E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Never Underestimate the Power of Education and Enablement

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the winter

A few months back, if you would remember, I got started with this series of blog entries about the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients who are just about to embark on the so-called Social Business Transformation journey or with those other clients who may want to spice up their digital transformation efforts carried out so far and whatever other change initiatives already put in place. Up until now, I have talked about four out of the five pillars from the framework itself that I use, going from ‘What’s your purpose?’, to then ’Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them’, to ’Building a solid library of use cases’, to then move on to ‘Enabling early adopters to lead your change initiatives’ and for today I will go with the fifth and final pillar, which is perhaps my all time favourite one, more than anything else, because of how often it is either ignored, or neglected, and yet it’s one of the most important, critical ones for the success of whatever the programme I may have worked with over the course of the last 20 years and not just necessarily related to social networking for business, but in almost for everything else for that matter: never underestimate the power of education and enablement.

When thinking about education and enablement in a corporate environment around a social business adaptation programme that may well be underway across the organisation, there are typically two different types of initial reactions as to how most businesses would confront the whole topic of enabling the workforce. To name:

  • No, we don’t need no stinking education, nor enablement, because, you know, these social tools put in place are just so easy to use that no-one would need it, nor find it useful nor relevant. After all, everyone can tweet, blog, share a status update, or perhaps a file and what not.
  • Yes, we will be having an education and enablement programme with a very thorough overview of features and capabilities, because, you know, we need to ensure people understand fully the huge potential they now have at their fingertips.

While both reactions may well be rather valid, in my experience from over the course of the last two decades of having worked with hundreds of clients, as either a salaried employee or as an independent freelancer, I have learned that neither of them are very effective in their overall efforts, more than anything else because both of them put an emphasis on the (social) tools themselves resulting in an overwhelming experience by the knowledge (Web) workers themselves to the point where they would eventually switch off and go back to the traditional tools they may well be the most familiar with from all along, like, for instance, *cough* email *cough*.

The thing is that when you start thinking about your education and enablement programme around your Enterprise Social Networking tools suite, or any other emerging social tool for that matter that you may have put in place already, the focus should never be on the tools themselves, but on the behaviours and the mindset you would want to inspire while defining new ways of getting work done more effectively. Essentially, the focus should be on the mindset that triggers the mantra of ‘working smarter, not necessarily harder’. And that’s when you realise that what really matters in an effective education and enablement programme is just simply how you may help the rest of the knowledge workforce adapt to a new set of behaviours and habits based on something they already know really really well: their own core business practices and use cases.

You know, change is hard, we all know that, but, at the same time, it’s also inevitable, as in we can only decide up to how long we are going to be able to delay it; so when you are willing to go the extra mile and provide the necessary conditions AND context for knowledge workers to choose how they would want to define that new and enhanced set of business practices, there is a great chance you would become rather successful over time. Not only generating the right level of awareness about your own change initiatives, which is always a good thing, but also you may experience an increase in the active participation from the knowledge (Web) workers themselves across the board when they decide to make use of these social tools to execute on the use cases they are already really good at while using other (traditional) tools.

Eventually, it’s all about how you come as close as you possibly can to discover and find out plenty more how people really work, how do they do their daily tasks, what they struggle with, what they learn, what gets them stuck, what they do in a heartbeat without too much thinking, what they still consider potentially pernicious pain points to their own productivity and may be what makes it tick for them. That’s why when putting together your own education and enablement programme it’s essential that you listen carefully, capture as much information as you possibly can and offer them a vision around ‘WHAT IF I could show you a way of getting your work done much more effectively with a whole lot less effort?’ Who wouldn’t want to buy into that, right?

Yes, I know some of you folks may be thinking that while going through that exercise you would need to build yourself up with tons of patience and perseverance as it’s going to take a good amount of time to get it done. And you are right, but remember that you are on this Social Business journey for the long run. It’s not a sprint, it’s never been a sprint, but a marathon, so, as such, you need to prepare well in order to avoid giving up too soon. It’s a slow process, it will take time, tons of energy, effort and really good work, but totally worth it, because at the end of the day you would manage to help your fellow colleagues adapt to not only a new set of social tools, but also adapt to a new set of behaviours and a specific mindset that may be completely different to everything you did before, but that you would want them to stick to in the long run. This is also the main reason as to why context is so critical, because whenever that enablement programme misses the context of why it was put together in the first place, i.e. for what purpose, it will fail within the first few months of having it in place. So don’t lose track of that context, specially, over time, because, in a way, it will help you justify the entire programme.

Time plays against you, for sure, so you would need to tame it accordingly but, in my experience, the best thing is to start small and build from there. Build your enablement program in small increments, develop a grassroots effort of excitement from your fellow colleagues through engaging early in the game that wonderful community of practice of champions you have been working with already. In a previous blog post I mentioned how there are a number of different activities you could put into action with the help of that community of ambassadors; well, this education and enablement programme would be one of them, if not the main one. So while the time constraints are there, relying on those advocates to help you out while you help them, is probably as good as it gets. Building community right from day one.

Your biggest challenge though may well not be how much time it would take you to put the programme in place, but what kind of format are you going to use for it, so that people may find it relevant, useful, and overall more engaging than whatever else you may have done in the past. Time, in this case, will also play against you, more than anything else because hardly anyone nowadays would be looking forward to going through an enablement module of about an hour, for instance, no matter how interesting and helpful it may well be. No-one has got a free hour anymore as we keep treasuring and nurturing that Cult of Busyness. So you would need to tweak that. Easy. 30 minutes.

That’s all you would need when putting together this enablement programme with an initial number of different modules based on use cases and business practices. Remember, nothing about social tools, nor their different features and / or capabilities on their own for that matter. I know you are all probably thinking I am crazy, but, frankly, 30 minutes is all you need, because you should not forget that your education programme will be based on specific tasks, activities, business practices, use cases, etc. etc. you name it, of how people actually work, so if you focus just on a single task at a time it shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to cover it all nicely.

In fact, over the course of time I have developed a particular structure myself that has worked really well in terms of keeping things at bay, focused, straight to the point and with a lovely combination of both theory AND practice within that specific time constraint that would still be rather relevant to the knowledge (Web) worker interested in that particular topic. Here’s the typical overview of an enablement module around a specific task, say, for instance, around sharing a document with your colleagues:

  • 20 minutes of theory, where you, basically, apply the following structure:a) Show the old way of doing that task (i.e. file sharing via email) where you can also introduce potential challenges and new opportunities;
    b) Show the new way of doing that same task (i.e. file sharing via a specific social file sharing space either as part of your ESN or standalone);
    c) Explain the main personal benefits of shifting from the old way to the new way (notice my emphasis on personal as a golden opportunity to try to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question);
    d) Insert a success story from a fellow colleague (one of the champions, for instance, since they have already changed the way they themselves work) where he/she can explain how they do it, so that people can relate to it with a real story. After all, we learn better through stories we can relate to from fellow colleagues versus just our own.
  • 10 minutes of practice, where you, essentially, go live into the Enterprise Social Networking tool you may have at your disposal and spend some time walking the audience live through the different steps of how you achieve and complete that old task in a new way. And here’s the most important tidbit of them all, encourage everyone in the audience, whether face to face, or remote, to follow your steps and play with the new way to complete that particular task. The gist here is that your fellow colleagues can find out, for themselves, how easy it is to complete that particular task defining and using new ways of working. See? Who is going to deny you 10 minutes of their time to show you how to acquire, embrace and adapt to a new set of behaviours and habits? No-one. BOOM!

From there onwards, as you get to build up that comprehensive list of education and enablement modules, it’s just a matter of figuring out how you would want to make them available to as many people as possible and in multiple different formats and methods of delivery. But before you move into that, and just in case you may feel a bit overwhelmed about the prodigious amount of modules to put together, remember it’s all about starting small, and grow from there, without forgetting, of course, you have a good head start already, because you still have a rather solid Library of Use Cases which you can then port over and convert them into education modules. You are not starting from scratch, nor are you alone by yourself, since you can also count on that community of champions who are just waiting for you to ignite that strong sense of purpose of transforming the organisation, while you help them help you spread the word around.

Finally, a quick short tip in terms of helping you potentially identify how many ways, and methods of delivery, you would want to make available to knowledge (Web) workers for whenever they may ask you what kinds of enablement materials are out there. In principle, you should aim at introducing as many as you possibly can, going from face to face workshops (remember they shouldn’t go beyond 30 minutes!), to remote weekly webinars where every week you pick up a specific business practice to focus on, to hosting office hours sessions, to perhaps make all of the materials (i.e. presentations, videos, audios, etc. etc.) available online in a specific open space for people to choose as they may see fit what may matter the most to them at that point in time, to work with specific teams, or individuals, who may require a bit more attention and therefore more focused enablement materials. The list goes on and on and on …

The idea is to make your education and enablement programme as open, accessible and available to as many people as you possibly can. Some times folks may require your attention, help and assistance, but in most cases, because of the nature of those 30 minute long modules, people would be self-serving themselves, and their teams with the materials you make available, which is exactly what you would want to, because, if anything, you would be sending across a couple of rather strong messages: doing and living social with a business purpose is not as difficult as it may seem and, secondly, you, too, could contribute your bit towards helping your business become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise by doing something so relatively inexpensive as determining your own learning activities based on your needs and wants.

And that’s probably as good as it gets, really, because that’s the moment you are sending out another very clear message to everyone that in order to adapt successfully to a new way of working through these different social technologies everyone, and I mean, everyone, needs to chip in accordingly, based on their own needs and in their own terms, not your own, in order to make it a huge collective success over the course of time.

That’s how you realise when the real marathon for everyone begins …

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