew upon familiar resources and used significant less energy than the Training Professional to have a greater impact on performance. 

The shift to Performance Specialist  is less about acquiring a new set of skills then about embracing a new mindset.