Posts Tagged ‘Social Learning’

ESNchat-smallOne of the most satisfying things I’ve done professionally in recent years is to start the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat in September 2013, to see it grow through the 13 months I hosted it, and now to see it have new life and new leadership going forward through The Community Roundtable (@TheCR). After sensing a void in the world of enterprise social networking in the summer of 2013, I started the chat to provide a regular, free, vendor-neutral place where practitioners and enthusiasts involved with businesses’ internal social networks could share insights and help develop the field of enterprise social.

My friends at TheCR were receptive to the idea of them becoming the leaders for the chat when I approached them in August 2014. They kindly agreed to take on the challenge and as of October 2 they have been the very capable facilitators of the chat. Now that a little time has passed since the transition, I’ve had time to ponder the journey of that 13 months. I’ll share a few simple reflections on the experience here.

I recall the first chat on September 12, 2013. I had secured the domain name and the Twitter persona, discussed it with a number of people in the field, and started promoting it as best I knew how (which wasn’t very well in hindsight). I recall how nervous I was before that first chat wondering if anyone would show up. Had I done all this planning in vain? Was it going to be a giant failure that embarrassed me publicly? I was jittery as the hour approached from the uncertainty of it all.

Thankfully, people showed up (phew – that was a relief)! We had a great discussion and the chat was immediately an important part of my week and an opportunity to try to move the needle of enterprise social networking forward in some small way.

While the subject of enterprise social networking is near and dear to my heart as the community manager for Humana’s ESN, this effort was never under the auspices of my work. It was just Jeff’s little effort for good or bad, for success or failure. I never counted a single hour of the time devoted to #ESNchat as time working for Humana. That makes it all the more satisfying now that over a year later we typically have about 40 participants, hundreds of tweets, and excellent conversation every week.

I am thankful for the 225 participants we had over that first 13 months and I enjoy seeing new faces every week in the chat. I am thankful for the great archive of topics we have accumulated over time and continue to build under TheCR’s leadership.

There were a couple of surprises and disappointments along the way. For example, I woefully underestimated the amount of time per week it took to host a one-hour Twitter chat. I didn’t track the time in detail, but my best guess is that it took on average about an hour a day seven days a week due to the planning, archiving, promoting, and notifying participants of updates. That was a bit more than I bargained for, but it was time well spent.

The only real disappointment I experienced in the 13 months hosting is totally my own doing in that I did not bring to fruition the ESN Handbook I envisioned as a collaborative effort among participants. Given the existing commitment of time just to pull off the chat (along with other work and volunteer activities), I couldn’t get the handbook done. There’s a collaborative ESN Handbook eBook/website out there just waiting to be created and annually updated for some entrepreneurial group (hint, hint).

Now that I’m a regular participant in the chat with no leadership responsibilities, I get to experience weekly what those 225+ others have experienced rather than frantically trying to host the chats and simultaneously take part in the conversation. Frankly, it’s a bit more fun now for me and a lot less stressful.

One of my key lessons learned for 2013 was to take risks. When I wrote about that end-of-year lesson, I had #ESNchat in mind. It would have been easy to bemoan the absence of such a free, public forum for ESN practitioners. It would have been easy to think someone else should do it. It isn’t easy for introverts like me (yes, I’m an introvert) to put myself out there so publicly and try to start something that could go down in flames quickly. But I gave it my best shot and with the regular participation of many talented, knowledgeable professionals whom I have come to know and respect, we succeeded.

Now when I sit back for a moment in chats led by TheCR, when I see new faces introduce themselves, when I read the kudos from participants who benefit from the chats, and when I develop new professional relationships with fellow ESN enthusiasts, I smile a quiet but very satisfying smile like a proud papa watching his child grow up and go out into the world on his own.

Chats only succeed when there are multiple people chatting. I may have started it, but only through others’ involvement has it continued, and I am grateful for each participant. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. Where will it be in one year? Two Years? What innovations will TheCR introduce (such as the #ESNchat Mini-Decks they’ve already introduced)? What actions will come from the chats? What takeaways will be implemented in businesses of all shapes and sizes that make a positive difference in those organizations’ internal communications and social collaboration?

There is no way of knowing the answer to those questions, but I am quietly confident that such applications will be made and the impact will be significant over time.

Thanks to all who joined me in the venture. Continue to join me and so many others weekly on Thursday afternoons at 2pm Eastern time as TheCR leads us into the next phase of ESNchat. The future is bright!

Tip10ForSuccessfulESNAfter sharing nine previous tips on building a successful enterprise social network (ESN), we come to a subject that has been near and dear to my heart for decades – training and learning. I was a professional educator/trainer for over 30 years before switching gears in 2009 to a different path. I am confident and very experienced, therefore, in the subject matter of this post.

For the first nine ESN tips, see the links at the bottom of this post. For now, let’s concentrate on tip #10:

Train, train, train.

Helping users become familiar and comfortable with the use of your ESN can take place from a number of angles. Let’s consider a few…

1. Train new employees. There is no better way to introduce new employees to your company and its culture than to encourage them to dive into the ESN. It is where they will learn the most about the company from unfiltered and unsanitized sources. Tell them in orientation sessions and documentation about the ESN and make sure they know how to establish an account and access it. HR should have a role in this, but so should the teams that welcome their new employees.

2. Welcome new account holders and give them a next step. Every day I send a welcome email to those who have established an account on our ESN in the past day, giving them a little info about it, why we have an ESN, and a few of the major links they should know about. I make sure in the email that I give them one specific call to action to take the next step. For me, that’s clicking a link to take them to a group I lead on the ESN for newbies – a place where they can ask their newbie questions and play around without any fear of doing something they think will embarrass them. It’s important to get new users to do something and not just start lurking so that they more quickly participate and become an active part of the community. The more quickly you can get them to post a message or comment or complete profile data, the better.

3. Train for various roles. Consider the major categories of people who will use your ESN, why they are motivated to use it, and then prepare helpful material and live sessions to help those audiences succeed in their ESN use. For example, I hold monthly training sessions for several groups of people: those who serve as group admins, those who use it for project management, those using it for idea challenges, and those using it for dated/timed town halls. I’ve also held occasional sessions with leaders in groups or one-on-one to discuss how they can benefit themselves and those who report to them through effective use. Particular business areas would do well to train their people on ways specific to their areas and how use can benefit their work processes and outcomes. A combo of live sessions and readily available documentation is needed here.

4. Train for different levels of expertise. As long as people continue to come and go from your company, you’ll have an ongoing need to train newbies in the tool, both in the “why” and the “how.” Introductory training shouldn’t attempt to cover everything because that’s too overwhelming. Break up the subject matter into reasonable chunks than people can digest before moving on to more advanced uses when they are ready. A good community manager will want to replicate himself/herself as many times over in the enterprise as possible, so building the community management skills of your greatest users, advocates and enthusiasts will help scale growth far more effectively than hoarding the leadership role by oneself.

5. Use a variety of methods. We have readily available for our ESN users quick reference sheets, longer documentation, short videos, recordings of longer training webinars, live virtual sessions once or twice a week, one-to-one mentoring as needed, tips included in weekly broadcasts sent to all users, instructor-led classroom sessions upon request, booths at major events, and of course many eyes looking at questions asked on the ESN throughout the day to answer random questions posed by users. People don’t magically know how to use your ESN just because you made it available or because you did one or two things once upon a time to train them. The need is ongoing and people have different preferences for how they learn. Recognize that fact and attempt to meet the need from whatever angle the user may approach whenever they may be ready. And don’t get discouraged when, after all your attempts, you occasionally hear someone say “It’s too hard to use” to “I don’t know how to .” After four years, 35,000+ users, over a million ESN posts and countless training opportunities, I still hear comments like those every month without fail.

6. Publish a calendar of live training and links to on-demand resources. I always have the next few weeks’ live training calendar prominently displayed on our ESN home page right above a number of additional clearly labeled links to on-demand resources. I record and keep links in that same place to the most recent live webinars so anyone can view at their leisure any of the training we do. I publish in a weekly broadcast details of the training opportunities scheduled for the next week. I post details in an ESN broadcast message about each and every training session as soon as it is scheduled. For those sessions, I make attendance as easy as possible by not requiring anyone to register in advance and by intentionally not using the company’s learning management system (LMS) to host or track completions.

7. Be an advocate for informal, social learning over formal. Formal learning teams in many companies – especially large companies – still tend to think they need to control access to learning behind an LMS. I don’t know if that’s in part to be able to justify their existence by documenting how many completions they see, or through unnecessarily extending the corporate need to track some learning (such as annual compliance training) to all learning. Regardless, I just want people to learn and to be able to do so in the easiest manner possible with as few barriers as possible between them and the information they seek. The sooner companies jump on board the informal, social learning bandwagon to develop the knowledge and skills of their users, the better off everyone will be. As far as I’m concerned, learning management systems can die today and the world will be a better place because of it. Long live informal, social learning! It’s how most learning happens, anyway, and it always has been. Just ask any caveman.

So there you have my take on some considerations regarding the ongoing need for your people to know why and how to use your ESN. Be versatile. Accommodate user preferences for style, time commitment and specific needs based on role or current expertise. Always look for gaps in knowledge and be creative in finding ways to fill those gaps.

Never forget tip #10: Train, train, train.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series:

Twitter logoI wrote a blog post in March of 2012 claiming that Twitter is the most important learning resource on the planet.  I still believe that.  If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t spend 1-2 hours per day perusing my personal Twitter feed in addition to the hours I spend there daily for my work.  For nearly three years, I’ve been deadly serious about using Twitter to connect to people I admire across several disciplines as well as with numerous friends and colleagues.

I thought I would write this post to give you a little taste of what my Twitter life is like in a typical week.  To that end, copied below are a number of posts I’ve made or posts others made that I deemed worthy of retweeting, along with a little commentary.  These don’t represent nearly all of my tweets in a week, but they are at least representative of the categories I give the most time to on Twitter.  I hope it sparks some interest on your part to dive in to the platform if you are not active there yet, and I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @JeffKRoss if you’re so inclined.  I’ll gladly return the favor if I like what you post.


Top 10 ListBelow are the most viewed posts on this blog during 2012.  If you missed one of them or have long since forgotten what it was about, check it out.  Most are quick lessons learned of 366 words or less (the exceptions being #2 and #9 – both posts from 2011 that still were among the most viewed in 2012).

1. Be There: Giving full attention to the people you are with and not being distracted by technology or anything else.

2. Trust: The importance of trust between people, and implications if trust is broken, especially in relationships at work.

3. Sometimes All It Takes Is 20 Seconds: Inspired by the movie We Bought a Zoo, thoughts about how 20 seconds of insane courage can change your life.

4. Companies Need Customer Service Like Granny Provides: Based on my regular experiences with a sweet, old lady when I donate blood at the Red Cross, this is what customer service should be like.

5. You Need Someone At Work To Relate To: Being the only person at your business doing your type of work can be very lonely.  Having one other person to relate to can help tremendously.

6. Kisses Are Priceless: From Valentine’s Day, 2012, read about two unexpected kisses, how they made my day and why kisses are priceless.

7. Exhaustion Can Hurt So Good: After an extreme Muddy Fanatic race with good friends, the mind and spirit can be so satisfied even if the body is spent.

8. Don’t Pre-Judge: Whether dealing with people or animals, you can easily make wrong assumptions and treat others differently if you pre-judge them.

9. More Questions Than Answers: Still-unanswered questions from 2011 regarding social learning and the use of social media in learning.

10. Evil Is Real, and So Is the Cure: Reflections following the tragic elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut from my Christian worldview.

Thanks to all the readers who made these the most read.  I look forward to seeing what interests you this year.

For most of my adult life, I was in some learning-related role.  From being a minister of education at a church to teaching computer classes to serving as a learning consultant, that world is very familiar to me.  Now that I have been out of a professional learning role for the past three years, my perspective on learning has changed.

I will always be a lifelong learner.  I can’t imagine otherwise.  What I have become increasingly convinced of over the past three years, however, is that how learning happens in real life is very different than how many learning professionals think it happens.

It has been my experience that learning professionals – at least in corporate America – think formal classroom learning is critical for workers.  If you analyze the budgets of learning areas in businesses, I strongly suspect that you will see the majority devoted to salaries of people who are expected to spend their time preparing and delivering formal training, or for those who develop e-learning modules that are rarely more than glorified PowerPoint presentations that most learners dread paging through.

Ask the workers how they best learn and how they actually did learn most of what they needed to know to do their jobs, and I guarantee you the answer won’t be “in formal classroom training and e-learning modules.”  They will answer with things like asking their coworkers, learning on the job, working with a mentor, job shadowing someone, self-study, and Googling questions.  Workers have a need to learn at the point and time of need.  Formal, periodic, out-of-the-way and inconvenient solutions are not viable options.

It’s past time for business leaders to insist that their learning departments shift resources to supporting learning in the workflow of employees’ daily tasks.  Most learning happens informally.  Most learning happens socially.  Learning resources need to shift in favor of what helps workers when and where they need performance support.  Make it easier for workers to connect and learn anytime, anywhere (think social and mobile), and the business will benefit.

Learning efforts need to change to reflect the pattern learning follows, a pattern summarized in leap year lesson #273 – Do. Learn. Repeat.