Implementing Social Learning: Start Small and Start Now

Arnold Palmer, one of the original kings of golf, had a saying, “Your worst putt is better than your best chip.” In other words, if you are off the green, you are better off putting from the fringe or light rough than chipping. So it is with any new initiative or project. In this spirit, I propose a new phrase, “Your most poorly planned action is better than your best strategy unexecuted.” OK, so I have some work do on that phrase, but you get my point. You are better off taking a small action, before you have thought through every little detail (which you cannot do anyway) than to spend weeks or months coming up with a great strategy in which everyone approves (which is nearly impossible).

In a previous blog post, I wrote about practical ways to get started in social learning. Each example in that post is designed to be part of a training class. However, social learning does not have to be part of a class. In fact, one of the main advantages of social learning is that it occurs whether there are training classes or not. In other words, social learning is simply people learning from each other. This begs the question, how should one get started in social learning, when there is no training class?

First of all, the key is to start small. You don’t need strategy. You don’t need a company-wide initiative approved by the top level. And you don’t need a grand vision for social learning on your organization. The key is to start with a small task, gain some experience, and share any and all results. Action, even action that is not perfect, is better than the best vision and strategy you can come up with. It is certainly better than not starting.

If you want to begin with social learning in your organization, here are a few ideas that you can implement immediately, well at least almost immediately.

Get Peers Talking to Each Other

Ask people to share what they have done to help a customer and how they did it. Have them post short one- to three-sentence messages in a tool like Yammer or other social networking tool you may be using. The second part of this idea is to ask people to ask their peers how they do something. For example, have a few of your sales people ask questions about how other sales people have handled certain objections with a prospect.

Leadership Expertise is Out There – Use It

Instead of teaching a leadership class, find a video from a noted leadership author/expert taking about a leadership concept. Post that video and ask a group of managers to watch it and answer a discussion question that you post. You can participate in the discussion by asking follow up questions, and commenting on their posts. A great place to start is Leading@Google videos.

Get Departments Talking to Each Other

Have you ever worked in a department and thought, “If this other department only knew this or that, it would make my job so much easier?” Every organization has examples like this. Recruit some individuals in these departments and get them to starting sharing what those things are. This would be a great task to conduct on a wiki.

About Getting Work Done

In each of these examples, people are learning something new to get their jobs done better. And that is the whole point, getting work done. So keep in mind the end goal, “to help people get their jobs done.”

Sometimes we get so caught up in the enormity of a new initiative that we get paralyzed at the thought of all the work in planning, gaining support and approval, only to hear “No.” There is a way around that by starting small and taking action on low-risk ideas that can be implemented with small groups that have the potential to show positive results. The key is to start small and start now.

More about employee training and retention on the Mindflash blog.

Sign up for a free trial of Mindflash.

Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.