Benefits of Internal Collaboration

Community logo with textEarlier this week I was interview by HR Daily in advance of my presentation at the Workplace Learning Congress (8-9 June 2017 in Sydney) on Advocating Working Out Loud in your Organisation.  The interview discussed the benefits of internal collaboration.  Full text of the HR Daily article is posted below.  Please contact me via LinkedIn or Twitter if you would like to discuss how to build collective capability in your organisation through knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Benefits of internal collaboration too great to ignore

Too many organisations are not yet recognising the benefits of fostering collaborative online employee networks, an L&D strategist says.

Many employers today have an internal social network, or use Yammer or SharePoint, but far fewer are realising the full potential of online sharing, says learning practitioner and collaboration expert Michelle Ockers.

Some fear inappropriate comments and behaviour, others are overly concerned about sharing information too widely across the organisation. But a bigger risk, she says, is the “opportunity cost” of not utilising collaborative networks.

There’s a “business continuity risk”, for example, of employees failing to pass on unique and valuable knowledge. “There’s that risk they walk out the door with it, because there haven’t been active efforts to cross-pollinate, to share it, and not everything can be written in documents and trained – there’s a lot of tacit knowledge-sharing that you risk missing,” Ockers says.

There’s also an increased risk of unnecessary rework and duplication – “if people aren’t connected and working openly, there’s a lot of waste and cost in that” – and the risk of losing employees who thrive on online collaboration and networking, particularly those from younger generations.

The benefits, on the other hand, can create a significant competitive advantage, and have a big impact on productivity. Regular status updates among members of a project team can, for example, make for shorter, more efficient meetings.

“I’ve sat on projects where we’ve transformed project team meetings from status updates more to getting straight into issues, risks and so on, because people were providing their status updates online,” says Ockers, who is currently reviewing Qantas’s L&D approach, and previously held senior L&D roles at Coca-Cola Amatil.

The key to effective online collaboration is to be clear about the purpose of the network, and structure it accordingly, she says.

“Think strategically… what is going on in your organisation and what is it in your strategy that you need to address?” If the strategy is to leverage internal expertise more effectively, the focus might be solely internal, but if the organisation needs to stay abreast of certain cutting-edge fields of knowledge and expertise outside the organisation, the approach might be to assign key people to build external networks and collaborate there, before bringing that information back to in-house networks.

HR should ask, “what are the relevant communities of practice or bodies of knowledge we want to connect people around?” and consider setting up different forums around different interests, projects and topics, Ockers says.

Differentiation is important because if employees know their knowledge is relevant to all members of a community, they’ll be more likely to share with greater detail.

One way to improve internal network participation is to get senior managers and executives to lead by example by sharing updates on their own work and thoughts, she says.

“I worked at one organisation where the CEO did a weekly blog… She wrote about what she’d been doing that week, what sort of things she’d been thinking about, who she was meeting with and the kind of conversations she was having. She put in a little bit about her family and what was going on for her personally. It made her very approachable and it gave people a sense of what was on her mind and the direction she was heading, which was very powerful.”

Some leaders will require coaching on how to increase their online presence, others will simply need encouragement. HR can also consider running regular events to increase participation, such as monthly chats where different leaders field live questions or answer questions that have been submitted beforehand.

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How to use Labels for Learning & Development Approaches

There are a range of labels or overarching terms in use in Learning and Development (L&D) to describe different modalities or approaches to learning e.g. eLearning, mobile learning, social learning. My recent search to understand how the L&D profession defines the term ‘blended learning’ led me to think about the pros and cons of the way we use labels in the L&D field.

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An Example – Blended Learning

There a range of views on what the term ‘blended learning’ means, exemplified by Taruna Goel’s 2010 post ‘Make It Blended‘ (As an aside, it was prescient of Taruna to product that the specific blend would change over time as more possibilities became available via technology).  The situation had not changed In 2015 when Jane Hart  ran a poll on what the term means. The poll results show a range of interpretations, with 49% selecting ‘a training programme containing a mix of face-to-face and e-learning.’ This dominant view is reflected in the Wikipedia definition.

Other people have suggested that in addition to using a range of delivery formats and media the range of aspects that can be blended include:

– social contexts* – individual / one-to-one, small group/cohort, community
– learning strategies* – exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration
– communications media* – same-time/synchronous, own-time/asynchronous
learner opportunity to learn, do, share and teach

* source – More Than Blended Learning by Clive Shepherd, 2015

Clearly when discussing blended learning it’s important to explain what you actually mean by the term for people could have different interpretations. I like the approach taken by Chris Coladonato who told me “I don’t call it blended learning, I simply say we are creating a learning experience that is a blend or mixture of a few different media formats and delivery modes to create an experience that will achieve our desired performance outcomes….and meet your needs.” The point of sharing this explanation from Chris is not to propose that this is the correct definition of ‘blended learning’.’ Rather it’s to suggest that a plain language explanation of what you are trying to do and why in a specific context is clearer than using jargon that others might not understand, or may interpret differently to you.

Pros and Cons of Labels

What are the benefits of using labels such as blended learning, mobile learning, working out loud (add your own to this list – there are plenty)? When they first emerge these labels can alert us to emerging trends in our field – be they something that is genuinely new, or something that may have been around for a while but we have moved away from or have the opportunity to use in a new way, usually through technological advances. They can invite us to explore and have conversations. They prompt us to examine our practice both individually and collectively. They are triggers or reminders to consider a range of approaches – to be flexible in our practice, and an invitation to consider a wider range of options in designing learning experiences.

However, if we latch onto labels or get lazy in our use of them or thinking about them they can become unhelpful. It’s easy to throw a term around or focus on one aspect of an approach without taking the time to understand it or critically examine it. This leads to myths (e.g. social learning requires the use of technology) and unrealised potential. A ‘mini-industry’ can arise around an approach with people overcomplicating it and making it seem harder to implement and less accessible. Jane Bozarth’s ongoing reminders to keep ‘showing your work‘ simple and accessible is a plea against this kind of overcomplication. Different interpretations of a label can impede discussion and development of our practice rather than promote it. Confusion and rigidity can result, rather than openness, flexibility and increased effectiveness.

How Should Labels Be Used?

Labels can be useful shorthand to refer to learning approaches, however should be used with care. To help me use them effectively here are some guidelines I’m adopting:

  1. Take the time to understand a label before you start using it or applying the approach that it refers to.
  2. Identify the essential characteristics of the approach in order to avoid unnecessary over-complication.
  3. Consider whether the label is redundant. Does the approach it describes already exist under a different name?
  4. Consider whether the label is necessary. Use labels sparingly. Could you use a plain language description instead?
  5. If it’s appropriate to use the label, then clarify what you mean when you use it. Keep it as simple as possible.

What do you think of these guidelines – Agree? Disagree? Got something to add? Post a comment if you’d like to continue the discussion.

PS – My Conclusion on Blended Learning

In the case of ‘blended learning’ my view is that it’s too broad a term and has too many interpretations to be helpful. The important point is to be flexible in learning design.

My thanks to Chris Colandonato and Shannon Tipton for sharing your views on this issue with me.

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How we Modernised our Learning and Development Model, Mindset and Capabilities

Modernising our approach to learning in Coca-Cola Amatil’s Supply Chain over the past two years has been a gradual process. This shift has come about through parallel changes in our operating model alongside the mindset, practices and capabilities of our Learning and Development (L&D) function. (Note – We use the term ‘Capability’ to refer to the L&D function. The two terms are used interchangeably in this post.) Our Supply Chain Capability Community consists of:

  1. Technical Academy team – myself, four Capability Consultants, and a Coordinator; and
  2. State Capability Managers – seven people who plan, coordinate and support Capability development at operational sites around Australia.

In March 2014 members of our Capability Community attended an event where Charles Jennings spoke about practical approaches to workplace learning.  We also had a private discussion with Charles about the application of these approaches in our context. Our discussion continued back in the office. Performance support was a sticking point – in particular job aids that people can access as they work.   Most of the group felt that  Operations was solely responsible for developing and publishing job aids.

Fast forward to late 2015. In several States the Capability Managers were helping to implement a system to host Standard Operating Procedures – job aids that form part of our Quality Management System. Their contribution included helping to define information architecture so that content is easy for people to access as they work. In mid 2016 our Capability team helped to develop job aids alongside Operations for a new Quality Control system. The Capability Community now sees performance support as a shared responsibility with Operations.

This story illustrates how our Capability mindset, practices and capabilities have shifted. The most significant shifts are outlined below, followed by a list of key resources, people and development programs that have helped us to modernise.

Evolution of Our Capability Strategy

702010 framework

Courtesy 70:20:10forum.com

CCA Supply Chain joined the 70:20:10 Forum in late 2013. Within a few months of joining the Forum I realised that while CCA had adopted the 70:20:10 framework a number of years previously, the organisation had narrowly interpreted it.  We had developed blended learning programs that included theory (10), learning from experience (70) and others (20).  An example of this is ‘CCA’s 70:20:10 Learning Solution for Equipment Operation.’

However, we were not purposefully enabling people to learn as they worked, or building social learning capability.  As discussed in my post 70:20:10 Forum Value Creation Story, after attending a 70:20:10 Forum webinar on the changing role of the learning function I saw that the skills of our capability team needed to be updated. I also identified an opportunity to speak with key stakeholders about improving organisational performance more effectively if we adjusted our Capability strategy, mindset and practices.  I built awareness of the broader scope of 70:20:10 using resources from the 70:20:10 Forum and attendance at the Charles Jennings event described earlier in this post. By late March we had updated out strategy.

The key change to our strategy was the inclusion of ‘Continuous Workplace Learning’ as an element, as per the diagram below. Our operating model now includes a range of new approaches to enable continuous workplace learning including Communities of Practice, user generated content, guided social learning and learning transfer support.

Capability Strategy elements

Our Capability Strategy Elements

Performance Mindset

The mindset shift from ‘training’ to ‘performance’ is reflected in the change in Academy tagline from ‘Creating Technical Excellence’ to ‘Improving Supply Chain Performance.’

In early 2014 performance consulting was not seen as a practice required by L&D. By mid 2015 performance consulting was a standard element of our L&D toolkit. This shift was assisted by the dual role that many of the State Capability Managers have as they are also part of the Operational Excellence (OE) team who work on continuous improvement initiatives. Some of the OE tools can be readily used for performance consulting, and this is now seen as a natural precursor to development of a performance solution that may, or may not, include training.

Similarly the Capability Community now see development of performance support mechanisms and content as a joint responsibility with Operations, rather than something that is outside of their scope.

Social Learning

We have put substantial effort into enabling social learning in order to spread knowledge and better utilise expertise across Supply Chain. In order to support social learning our Capability Community had to experience it ourselves first. We have done this through participation in external communities, including the 70:20:10 Forum and Modern Workplace Learning community (via participation in a range of guided social learning programs and the associated ongoing community). Although participation was optional, enough people have joined in to shift mindset and practices. All Capability Community members also participated in the first rollout of our internal Work Connect and Learn program which builds digital, networking and self-directed learning skills.

online social learning.jpg

Our internal Capability Community has gradually matured, shifting our interactions from fortnightly teleconference catch-ups focussed on project status updates to a combination of:

  1. fortnightly catch-ups focussed on knowledge sharing  (run using Skype for Business);
  2. narrating our work and learning via a log maintained in OneNote; and
  3. use of online discussion forums in SharePoint for collaborative work and sharing of resources for professional development and improvement of our  practices. (Refer to  how I use social tools with my team for more on this.)

In mid 2014 the Academy voluntarily took responsibility for SharePoint governance in Supply Chain. This has allowed us to shape the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) infrastructure to support connection and discovery, enabling knowledge sharing, collaboration, and hosting of user generated content. We have built several online hubs on the ESN to support the growth of Communities of Practice. In May 2016 a Supply Chain restructure was announced, including the expansion of Communities of Practice. This decision was influenced by the work our Capability Community has done to establish, build and advocate for communities.

Our progress in social learning was recognised in November 2015 by the Australian Institute of Training and Development who awarded our Systems Certification program ‘highly commended’ in the Best Use of Social / Collaborative Learning category.

Integrating Learning with Work

Several Capability Community members have undertaken certification through the 70:20:10 Forum. We have modelled some aspects of our internal Systems Certification program on their Certification program, emphasising participants learning as they work. In addition to completing a range of competency-based assessments, evidence requirements for Systems Certification allow participants to choose their own workplace projects and activities. Evidence is heavily focussed on recognition of learning on the job via activities such as process improvements, solving your own or others’ problems, and demonstrating system use to others.

As part of the Systems Certification program the State Capability Managers took on the role of ‘Learning Coach.’ The purpose of a learning coach is to support self-directed learning by providing assistance to identify learning goals, advice on suitable learning activities and accountability via regular catch-ups with individual program participants.

Development Resources and Activities

Here is a list of some of the resources, organisations, practitioners and programs that we have used to modernise our L&D capability. The list is in no particular order. In all instances participation was encouraged, but not mandatory. New ideas and information only translate to learning through experience. The most important part of modernising L&D in our organisation was to try out new approaches, reflect individually and as a group on what happened, then adjust and repeat.

70:20:10 Forum – This forum offers 70:20:10-related resources, tools, an online community, and a 70:20:10 Practitioner Certification program.

Modern Workplace Learning (MWL), led by Jane Hart. MWL offers a range of short programs delivered via guided social learning. You get the benefit of great content, peer discussion, and the experience of being a participant in a program that uses a range of modern approaches.

Charles Jennings – Charles defines his focus as “all things related to learning, performance and organisational productivity, and to the 70:20:10 model.”   Charles has more recently founded the 70:20:10 Institute.

Helen Blunden of Activate Learning Solutions – We engaged Helen to help us establish our first Community of Practice. She helped us to analyse current state of connection, sharing, and peer-supported performance improvement in the target group; develop a Community strategy; and create the Work, Connect and Learn program. We’ve used this program in a range of formats to build networking, digital and self-directed learning skills in our organisation.

Learning Performance Institute – We used the LPI Capability Map to assess our modern learning capabilities and identify high priority development areas.

Towards Maturity – The Towards Maturity Benchmark is a useful way to gain insight on your current learning strategy compared to both other organisations and your own progress over time if you re-do the benchmark annually. Laura Overton and the Towards Maturity team publish a range of resources that provide research and evidence-based insight to help you identify how to improve your learning strategy and performance.

Working Out Loud Circles – We’ve recently run our first Working Out Loud Circles. They offer potential to build networking skills across our organisation, enabling self-directed and social learning.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN) – Everyone in our Capability Community has been encouraged to build their PLN. Having a PLN accelerates your professional development, and introduces you to new ideas and people who can support you as you learn and try new things. It also positions you to help others in your organisation to develop their PLN as a critical self-directed learning capability. Here’s one resource from Jane Bozarth on building your PLN – do an internet search to find more resources on this topic.

Conferences – I look for a mix of case studies presented by organisational practitioners and updates on industry trends and direction from thought leaders. The opportunity to network with other practitioners is also important. Some that we have attended are:

This list is not comprehensive, and there are new resources, organisations and programs becoming available on an ongoing basis that could be added.

It Won’t Happen Overnight….

Shifting your L&D mindset, practices and capabilities takes time. The L&D team needs to first become aware of the possibility of operating differently, then experience new approaches themselves in order to figure out how to adapt them in their organisation, and how best to support them. Our story provides an example of how this change can evolve over time.

What’s Worked For You (or not)?

To all the other workplace learning practitioners reading this post – what have your tried for your personal or team development? How are you going with modernising L&D practices and capability in your organisation? What has worked for you? What challenges do you have?  Let’s have a discussion and see what we can learn from each other.

Note: This post has been adapted from a post made on the 70:20:10 Forum as part of my Practitioner Certification

 

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