Monday, 17 October 2011


During the two weeks I’ve been quiet on this blog I’ve had a chance to take stock of where those of us in the Working Smarter and social learning space are positioned. There have been some superb conversations, especially last week’s #realwplearn on the subject of online communities and how they can be supported.  The discussion lasting a whole hour had not one mention of courses, structure or measurement!  The folks in the #chat really got stuck into understanding what communities are, their role in the workplace and what is needed for them to succeed. 

"Community" is becoming a buzz word and we need to be careful that, like so many other terms, it is not corrupted to acquire a compromised understanding that is at variance with the real meaning of the word. Vested interests have a track record of hi-jacking words, often blocking the way to insight and change. 

Vlatka Hlupic writing in “Leadership”  ( says The need for a new mindset and leadership skills has never been more urgent, but translating it into action remains a challenge for many…… I see evidence pointing to a community-based, collaborative approach where leaders eschew formal power, delegate responsibilities rather than tasks, relax their control and empower employees to make decisions on the basis of their knowledge, skills and experience rather than on their formal position in the organisational hierarchy. 

In response to a thread in the Social Learning Community I wrote: 

“L&D in most organisations faces a huge task to regain its rightful place at the table as a key resource towards performance improvement. To do so it must be characterised by a sensitive supportive culture, offering assistance based in understanding of the organisation and its people needs. Anything prescriptive will not work and will be washed away in the tsunami that is the social media revolution - which L&D does not own and in which it needs to recognise it has to fight for its own survival.” ( 

The point is that the operational side of our organisations is waking up to the need for change, driven by economics and in some cases by dawning of the power of the wirearchy and collaborative connection to create business improvement.  In some places L&D has woken up to the same thing and is working hard to establish for itself a place to stand in support of those new ways of working.  What L&D has to be careful of is sliding back into its all too frequent mindset of trying to tell the business what is good for it. L&D’s insight is great, but any insight is frequently more powerful to the one who has it than to those to whom it is subsequently exposed! 

L&D has to have a genuine change of culture, and mindset, something that is far removed from anything associated with tell, structure or direct.  Memories are long and people are adept at detecting a wolf in sheep’s clothing!  Vlata again, in the same post ……. it is important that organisations change their culture on a sustainable basis. To do that, they must change their mindset and distribute authority and decision making on the basis of knowledge and skills rather than on formal position in the organisational hierarchy.
They also need to support self-organisation in informal networks and communities of interests, encourage collaboration, knowledge sharing and experimentation with ideas. Last but not least, developing a caring culture based on trust and transparency is also an important part of this strategy, which can make a significant impact on staff engagement, productivity and overall performance of an organisation.”
How well put! I referred earlier to the tsunami that is the Social Media revolution.  Embracing the tools, seeing their potential for helping people learn, being able to devise new super-smart, sophisticated learning aids such as the emergent “Virtual Experiential Manipulations” talked about by Steve Wheeler, are all great.  Becoming Learning Champions who take the time and trouble to lock the office door and get out into the business and understand it in order to be able, and earn the right, to suggest ways of solving problems that come from the L&D environment is all very well. 
If our behaviour and the language we use is not in keeping with the new world that Vlata describes and which others like the Internet Time Alliance are trying to interpret for us, then L&D will indeed be swept away, identified as non value-adding and irrelevant to a modern world.
Our new world has choices about how organisations and individuals learn – and the L&D function is only one of them!

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