Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Social Learning for Leaders

We know that a critical component of effective leadership is a commitment to developing talent and helping people reach their full potential.  This most often takes the form of formal training opportunities, like workshops or seminars. But we know that most workplace learning occurs not in a classroom. Where and how does one learn – really learn—to be good at one’s job? Through daily interactions with others. Through coaching and feedback from supervisors, or mentoring from others. And yes, through trial and error.  While formal training can lower that error rate, and can provide theoretical foundations of how to lead, it is what happens in those spaces between formal training events that supports or hinders the developing leader’s growth and ultimate success. And as often as not, this real learning is also social. At the water cooler, yes, but also in casual conversations, in meetings, in discussions of what-happened-and-how-I-solved-it, in “Hey Joe!” interactions- as in, “Hey Joe! What do I do if the check is going to be cut after the deadline?”

New social tools and technologies give us more access to those spaces and those social interactions, to support learning as it is happening. Through social tools, from popular public products like Facebook and Twitter to internal products like Yammer and wikis – most also accessible from smartphones -- leaders can access information and expertise when and where they need it. A Facebook group for employees in similar jobs, a site offering social profiles of expertise within a work area or across an organization or professional field, a private group for new hires, overseen by a mentor, or a collaborative wiki documenting FAQs or best practices are only some strategies for supporting social learning. Talent can interact and engage with other talent wherever it resides.

If you’re doubtful, take some time over the next few days to do a quick scan. How much time do leaders in your organization spend looking for something, or someone? How much time do you spend looking for something or someone? What is the cost of not using social media more effectively?

Jane Bozarth, cutting-edge author of Social Media for Trainers, has written or contributed to several other books that contribute significantly to the talent management and leadership development conversations.  Jane's day job is eLearning Coordinator, North Carolina Office of State Personnel.  Connect with her at: http://www.bozarthzone.com/, http://www.facebook.com/Bozarthzone, and @janebozarth on Twitter.