Reflections on #Lrnchat: Preparing for Change

Image use courtesy of lrnchat and Kevin Thorn (@LearnNuggets)
Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.
The topic of this week’s #lrnchat session was Preparing for Change”. 
I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:
Q1) What changes do you anticipate in your organization over the next few years as new (social) technologies impact it?
Q2) Do you see your own role in the organization changing as a consequence, if so how?
Q3) What are YOU doing to prepare for changes in your own role?
Q4) What are you doing to prepare the people in your organization for change?
Social Media technologies have drastically altered the landscape of human connectedness. 
That sentence at first glance might seem like an overly-dramatic or overly wordy sentence.  In truth though, I think it is extremely specific.  Social media technologies have provided us with a number of valuable resources that enable sharing, contributing, and greater flexibility in many of the actions we take part in every day.  Just about every social media technology, no matter how it is being used, is adding and/or strengthening the connections between human beings.
These technologies have affected just about every aspect of life, from the most complex and far-reaching situations like global collaboration, to something seemingly less significant event like receiving an Evite invitation to a family reunion.  It’s no longer a question of ‘If’ social media will have an impact on your life; it’s a question of how quickly it will happen.
This week’s #lrnchat discussion explored the increasing insertion of social media tools into the existing workflows of our daily lives, and the implications it has on our workplaces and our roles in Learning and Development.
The chat began with an exploration of what changes we anticipate in our organizations over the next few years as social technologies impact it. 
I think the question answers itself in many ways.  The question asks about changes from the impacts of social technologies; it does not even entertain the possibility that organizations may be able to avoid the changes coming from social media.
Of course, not all organizations will follow this path willingly.  There are organizations that blaze a new path where there currently is none, and there are organizations that wait until the path has evolved into a fully paved road with street lights and a crossing guard before they feel safe to start their journey.  I think we are at a point wherein there is a dirt path that has been worn by the early adopters to this shift, and the path has provided guidance and direction to those that need it to start their journey.  The speed of the shift will only accelerate at this point, and any organization that thinks they can hold it back or slow it down is engaging in a foolhardy endeavour.
So what are some of the specific learning and development changes organizations can expect from this shift? 
Overall, I think organizations can expect there to be less barriers to communication, as social media tools slowly poke holes in departmental silos, allowing information to flow more easily between areas.  This increased sharing will make it much easier for learning and development professionals to see the ‘big picture’ of organizational performance needs, and respond accordingly to them.
In addition, the growing acceptance and trust in the usage will also begin to allow social media tools to permeate the virtual firewalls.  This will have a huge impact on organizational learning, as there is exponentially more learning available outside the firewall than could ever be collected from the inside. 
As access to resources outside the firewall increases, it accelerates another important shift in employee learning: the shift towards bottom-up, or self-directed learning.  When learners begin to realize they have access to tools that give them greater control of their own learning, they will take advantage of that opportunity in ever-increasing number. 
The impact on the learning professional?  The illusion of top-down control of learning will be lifted.  Top-down learning will still exist; it will just be smarter, more focused, and a complement to bottom-up learning, which will become the primary driver of organizational learning.
The discussion then shifted to how these changes will affect the role of the Learning Professional.  What I found most interesting about this piece of the discussion was the reaction I received to a specific tweet I posted:

Training Rooms will become the largest closet in the office.

There were a number of people in the chat who voiced their disagreement with this statement.  The statement was meant humorously – somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with an undercurrent of truth.  The fact is, technology has advanced to the point that training rooms, and the in-person training events they enable, are becoming less critical.

I am not saying in-person training is going away.  I would actually be at the front of the line to disagree with someone that makes such an absolute statement.  We just need to remind ourselves where in-person training fits into our toolbox.

Here’s my simple personal rule for to use in-person training: In-person training is used in situations wherein the experience learners need can not be achieved in any other format
Think about the type of activities that are traditionally used for in-person training: Role Plays, Systems Training, Discussions, Games, and more.  In the past these types of activities could only take place in an in-person environment.

That simply isn’t the case any more.  Technology has advanced to a level in which many aspects of social learning that historically could only take place in-person can now take place just as effectively online.  To add further weight to this shift, many learners are accustomed to using these types of tools in their personal lives, making them a comfortable and often desirable platform for learning. 

Finally, I should also point out that my comment regarding training rooms becoming the largest closet in the office was also loosely based on a recent real-life example.  I had an in-person workshop scheduled, and went to prepare our training room the day before the event.  I was surprised and displeased to find three giant laser printers, still new in the box, stacked on the tables of the training room.

I requested that they be removed, and asked why they were ‘stored’ in the only room in the building allocated to training.  I explained that using the room for storage could disrupt our planning, as it was a critical resource for learning and performance.

The response I received was simple: “Dave, those printers have been there for almost two weeks; you haven’t noticed them before today?” 

I hadn’t.  And with that, much of the outrage I was feeling about the audacity someone had to use the training room for storage felt unjustified.

A few years ago those printers wouldn’t be in a training room for more than a few hours before I noticed them and raised the alarm.  Today they were there for almost two weeks before I noticed.  The training room is still an important resource, but as technology continues to advance and our dependence on it continues to lessen, chances are you too will one day find it being used as ‘temporary storage’.

The discussion then moved on to what learning professionals can do to prepare ourselves for the changes in our roles.  There was a fairly consistent theme to the answers: We need to learn about the tools of social media so that we can be prepared to use them.

I think our preparations need to go a little further than just ‘learning the tools’.  That is a key part of it, but it’s not THE key part of it.

I remember when my father taught me how to drive.  He took me to the local school’s parking lot on a weekend, when it was completely empty.  He taught me how a car worked.  We went over every pedal, switch, knob, and dial, and put them into action.  I drove around that parking lot for hours and days on end, practicing the skills associated with operating an automobile.

And yet, even after seemingly countless hours of practice, I still did not know how to drive.

Truly knowing how to drive requires the ability to exist and respond to the environment of the driving world: the other drivers, pedestrians, road work, highways, and countless other inputs that must be processed and responded to in a manner consist with what is accepted within the ‘driving community’.

Using social media for learning is really no different.  You can understand how the technology of a social media tool functions, but that doesn’t mean you know how to use it.  To use it effectively, you must put the tool to practice within an active social media community.  More importantly, to truly know how to use these tools effectively, you must participate in social media communities.

I find the most effective ways to do this is to find existing communities that you are interested in personally or professionally, and participate in them.  If your first participation in a social media community is one that is launched at your organization, you leave yourself at a severe disadvantage. 

The discussion concluded by exploring how we can prepare the people in our organizations for the changes being brought to us by social media.

A common theme of the responses was that we need to lead by example.  That goes back to my previous point of participating in these communities and speaking their value.  I also think it’s important to talk about the benefits of these tools with senior managers so that they understand their value.

Often a discussion about social media centers on risk: We’ll lose productivity, it’s not secure, and countless other objections that we have been hearing about for years.  It’s for this reason that I think two critical things must be represented in these discussions.

First, you do need to talk about risk.  However, the risk you need to talk about isn’t answering the question “What are the risks of us doing this?”; the question you should focus on is “What are the risks if we don’t”. 

There are great current examples that can be used to demonstrate this.  Two that come immediately to mind are Blockbuster Video and Borders Bookstores.  Both companies kept their head in the sand as technology fundamentally changed their industry.  They did not respond to the changes until it was too late, and both companies are near bankruptcy.  That’s what happens when you choose to ignore the changes going on around you.  That’s the risk you need to be talking about to prepare your organization for this change.

Another thing to bring into the discussion are real-life examples.  Many stakeholders are ignorant to the value of social media in general, so you might need to show it to them.  An technique I’ve used is searching social media for comments about my organization. 

Recently I found a post on Twitter that was complaining about a service issue at one of our locations.  I took a screen print of the tweet and sent it to a senior manager with a simple message “How would you like us to respond to this?” 

The response I received back instructed me to respond to the customer personally, but it also included a gold nugget of value: “Where did this come from?”.  That simple question created an opportunity for me to have a conversation with a senior manager about social media tools.

Social media tools are already impacting the environments organizations do business in, even if they have not yet been put into use within an organizations.  The impact of these tools increases every day, and  the day in which organizations can no longer ignore their influence is rapidly approaching.

The question is, will your organization, and you as a learning professional, be ready?
Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

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