Clear out the tumbleweed

tumbleweedDuring my recent presentation at WOLCE on embedding learning in the flow of work, I talked about how leading L&D departments are making use of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) to support workplace learning in all its forms – both formal learning activities as well as helping work teams share their knowledge and  experiences with one another as part of the daily workflow.

One of the points that was raised by an audience participant was that their organisation does have an ESN but it is not being used, and there is just tumbleweed blowing through an empty space. It’s a striking metaphor that I often hear people repeat.

But I think there is a very important message here. The ESN is likely not being used because either it has either been imposed upon employees who are unhappy to be forced to “be social”  - I’ve written about that problem before – and/or more likely because it is not being  supported by the organisation. Work teams clearly do not appreciate its value for their work, and individuals do not know why, how, and what to share and collaborate.

And who is the group that is best placed to support the adoption of an ESN  in the organisation? In my opinion it is the L&D department. So whenever I hear someone from L&D say that their ESN is not working, I say

“Go in, clear out that tumbleweed and start to make it work. Because if you don’t, some other function in the organisation will. Here is the biggest opportunity L&D have ever had to have an impact on their business by helping people to learn from one another as they work, on a daily basis.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 10.44.05This, however, does means accepting the fact that most learning in the workplace happens in the daily flow of work, as people share their knowledge and experiences (not in organised (e-)training) AND that recognising that this informal, social activity DOESN’T need to be managed and tracked and measured in the old L&D ways – but rather encouraged, enabled and supported. The only important thing that needs to be measured is performance change and improvement.

In fact trying to monitor and track all this activity only drives it away from enterprise systems. As it is, many individuals and teams have already become self-sufficient and are addressing  their own learning and performance problems by using their own tools and services,  in order to GET THINGS DONE quickly and easily. This is the Workplace Learning Revolution!

Charles Jennings and I were talking about this quite recently, and he offered an analogy from another revolution – the French Revolution. He reminded me how French women used to sit and knit while watching the guillotine executions, and added:

“Maybe it’s an appropriate metaphor. L&D knitting on the sidelines while the action goes in front of their eyes.”

3 thoughts on “Clear out the tumbleweed

  1. Adi Gaskell

    I’m doing a major report at the moment on the cultural reasons many ESNs fail, and how you can do better. The general gist of it is that if you create an environment where certain behaviours are encouraged, then human beings will adapt to that environment and start displaying those behaviours.

    There are many levers you can use to create such an environment, with installing an ESN just one small part of one of the levers.

    To give a small example, how many organisations set up with the job descriptions and the kind of pay/evaluation procedures that encourage collective/collaborative behaviour rather than individual?

    If you try and encourage collaboration on one hand whilst every other message you send out says you value other things then it’s hardly surprising that most ESNs fail. They are just a tool after all.

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