Sunday, December 12, 2010

Making the Social Web Space Work Smarter, Not Harder

By: Derek Howard

Gone are the days when companies could pretend that this social web and media phenomenon was just a passing fad. Unfortunately, some are still trying to do just that. This has caused many to play catch-up, which creates new problems. Adopting drastic changes can cause unforeseen issues. So how does a company create effective changes to their social web space with as little disruption as possible? According to Rhonda Lowry, vice president of social media technologies for Turner Broadcasting, the answer is to become a bricoleur. More on that in a bit.

At a recent Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Enterprise 2.0 Society event, Lowry shared her views and advice on solving these issues. In her opinion, it boils down to the human factor being ignored. Many companies have forgotten to treat their people as an individual rather than a label or title. We have to go beyond the hard data. As she observed, it’s not enough to know how many people are on sites such as Facebook, we have to know why. If a company loses track of this information, it loses track of a valuable, existing resource: its people. And it’s not just a social issue; these real-time networks open new markets, and new markets mean profit.

The new social currency

Lowry believes that these new markets run on a new currency (social currency). The information we share or trade is like a gift that helps create and nurture these relationships. And with that gift comes an implied sense of reciprocity. This can create a perpetual cycle of information exchange. However, these new relationships are a bit different. Lowry points out that these days (due to social media), they tend to be defined as friends, fans or followers. So a company must decide what kind of relationship they have. One example she gives is the difference between a symmetrical and asymmetrical model. For instance, Facebook is a symmetrical model (a “who you know”) while Twitter is asymmetrical (a “what you know”).

Four meters to track

Behind all of this change in the social landscape is technology. And though human behavior is the bigger issue, the tech factor cannot be ignored. The problem, as Lowry said, is that the gap between what is technologically possible and socially possible is often miles wide. Because of this, she recommends that companies keep track of the following four meters.

The first meter is social: companies must ask whether or not they are social organizations. Do relationships matter? How much and to what end?

Second is the techno-human factor. Lowry says that there are two types of capabilities: tech-centric and human-centric. A company needs to know where its people are on these knowledge scales. Society tends to be slower than technology and a narrow focus can ultimately create a narrow skill set.

Third, and fourth are organizational and cultural (these two go hand-in-hand). Social software can have unforeseen and often negative effects depending on the structure and the culture of the company. For example, if a company has a rigid hierarchy, social software could allow people to talk that a company doesn’t want talking (i.e. ignoring the chain-of-command).

Two questions companies should ask

Along with the meters, Lowry suggests that companies seriously ask themselves two questions:
1. Can you get out of your own way? And
2. Can you evolve?

The first has to do with recognizing that, with social web space, control can be difficult. Companies must be willing to let go a bit to reap the benefits. The evolution part has to do with content and technology keeping up with one another. As she put it, content without technology is a distinction without merit. Both are needed to be successful, and companies must be both willing and able to grow.

Lowry also advocates what she calls intellectual nudists; basically, people who are willing to share all their work and ideas. Transparency is needed from at least a few of these types. Though these people probably won’t outnumber the non-nudists in most companies, she is confident that the two can coexist. Because of this, companies should always look for win/win strategies of keeping both happy.

Finally, Lowry warns to pay attention to rewards and bonuses. Most of these systems are designed for what she referred to as a “turn-the-crank” work environment, not a knowledge –based work one that many work in today. According to studies, people in knowledge-based environments actually perform worse when given paid incentives. Companies must find intrinsic motivations for their employees or risk the chance that they will just game the system.

In conclusion

So what does it all mean? Back to that word bricoleur. A bricoleur is defined as someone who practices bricolage: invention by using resources from already available material. Lowry believes that companies must learn to practice what she calls techno-socio-cultural bricolage, using the resources they already have. By taking inventory and assessing these resources, and how they all interact, companies can avoid disruption, and ultimately have happier employees and bigger profits. Win/win.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

5 Atlanta Learning-Industry Events You Shouldn't Miss - December 2010

2010 is ending with a bang with some great events for learning professionals in the Atlanta area this month, including a visit from Jane Bozarth and the annual ASTD Technology-based Learning SIG's eLearning awards. My only complaint is that almost all of the events are scheduled during the same week (this coming week, in fact); I'm sure this reduces each event's attendance numbers, particularly this time of year. Maybe we can get some calendar coordination going in 2011.

That said, here are five events for the learning industry you shouldn't miss (or at least should strongly consider picking from). Note this doesn't include the Columbus, GA ASTD geographic group feasibility meeting happening on December 7th; if you're in that region, definitely check that out.

December 6, Social Media for Trainers

ASTD Atlanta hosts Jane Bozarth for an exploration of social media in the training industry. The focus will be on recognizing training purposes for social media tools, not just seeing them at face value.

Register for the ASTD Atlanta chapter meeting.

December 7, How to Create a Learning Environment

Author and world-traveling consultant Brent Darnell will speak to the ASTD Atlanta Organizational Development SIG on creating positive change in employees. He'll outline a proven methodology for creating behavioral shifts in employees that positively affect their performance both at work and at home.

Register for the Organizational Development SIG.

December 8, 5th Annual eLearning Excellence Awards

Join the ASTD Atlanta Technology-based Learning SIG for their annual eLearning Awards. Winners will be chosen in multiple categories. Seeing what others are doing is always a good way to learn.

Register for the eLearning awards.

December 9, Innovative Training Tools and Techniques

The Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Workplace Learning Society will take a look (Pecha Kucha style) at innovative training tools, techniques, and work samples that represent the future of learning. This should be an interesting look at technologies that can be used for learning.

Register for TAG Workplace Learning.

December 13, Social Networking

ASTD Atlanta's Corporate SIG will follow-up and expand on the information shared in the December 6th ASTD Atlanta chapter meeting with Jane Bozarth. This will be a deeper dive into the hot topics of social media for trainers. The only event in this list not during the week of December 6th, this one can also be attended from the comfort of your office or home.

Register for the ASTD Atlanta Corporate SIG Webinar.

Have a great end of the year! Stay tuned for upcoming events in January, including an ISPI Atlanta panel on January 19th on "Implementing technologies for instruction in your organization." You'll hear lessons learned from companies such as Turner, Orkin, Level 4 Performance, and others.