Social Media Tools

5 Takeaways from GE’s internal social networking efforts

I just finished reading a great interview with Ron Utterbeck from GE, covering the company’s internal social networking efforts and am once again amazed at how this technology is revolutionizing how we work.  GE is using it to consolidate a mish mash of collaboration tools its people were already using and with great results.  Believe it or not, guess what?  Your people are also using these tools to connect, chat, exchange ideas, share files and eliminate road blocks to their productivity - whether or not you approve of them doing so!  Don’t believe me?  Get with the program! There are quite a few takeaways from this interview, but five that I feel bear stressing.

1.        Have a goal. 

Deploying an internal social networking tool, like any strategic technology investment, should have at its core the solution of a problem or the achievement of a goal.  This tidbit cannot be stressed enough.  And we’re not talking SMART goals here as we do with our training programs, or goals of meeting a specific ROI target as a result of the initiative.  You need goals that stretch the capabilities of what your people can achieve collaboratively by using the technology as opposed to continuing to operate as you have been.  If the tool doesn't help your people achieve stretch goals, its value proposition will diminish in the eyes of your users and usage will drop.

2.       Brand it.

Although this didn't really come up in the interview with Ron, branding the tool will give it a personality and the right branding could spell success or failure.  The branding should be aligned with your goals for the social network, as well as the values you wish to promote throughout your culture with the tool.  Want to increase collaboration and improve employee engagement?  Heck, launch a contest and have cross-functional teams of employees develop the brand for you!  What better way to engender them to it and give them a stake in its success.

3.       Start small, launch fast.

Organizations at times have a tendency to treat internal products and services as they do their client facing ones in the sense that it doesn't get rolled out until it’s perfect, polished, and has undergone numerous rounds of quality control reviews.  Only then do they see the light of day.  Yet, in this instance, getting it out there and gathering input should be the priority.  The main reason- the organization has no way of knowing beforehand how its users will use the network, and which features will gain prominent use in the network.  It’s important to get it out there, and track what works and what doesn't, and based on user requests for functionality develop and improve on the platform’s capabilities.

4.       Let users drive the evolution of it. 

Social networks should evolve iteratively based on users’ demands on the network and the value gained from prioritizing certain improvements over others.  Or, as Orwell would have it- All improvements are equal but some improvements are more equal than others.  There is no way that management can anticipate the many ways its people will use the network, and should therefore allow the growth and evolution of the platform to be driven by feedback from its users.  Notice how GE launched with a small group of power users and provided easy to use feedback mechanisms to learn what was working and what users wanted to see.

5.       Training is essential.

Being a highly collaborative team of instructional designers, we couldn't help but notice GE’s emphasis on training their people on using good judgment when using the network.  It might be tempting to cut the proverbial corner and deploy an internal social network without it- but be familiar with the risks and liability you are exposing yourself to by doing this.  You can expect inappropriate information to be shared for all to see, maybe even confidential business plans without this crucial component of the rollout.  Is this really a risk you are willing to take?  We don’t recommend it, and encourage you to contact us for a brief conversation about your training needs for the project.

"We believe social media and online communities can be a great way for GE employees to share expertise and perspectives with their family, friends, colleagues, customers or potential employees around the globe or down the street. But it’s important to know what should or should not be shared. We teach them the basics and how to use good judgment."  -Ron Utterbeck

Internal social networks can be a blessing for your corporate culture.  GE is realizing tremendous benefits from its ability to leverage the company’s collective knowledge and so can you.  Developed and deployed properly, your business stands to gain insights about your employees, your products, and your customers that you would have never gleaned otherwise.  This knowledge can become an incredible business driver, and can give you a competitive advantage in your market.

Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Are you fluent in Wiki yet?

Wikis are one of the most underutilized tools in the instructional designer's toolbox. As trainers, it is imperative that we engage the learner beyond the classroom in order to effect real, permanent, and quantifiable changes in behavior. Yet, often times I find designers and trainers unwilling to engage their audiences beyond the classroom with this tool. Several reasons for this exist.

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Firstly, some training teams lament they are constrained by IT policies not conducive to collaborative tools. Some training managers have even asked,"

Can I implement a wiki bypassing IT altogether?" While the answer is yes, you can go with a SaaS vendor and be up and running in under ten minutes, it is advisable to not bypass your IT team and instead model the collaborative spirit you want to see in your workforce. You must be the change you want to see in the world, even if you sometimes feel like strangling your IT people.

Secondly, trainers and designers often lack knowledge of the power, flexibility, and ease of use of today's wiki software. Sure, we've all performed research on Wikipedia, but few designers and trainers have experimented with open-source wiki technology. As performance engineers and learning strategists, we must tinker with the latest tech and evaluate its utility for our learning systems. Failure to do so ensures we miss out on opportunities for our learners, as well as for our own development and understanding of the many ways technology is changing the training landscape. For far less money than many training teams spend on over-hyped learning management systems, it's time we spend a fraction of that budget on tailoring a wiki to engage learners and to supplement our training efforts outside of formal training events.

Finally, there are fears and misunderstandings of this technology. The main fear is of the unknown. While most people have used Wikipedia, it is but one example and not an ordinary example of what wiki technology is capable of. Yet, since it is the most common reference point for most people, many mistakenly draw conclusions about the technology from this vantage point. Fears of this technology range from how it can be used to support a community, to the cultural effects on the organization from having such an open and transparent technology available to all. Having a wiki in and by itself does not a collaborative culture make, and without content worth maintaining or people who care to maintain it no wiki in the world can grow and flourish.

The capacity to build and engage a community of learners is one which I believe will be essential to your relevance as an instructional designer, teacher, or trainer. In fact, “social learning” was already added to one of the nine existing Areas of Expertise in the ASTD Competency Model (middle tier). You can begin increasing your fluency with wikis as a social learning technology by downloading and experimenting with Tiddlywiki, one of the many open-source wiki platforms available. Tiddlywiki is a wonderful personal notebook you can use to familiarize yourself with the technology before moving to larger and more complex systems. Simply download it, save it to a place in your computer, and create a shortcut to it from your browser so that you can access it readily whenever you want to make a note.

I suggest you get started on building this competency and adding it to your repertoire sooner rather than later. As always, please don’t hesitate to write if you need help or have a question, we’re here to help you succeed! Would love your comments on Tiddlywki, or on your own use of wiki technology at your organization below- regardless of platform .


Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Too many chiefs, not enough Indians

Recent posts have asked whether companies should designate a Chief Collaboration Officer, and who within the enterprise should assume the role of Chief Collaboration Officer.  I've never been one hung-up on job titles, and don't see a need to find someone to assign the title of Chief Collaboration Officer.  What's next- a Chief Social Officer? A Chief Teamwork Officer? A Chief Engagement Officer?  Anyone for a Chief Culture Officer? Collaboration is the competitive advantage of the decade if you can learn to harness it, but just like teamwork before it, harnessing it's power is going to take a cultural shift in the organization that should not rest on the shoulders of any one chief, but on the shoulders of everyone.  In the case of collaboration, the heads of human resources and IT should enable it by implementing the right people policies coupled with the right technological infrastructure for the organization.  But like many enterprise-wide initiatives, the cultural shift in mindset should be communicated and modeled by the leaders of the organization and reinforced throughout by mid-management ranks.

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More than assigning an individual the job of championing collaboration, companies should recognize that this cultural shift requires all hands on deck.  HR policies and IT solutions should be put in place that enable people to collaborate effortlessly with one another-especially when workflows and business processes are identified that can be improved or accelerated by social technologies.  In these situations, baseline measures on the efficiency of the business process should be taken to then compare once social initiatives are put into place.  Barriers to collaboration should be removed, and individuals who excel at collaborative behaviors should be rewarded and celebrated.

While I agree with Jane Hart and others that point out that a Chief Learning Officer is at times ideally positioned to take over the collaboration lead, I'd much rather see a leader emerge from the organization.  This individual should be a role-model for others in the enterprise, one who others look to for direction on how best to excel at their roles.  Additionally, this organic leader should champion the organization's social tools of choice, and articulate to others how to best use them.

By not taking a top-down approach, this individual will from the offset have more credibility than any head of learning, IT, HR, or other chief within the firm.  More structure and hierarchy are not how to achieve a more collaborative enterprise.  Social enterprise technology is unleashing a powerful wave of decentralization that will transform and disrupt traditional business hierarchies, and this revolution will be led from the ground up.


Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

3 questions for adding a social perspective to your performance analysis

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Where exactly do social media technologies fit into current instructional design models?  My answer might surprise you, but it goes back to the performance analysis even before the decision to develop any instruction was made.  Even before determining if there is a skill deficiency in the performer, instructional designers, human resources leaders, and IT leaders should consider the potential for social media tools to improve collaboration and find the information employees need in order to perform. You see, in Mager & Pipe's Performance Analysis Flow diagram under the heading "Can we apply fast fixes?", there is already a decision box for "Are resources for the performer adequate?"  When thinking of solving performance problems and preventing them from occurring in the future, its useful for designers to realize the potential for social media tools to serve as a resource for performers.  Social media tools can serve as repositories of information for the performers, and not just learning assets maintained by the designers or the training department.  Tools such as wikis, forums, collaborative work spaces, and blogs can be implemented and "moderated" or "maintained" by an instructional designer or other resource for accuracy.

Assuming learners require more resources to perform, you should be asking yourself three key questions upon reaching this decision point in the flow diagram:

  1. Where are the resources required by the performers located?
  2. Can social media technology enable performer(s) to acquire the resources?
  3. Is this a "fast fix" my corporate culture would embrace?


Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

How much productivity is your company losing to e-mail?

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One of biggest information technology companies in the world recently announced it is banning its employees from communicating internally via e-mail.   This is a rather ominous sign of what we believe is the fate of email as more and more companies adopt social technologies in the enterprise and embed these systems into their business practices.  I’m not saying this will happen next year, or even that email is dead- after all, a few of those pesky fax machines are still around and burning the proverbial midnight oil.  Same with the post office, though I hear snail mail volume is not what it used to be. A few thoughts on this move; First and foremost, this is a rather drastic step akin to quitting smoking cold-turkey that is not right for every business or every culture.  What this is however is a sign of things to come as social technologies mature and gain acceptance as business tools rather than distractions to productivity in the workplace.  Like every new technology, there was a period of cautious observation as early adopter organizations rushed in and began utilizing social tools for more than just marketing.  Then leading human resources leaders began to realize the potential of social technologies for recruiting top talent.  Now, in collaboration with leaders in the IT field, social technologies are creeping into many more parts of the enterprise- from CRM and internal communications, to risk management.

Secondly, notice how this step is being led directly by the CEO of the organization Thierry Breton.  The CEO you say?  Has he gone off the deep end?  I haven’t met Mr. Breton, but I can tell you he is blazing a trail for many, and your company may soon be following in his lead.  Driven by thought leaders deep inside organizations such as Luis Suarez at IBM, and a younger Generation Y who is entering the workforce with a bit of disdain for e-mail technology- the writing is on the wall for how companies will structure their internal communications in a social world.  No longer will email be allowed to burden our processing capacity with so many messages we simply do not need.

Finally, the benefits of going social for internal communications go beyond simply financial and far outweigh the cost of maintaining aging e-mail systems.  Of special note to leaders in the Human Resources profession is Mr. Breton’s internal analysis which found that on average, “only 15 out of every 100 internal e-mail messages were useful.”  The e-mail deluge was directly costing the company between 15 and 20 hours a week in lost productivity.  As a Human Resources professional, these figures should do more than simply alarm you; ask yourself, before your CEO does- How much productivity is your company losing to the deluge of e-mails that clutter internal communications every week?

Don’t go it alone either, collaborate with your IT leaders to calculate the number.  It should be a data-driven analysis; one that I suspect will be the foundation of a business case for you following in Mr. Breton’s footsteps.


Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.