Archives for October 2012

How to Establish the ROI of Social Learning

A good deal of my time is spent providing workshops and conference presentations on social learning and the use of social media to support and extend social learning in the workplace. In every session, it seems, someone comes just to challenge me to “prove” that all this isn’t a waste of time, that there is performance-enhancing value in social connections and interactions, particularly of the online variety.

They usually want some magic metric, some formula like, “two hours on LinkedIn + four comments in groups = tangible outcomes for the organization.” It doesn’t work that way. A great deal depends on how the worker chooses to spend that time in social channels, how well he filters and curates information, how she chooses the people with whom she’s interacting.

The quality of those interactions depends in turn on many other issues, including trust, a willingness to ask for and offer help, and time invested in developing ties deeper than those purely at the surface. Likewise, a worker expected to improve performance and support organizational goals must know what the expectations are around that.

Value creation

Etienne Wenger (of Cultivating Communities of Practice fame), Beverly Traynor, and Maarten De Laat have recently published a new conceptual framework for understanding and assessing value in such interactions. It includes a nice overview chart (Figure 1, below) that I’ve found helpful in addressing concerns of my audience members.

Figure 1: Wenger, E., B. Traynor, and M. De Laat. Chart from Assessing Value Creation for Communities of Practice and Networks: A Conceptual Framework. Used with permission.

Immediate value

I’ll use myself as an example of how the chart helps shine light on real activity and outcomes. I spend a lot of time on Twitter because there are so very many smart people there, who at any hour of the day or night are talking about something I often didn’t even know I wanted to talk about.

I mostly follow learning, training, and eLearning people, but I also like some fiction authors and a few experts in other fields. Those people who only talk about what their cats had for breakfast? I don’t follow them. But it’s important to note: I am very active on Twitter. I engage, and talk, and interact with people. I drop in on several live Twitter chats a month. I try to contribute as much as I take. I like to think I help.

So in looking at Wenger et al’s first column: I feel I get immediate value from the quality of interaction and reciprocity, I am given food for thought that I do reflect on, and I make it no secret that I am having fun.

Potential value

Moving across the chart to the second column: From my participation, what is the potential value? I’ve certainly developed a lot of connections, many in other parts of the world who offer

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very diverse viewpoints. I find I’m often inspired to read up on a new area or check out a new app or other tool. My views on learning have shifted considerably over the past five years as I’ve recognized firsthand the power and potential of increased support for social learning in the workplace.

Applied value

Now, moving to the third column, we look to see whether dots are connecting. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, I make a lot of connections, I read about things that interest me. But am I getting applied value? Do I leverage those connections? Have I engaged enough with my personal learning network so that, if I ask for help, some people might respond?

Let’s revisit an example I used in a previous column, one spurred by a phone call from one of our agencies.

I tweeted this (Figure 2):

Figure 2: Leveraging connections on Twitter: original tweet asking for help
In two minutes’ time I had several responses, including this one (Figure 3):

Figure 3: One of the many immediate responses

I found the document, scanned it to see if it seemed okay, and sent it on to the agency. They said it was just what they needed. This amounted to a four-minute interruption in my day.

So you tell me: Is there applied value? Am I using my connections and implementing advice?

Realized value

Moving to the next column on the chart from Wenger et al, “Realized value.” I gave the customer a good response in four minutes. Is that a reflection on my personal performance? How about my organization’s reputation? Let me ask it another way: when’s the last time you called a government agency and got a good answer in four minutes?

Reframing value

In terms of the last column of Figure 1, “Reframing value”: I don’t know that I’ve changed my institution (yet), but I’ve influenced ideas around new ways of working. And while I’m not asked for evidence that I am effective, whenever I get a solution or innovative idea via one of my social channels, I take a screenshot or write a quick note and send it on to management anyway.

So, in looking for value in online interactions, try to get past the idea of a magic metric. I can’t tell you that my spending x hours on LinkedIn and tweeting y times per day will get you the result I got in the example above. I can tell you that my choice of when, with whom, and how to engage is what helped drive that result.

So what can we do? Help workers begin to articulate the ways in which interactions have solved a problem, reflected on their personal performance, or reflected on the organization’s reputation or performance. Start asking, “What did you learn today/this week? How has that affected your performance? How does it help the organization?”

Help connect dots between social interaction and access to expertise, and between those connections and new tools and reframing ways of working. And please do review the full text of the piece by Wenger, Traynor, and De Laat, available at

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

How to Promote Potential Using Success Mapping

The fast pace of workplace change requires employees to rapidly adapt their skills to shifting expectations, or new roles, companies or industries. Therefore, to win in the new world of work, today’s talent must possess a flexible mindset, skills and competencies to guarantee their ongoing employability and potential.

Despite the evolution of organizational needs, recruiting processes have not advanced at the same rate. Recruiting, developing and engaging talent today require a radical rethink, and new methods and tools. Companies need to define roles not by detailed responsibilities, but by the outputs and outcomes needed to deliver against the business strategy. Job success profiles often can help talent leaders do this better than traditional job descriptions.

Job success profiles enable employers to map essential technical skills and employability competencies — traditionally known as soft skills — against expected outputs and outcomes. Employers should consider supplementing one-dimensional job descriptions with detailed requirements and a framework for how to succeed in a designated role.

Effective job success profiles do more than itemize responsibilities; they guide performance by mapping the mindsets, skills and core competencies required to deliver the desired outcomes. This allows for more effective recruiting of the right skills and matching for potential, as well as on-boarding and development, because the focus is on outcomes connected to business strategy versus a stagnant group of work duties attached to a specific job.

Employees also have a role to play. They must stay on top

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of the increasingly specialized skills companies require to remain attractive to employers in a demanding job market. To fine-tune skills development, job hunting and, ultimately, career-planning, individuals can create employability profiles to supplement resumes and continually update them to ensure their skills remain relevant in the external marketplace.

As a human sales tool, profiles can better communicate an individual’s value add. An effective employability profile should feature the critical skills and competencies employers seek and demonstrate the candidate’s potential to contribute successfully to a company’s overarching business goals. Demands will constantly evolve, and individuals must keep pace to ensure their skills, competencies and mindsets reflect the demands of the current workplace, and identify gaps they can take action to bridge.

The world of work is becoming more complex, and the skills gap is widening, thus escalating the talent mismatch. Companies need individuals with the right skills and competencies to ensure they have the innovation and creativity to drive business results. Job success profiles enable companies to analyze what outcomes they need and, as a result, what technical and employability skills are required.

Further, encouraging candidates to create employability profiles will help bridge the demand between the talent available to businesses and the talent they need, resulting in better skill matches, individuals with more clarity on job expectations and, ultimately, unleashing employee potential for better business results.

About the Author:

Mara Swan is an executive vice president of global strategy and talent at ManpowerGroup, a workforce services company. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

Overhauling an Employee Onboarding Program

In the past 18 months, the global learning and development function at Savvis has been transformed from an order-taking operation with a limited budget to a strategic and trusted adviser to the business units it serves. This high-tech company employs 3,000 people in several locations around the world.

Led by Jim Sokolowski, director of global learning and leadership development, who joined the company in 2010 and has assembled a world-class team of 13, the function is now aligned with the company’s largest strategic imperatives, helping to formulate those imperatives as well.

When he was hired two years ago, Sokolowski had a virtual blank slate, a mandate for change, and a long way to go. Five months before he was hired, Savvis installed a new CEO, Jim Ousley, who is a seasoned executive with more than 35 years of experience leading global technology companies and who had served previously as Savvis’s board chairman.

“With that background, he really understood the importance of human capital and of investment in it,” says Sokolowski, who notes that his close ties to all members of the executive team, and their support for learning, have been critical to the success of the revamped learning function.

Sokolowski and his team sought to build repeatable and scalable best-practice methodologies focused on organizational achievement. Some of their accomplishments include participation in strategic planning to design programs in support of organizational initiatives, organizational curriculum mapping, creation of a full suite of leadership development experiences for every level of leadership, implementation of an internal strategic consulting process, and the launch of a new online university to leverage a best-in-class learning management system and a full branding campaign.

Uptake has been strong: Learning hours increased by 34 percent in 2010, and another 33 percent in 2011, for a current average of 24.5 hours of learning per year per employee. Additionally, the company’s revenue increased by nearly 12 percent in that timeframe.

To facilitate

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close ties with the lines of business, the team implemented a learning advisory council in 2011 whose primary goal is to provide insight and guidance to learning and development to ensure strong alignment between learning and business priorities.

“The biggest driver for the creation of the council was the desire to create more synergies within the business units—a more integrated approach,” Sokolowski says. “It has helped us take an end-to-end approach because the council helps my consultants understand what we do and why we do it. It gives us perspective on the big strategic levers.”

Revamping Onboarding

The learning and development team cites as its most innovative learning initiative of the past year the complete revamping of the corporate onboarding program, which directly links to the company’s 2011 strategic priority of investing in human capital. The program goal is to assist new employees in reaching full productivity and to help them build a positive long-term employment experience.

Prior to the program, effective new employee onboarding was not the norm, and analysis revealed that managers were unfamiliar with onboarding best practices. New employees were unfamiliar with key information to do their jobs effectively and time to full productivity was unacceptably high.

The program is designed with three distinct parts: a two-day “immersion” class; a 90-day, structured, on-the-job training program; and manager and peer coaching. All new employees are encouraged to attend the immersion workshop within their first 60 days of hire. This highly interactive, two-day, instructor-led workshop includes presentations from senior leaders, video presentations on values and solution capabilities, interactive games, and a tour of the global headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri.

Topics covered in the workshop include an overview of company strategy, products and services, customers, industry, competition, and new business ventures; an introduction to the customer loyalty program and methodology; and a company overview and history. The workshop frequency depends on hiring demand.

New employees are provided with a checklist prior to their first day, which provides them with a list of actions and best practices for successful onboarding (arranged chronologically from prehire through 90 days). They can access welcome videos, resources, presentations, and other company information through the onboarding web portal, a single location for all of the relevant information.

An immersion team was created for support of new employees. The team is informed when a candidate accepts a job offer, at which point a team member contacts the new employee’s manager, who receives one-on-one coaching on the onboarding program and is encouraged to provide a peer coach to assist with the onboarding process. The team seeks regular feedback from employees and managers at 30, 60, and 90 days to monitor program success and adjust the content when needed. Approximately 350 new hires will go through the program in 2012.

Time-to-Productivity is Key

The key to the program’s comprehensiveness, and therefore its success, says Sokolowski, was the design team’s approach: “We began with the end in mind, and asked, ‘What does success look like?’ We determined that time to productivity was the measure we sought, then assessed the knowledge, skills, and tools employees needed to be fully productive.”

The results speak for themselves. Not only has time to employee productivity decreased by 48 percent, to 2.5 months, but also the number of employees who understand the company leadership and its vision has increased by 18 percent.

“I think that what makes the program innovative is its depth, as well as the number of facets it contains, from live [instructor-led training] to online support, to manager and peer coaching, to that roadmap for the first 90 days,” says Sokolowski. “We really take new people and fully immerse them in all things Savvis.”

The team also has worked hard to define and implement a new corporate leadership development strategy, which had been lacking during previous administrations. They crafted and implemented their new framework in less than three months. The framework’s four tiers depend on levels within the organization and are based on a leadership pipeline philosophy. Each features rich, blended development experiences: emerging leader series, frontline leader development, mid-level leader development, and senior leader development.

Each experience lasts between four and 12 months and uses cohort groups, predevelopment and post-experience assessments to baseline current leadership behaviors, multiday skill-building classroom experiences, executive presence to kick off and close classroom sessions, and regular post-course renewal sessions to keep cohort groups connected during the experience.

In addition to the preprogram 360-degree assessment for self-reflection, leaders also receive a 360-degree review 10 months after the classroom program to measure impact. To date, the leadership development experiences have driven a 24 percent increase in the critical leadership behaviors the programs are designed to address. Leaders who participated in the program in 2011 performed on average 28.5 percent better on achievement of goals and 16.2 percent better on competencies on the year-end performance review than leaders who did not attend.

“We have seen phenomenal outcomes,” Sokolowski says with obvious pride. “We have more demand than supply, and have received anecdotal comments such as ‘life-changing’ and ‘earth-shattering.'”

Reprinted from T&D Magazine

The Continued Evolution of the Chief Learning Officer

As CEO of Korn/Ferry’s leadership and talent consulting practice, Ana Dutra has a window into the internal workings of many of the world’s largest companies.

The present shows a much different picture, however. For the 10-year anniversary of the magazine, Chief Learning Officer asked Dutra how and why the role of CLO has shifted from “order-taker-in-chief” to a strategic business partner.

Q. What was the pivot point of the shift?

There were two big triggers — and unfortunately both related to negative events. You saw the first shift when the Internet bubble grew and when it burst. When it grew, it started to become very clear that successful executives did not necessarily follow a traditional path, educationally or from an experience perspective. You had extremely successful people who were not your traditional profile at all.

When the Internet bubble burst, so many people were laid off and there was a need to do much more with less that companies needed to be more mindful of where they spend the training and development money they had available. That was trigger No. 1.

What that does — and this is directly related to No. 2 — is it shifted the decision-making around who is going to take the leadership role or who is in line for succession planning from just answering the question about how executives have performed in their last job to look at what are the real competencies that we need moving forward. It also shifted thinking to who among our high performers truly has the potential and truly has the agility to succeed in the future.

And the second trigger was actually this world financial crisis that kicked off in 2008 and has not ended yet. Think about stages. Stage one is a light bulb goes on and [we see that] successful people do not necessarily follow the same road. There are things people bring to the table in terms of the way they are wired and different experiences that companies were not vetting at all and that they could not ignore.

Stage No. 2 is we get into the world financial crisis in 2008 and suddenly succession planning and leadership development and decisions around where to put money moves up the CEO agenda. It is no longer an HR issue and the decisions are no longer made just in the HR purview.

The next thing that happens is that CEOs cannot just delegate it. If you look at what leaders have said about talent and leadership and learning, they were always saying it’s at the top of the agenda. The truth is that it was not. It was just a check-the-box exercise.

What happened in the last 10 years with those two major events is it becomes pretty evident that learning and development — from an enterprise but also from a team and individual perspective — had to be tackled at a much, much higher level. It can’t just be the role of somebody three or four layers removed from the CEO who has no

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understanding of the long-term growth strategies of the organization.

Q. What are the key competencies of that talent executive now, and how have they changed over time?

It’s totally different. The profile is totally different. First of all, it has to be somebody who has executive presence and is respected at the C-level. That’s No. 1.

No. 2 is organizational savvy, because this person most times will have to lead through influence. At the end of the day, the plan and the strategy for talent development, for succession planning [and] for leadership development needs to be owned by the profit-and-loss owners.

[No. 3 is] the chief talent officer or chief learning officer will have to be extremely savvy about how to manage and influence the organization, be very strategic and have very good business acumen, because it’s no longer just what everybody else is doing — it’s what needs to be done to enable our organization to execute on the strategy.

If you just think about those three, [it is] absolutely different from the type of person we would choose in the past. I would argue that the technical competencies now are a nice-to-have, but if I have the choice between a chief learning officer who is very business oriented; very strategic; understands how to navigate the organization; [and] can build a strong team and then bring in the people to execute the learning strategy, that’s the person who I would favor.

They have to be a partner to the business leaders. It’s a peer. It’s no longer somebody who is just there following orders or managing contractors or sending people to business school.

About the Author:

Mike Prokopeak is the vice president and editorial director of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

Report: People Management Propels Profits

Although some organizations have cut corners when it comes to investing in talent, a survey of top-performing companies has found that’s not the best way to boost the bottom line.

Companies with stronger people-management capabilities consistently record remarkably stronger financial performance, the report, “From Capability to Profitability: Realizing the Value of People Management,” by the Boston Consulting Group and World Federation of People Management Associations, has found.

Revenue growth was 3.5 times higher and profit margins were 2.1 times higher that those of companies with poor people management skills, the report found. An emphasis on leadership development, talent management, recruiting, onboarding and retention, employer branding, and performance management and rewards were particularly important.

“What we’re seeing in companies that are higher performers is that they take their people investment much more seriously,” says Roselinde Torres, a senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group.

The report, released in August, examined more than 100 countries worldwide and surveyed almost 4,300 managers from human resources and other fields, who were asked to rate their company on 22 HR practices.

While corporate managers rated their organization’s people-management capabilities, Boston Consulting Group conducted an independent review of the companies’ financial performance.

As part of that review, Boston Consulting reviewed Fortune‘s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Those that consistently landed on the list outperformed the S&P 500 eight of 10 years. One company that has landed on the Fortune list year in and year out is the software company SAS Institute Inc., based in Cary, North Carolina.

SAS has repeatedly received recognition for its people-management skills. Because its products are developed through the creativity of its employees, “we could not do what we do without our people,” says Jenn Mann, vice president of HR.

The company has grown organically for 35 years, providing plenty of opportunities for advancement. And SAS is sensitive to the interests and talents of its employees, Mann says.

“There are lots of different tracks,” Mann says. “Someone might not want to be in a people-leading role. They could be a subject-matter expert or a critical-skills expert.”

The company has more than 13,000 employees and a turnover rate of just 3.3 percent. Turnover is so low, Mann says, because the company’s growth provides opportunities for advancement. The company also provides countless extra services, such as an in-house health clinic, day care and fitness center, and focuses on employees’ work-life balance.

All employees are eligible for bonuses, which are a certain percentage of their base salary, regardless of their position in the company. So if the bonus amount is 3 percent, a manager and her employee could see a 3 percent increase in their base

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SAS also freely gives out recognition and rewards for top performers, including the CEO Award of Excellence and divisional awards.

In 2011, SAS had revenue of $2.725 billion, up from $2.43 billion the previous year.

Another company perennially on the Fortune list is Publix Super Markets Inc., based in Lakeland, Florida. Last year it had retail sales of $27 billion, compared with $25.1 billion in 2010. The company has more than 152,000 employees.

Maria Brous, director of media and community relations at the company, says managers are expected to know the goals and ambitions of their employees, and up-and-coming workers are paired with mentors.

“How do we get our emerging leaders ready for the next step” is one of the company’s key concerns, she says. To develop employees’ skills, Publix offers workshops on a wide range of topics, including enhancing communication skills and diversity training.

Retaining employees also is critical, and the company offers rewards and recognition for every five years of service someone puts in. Retention is so valued the average tenure of a Publix store manager is 25 years.

Awards also are given for community service, customer service, sustainability initiatives and more. “We’re always looking for ways to recognize our people,” Brous says.

Over its 82-year history, Publix has found, “happy associates make happy customers and happy customers make raving and loyal fans,” Brous says.

When companies focus on their employees, they need to be sure their efforts are tied to their strategic agenda, says Torres of Boston Consulting Group.

Some may be hesitant to spend money on training, but in many cases organizations can improve how their spending is allocated, she says. “We’re seeing companies looking as if they can be more efficient in the spending they direct.”

Organizations also need to be prepared to reinforce team rather than just individual performance, and keep in mind that what motivates a millennial isn’t necessarily the same as what motivates a baby boomer. Many younger employees desire to learn, have autonomy and feel passionate about their work.

They’re looking for “intangible and psychic rewards,” Torres says.

“Companies that are more complacent are going to find themselves without the best top-tier talent,” she says. “They’ll be good, but they won’t be great.”

About the Author:

Susan Ladika is a writer based in Tampa, Florida. Reprinted from Workforce Management

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