Speed Learning in the Workplace

Getting a college degree may help you land a great job but staying on the same payroll for a few years may depend upon how quickly you can keep up with changing demands and skill sets. With time at a premium, most employees cannot return to school nor pay for additional training.  To avoid layoffs and turnovers, company leaders are turning to social networking software solutions to help make their employees smarter, more resourceful and, hence, substantially more productive. How do they do it?  

With the human brain only capable of holding 5 bits of information at any one time, speed learning is less about personal assimilation of complex concepts and more on locating individuals within an organization with the required knowledge base.  If compared to a search engine such as Google, social networking would be the ultimate research experience.  Instead of having to query and search through a list of possible matches, social networking software helps the best solution locate the person making the query.  Promoted properly throughout an organization, the potential advantages and efficiencies to be gained using social networking software to solve problems or gain new insights, could be truly extraordinary.  Once more, anyone within an organization from an assistant to a senior manger are equally empowered to leverage the organization’s in-house expertise.  With these tools readily available, speed learning, as a means to an end, can actually be achievable, fun, and effective.

Unfortunately, there is one caveat.  The success of social networking software depends upon the level of penetration and adaptation at all levels within an organization.  If only one or two departments use the software, questions will go unanswered or the depth of expertise will become less effective.  To counter the inertia for change, software manufacturers include additional features for sharing web sites, photos, documents, videos, and processes.  Their designs deliberately appeal to the Facebook user so that people within an organization can find multiple reasons to interact or form communities and hence, increase the likelihood that important queries get seen.

In the case of Unisys, a worldwide information technology company with 15,000+ employees, their CEO. J. Edward Coleman, became an early adapter and role model for their social networking initiatives. Employees were encouraged to register their personal credentials at a ‘MY SITE’ web page so others could easily locate them based on their expertise. At another web page called ‘ASK ME’, employees could search for advice or guidance by simply typing in a question.  For sharing visions and goals, the company created a company-wide Advisory Council, which included regular comments from top management.

Speed learning is sustainable when workers perceive their organization as a reliable resource that they can tap on regularly.  Aside from a software solution, companies should also encourage internal chat groups (i.e. LinkedIn), podcasts from experts, wiki-style blogging sites, and regular lunch meetings with upper management.  At their venue of choice, workers can discuss issues, give meaning to data results, or test new ideas.  However, speed learning should not be limited to just within an organization.  When appropriate, outside consultants, suppliers, or customers should participate in a facilitated discussion process where strategic issues to improve efficiencies along a supply chain, for example, can be openly evaluated.

To ensure that each venue remains on target, a trainer, business coach or facilitator is recommended.  Their role is crucial to promote the service, monitor its progress, and ascertain that the learning process is constantly growing and improving in a progressive manner.

There are a number of social networking solution options to choose from.  Some packages favor one feature over others and should be evaluated to make sure they can meet intended requirements.  To help get you started, I have listed some of the most popular social networking software packages in use today.

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Yammer (www.yammer.com) – A free private social network for small and large companies, Yammer works great for people who have quick and brief questions that need prompt answers.  It is a secure package that can easily leverage the wide range of expertise and experience within an organization.

Jive (www.jivesoftware.com) – Considered by Gartner as the best-of-breed enterprise social networking solution that can be customized by in-house consultants. Jive offers both an internal solution for employees and an external one used sometimes referred to as Social CRM that monitors customer inputs from other social media outlets such as Twitter.  Not for everyone, Jive’s pricing is volume based.

Newsgator (www.newsgator.com) – A Microsoft SharePoint add-on, Newsgator makes SharePoint social.  It offers community sites based on projects, initiatives, and common interests.  SharePoint is Microsoft’s version of a collaboration enterprise package where workers can share web sites, manage documents, and publish reports.

Salesforce Chatter (www.salesforce.com/chatter) – Fully integrated with SalesForce.com, this package can help workers discover resources and ideas, connect with people and content, and collaborate with business processes in context.  If you already use SalesForce.com this package is a great way to incorporate social networking within your organization..

Social Text – (www.socialtext.com) – Operated by a group of young, dynamic, and ambitious programmers, SocialText.com offers the ability to create impromptu community spaces for online group communication and collaboration.  Their approach to social networking begins with familiar Facebook-like features that can be easily modified for business applications.

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