I’m convincing myself that as performance consultants assisting our organizations moving forward, we need to start thinking differently. And as an extreme version of this, let me start by saying we need to start thinking ‘social’ first. When we’re facing a performance problem in the organization, our first resort should be to ask: “would a social solution solve this”? Let me explain.
Social solutions basically suggest that we either tap into user-generated solutions, or reach out to people on the fly. It might be recorded video or user-generated job aids. It might be asking a SME via an expertise directory. Or it just might be tossing it out to our network. It may even be asking for some collaboration on a unique situation.
Here’s the thing: social networks are more likely to be up-to-date, and better able to deal with one-off questions and unique situations than our formally designed solutions. In situations where things are changing rapidly, formally designed solutions are not likely to be up to date with where things are, owing to the time to capture, process, and generate appropriate content. And unusual situations aren’t worth trying to anticipate. They’re likely to be too many to address. And, as the rate of change accelerates, these situations are more likely.
Of course, this requires infrastructure, an appropriate culture, and facilitation, but that should be already accomplished if not underway. We know that continual innovation is the only sustainable differentiator, and that this comes from creative friction (the myth of individual innovation is busted). The important outcomes are going to come from the social network, not from L&D.
Finally, formal is (or should be) expensive. If we’re doing it right, the effort to help change someone’s skill set sufficiently is a prolonged effort. We need to be looking for effective, agile, and efficient. Formal isn’t the latter two (and too frequently not the former either). We should hold formal as a last resort!
There will be times when social isn’t the answer, but for a number of reasons social should be your first solution if possible. It’s effective, it’s agile, and it’s very efficient. Anticipating quite the social reaction to this ;).
Andy Wolber says
I like the direction of your thinking.
I do consulting work with many nonprofit organizations, and I’ve considered moving toward a “working in public” model. Since I do mostly technology planning, there’s not typically any info that really requires confidentiality: e.g., it is mostly about a need for an organization to move to cloud-based tools, improve infrastructure, upgrade devices consistently, etc. (The confidential stuff is usually login / configuration info that I insist the organization fully maintain control of themselves.)
I’ve moved so far as to share nearly all my presentations I give (http://www.wolberworks.com/p/presentations.html), as well as content for a course I teach (pa311.com). But I haven’t yet moved to a “social”/”public” first model for my organizational consulting. I’ve brought the idea up with a couple of orgs, but there’s a strong belief that “we’re unique” or “we need to keep our info private”. I’m not sure that’s the case; but that seems to be a strongly held cultural belief in the orgs I work with.
I’d be interested to know how your ideas translate into practice!
Delphine Renie says
Social first, I agree. And mobile.
Social is also a good way to be more inclusive, not rely always on the same experts. And to include former colleagues with a deep knowledge of the organization.
How interesting it would be to rethink all our programs by putting the social first!
Dan Pontefract (@dpontefract) says
When a baby learns to walk, is he/she sent to class to learn how to do it? Or … do the parents, grand-parents, siblings, etc. offer words of encouragement in a ‘social’ setting?
The same metaphor can be applied to almost all things in an organization.
Robert Penn says
I agree that social is better than performance support for being up to date, and can be more targeted (contextually relevant) since a live person can tailor their advice to specific situation. On the other hand, there are costs to social – namely, the time of the person(s) providing advice and help. Also, being highly targeted, social responses can be hard to reuse. An example in our business (a software company) are posts to our forum. Often users have questions that are similar, but not identical, to questions others may have asked in the past so the old posts are often not discovered or used. Lastly, how well does social learning (or performance support) address issues where learners don’t realize they are under performing? E.g. if a company uncovers problems with its safety procedures, it’s unlikely that learners would pro-actively seek out ways to improve via social tools.
Nonetheless, I agree with your argument that social should be considered first and will become more important as change continues to accelerate.