I recently attended the 2012 HR Technology Conference in Chicago and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of conversation surrounding social learning in the workplace. It seems it has moved beyond vendor pitches and analyst predictions. Companies were sharing real social learning successes, not merely visions.
Here are a few interesting insights and takeaways.
1. Employees are asking for it:
One way to gauge the level of interest in something is to ask the ‘why’ question. Why are you interested in social learning technology? What I heard several times over was “because our employees are asking for it”. This supports what many thought-leaders have predicted. The alphabet soup of X,Y,Z generation workers who are so adept using social software view it as an important if not essential workplace communication and knowledge sharing tool. This is one of the most clear cut signs that social learning is gaining traction within enterprises.
2. Focus on performance and collaboration:
The push for social learning is being driven by the needs of specific business units. Increasing the speed of performance and expanding collaboration were common desired outcomes. For example, one company stated they are onboarding new customer service representatives using online social learning groups and “buddies” to provide new hires continuous access to help and resources throughout the onboarding process. Once onboarded, they can participate in best practice collaboration groups, to not just share ideas but improve internal processes.
3. Vast potential for ‘social’ in the workplace:
I was struck by the array of examples organizations cited in their use of various social technologies. For example Home Depot has an employee social community site with nearly 50,000 users posting over 5,000 times a day collectively. This massive informal learning and collaboration environment has produced many intended (and non-intended) benefits including increased collaboration amongst employees across thousands of locations on product and store management tips, higher level of communication with senior management, and creation of expert communities around key products and services such as paint.
There were several interesting takeaways I left with. The most important being that the ‘buzz’ phase has definitely shifted from talk about what could be, to actually what is.