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Corporate Social Networks: Will They Work for Talent Development Programs?

“Social” is the buzz word in corporate learning and development these days.  Everything is going social. The question is, should it?

Let me start by saying that I do believe in the power of social networks.  The success of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn prove this.  Now social learning is entering the workplace with a slew of new corporate social networks.  Learning and development professionals are looking at these programs to see if they can connect employees for the purposes of career development, knowledge sharing, and more.

But like most things in the world, the power of social networks is amplified and effective at some things and not others.  Specifically, certain types of information (gossip, insightful musings, word of mouth about products, services and people, etc.) get communicated much more effectively through social networks than any other means because of inherent context between connected individuals.

Information dissemination through these social networks is akin to traditional “broadcast” systems except that the number of channels have increased – everyone you are connected to is now a channel – and have much more personal meaning. Like most broadcast communications though, social networks cannot assume that the target audience is even listening, let alone participating. Most engagement in social networks is fairly passive and any active engagement is primarily about self-projection or asking questions on specific topics.

Sometimes customers will ask us, “Can’t we just use a corporate social network for talent development programs?” For true workplace learning, we believe that a “social broadcast” approach isn’t very effective for several reasons:

  1. Casual Mindset. The mindset necessary when individuals are engaging in personal or professional development is fundamentally different from the laid-back, social network mindset.  In workplace communication forums, information exchange is not about self-projection.  It is either about helping others (for those teaching) or about active listening and self-assessment (for those learning).  These kinds of interactions require all participants (teachers and learners) inherently motivated, committed and actively participating in the development activity to achieve a desired development outcome.
  2. Unstructured format. Professional development programs typically require an engagement plan and commitment to move through that plan. This seems to hold true whether it is my preschooler learning the alphabet or me trying to learn web technologies like HTML5.  In either case, the need for motivation, commitment and having a plan to actively engage is crucial.  Creating a plan with defined goals and milestones is where a dedicated talent development software tool can make a fundamental difference in eventual outcome of these development engagements. Software tools are good at getting our attention and making it easy to get things done.
  3. Lack of measurement tools. Talent development programs that deliver measurable, sharable results are more effective for an organization. Using a corporate social networking app will not help track or measure your specific program results, or help you fine tune your talent development program for greater effectiveness.

Therefore, when evaluating talent development solutions, we suggest you ask yourself these questions:

  1. How is the development program structured? Does it provide the workflows, best practices, and starter content to guide you in program planning and goal-setting?
  2. Is it measurable? Can you set goals and milestones, and measure the success of your program? Can this success be monitored in real time and shared in a report with senior management?
  3. Is it engaging for participants?  The level of employee engagement will predict the success or failure of your program.
  4. Can data from the program integrate across multiple platforms?  Your talent development solutions provider should be able to provide data integration with existing HRM systems and some will even integrate with corporate social networks to provide admins and participants with a convenient single sign-on experience.

To be successful in developing your talent, we suggest that all of the above parameters are necessary: structured learning, measurable results, participant engagement, and integrated data. We find these to be the “secret sauce” ingredients that make corporate learning truly effective, above and beyond what is typically available through corporate social networks.

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