Monday, 30 November 2009

Selling Learning Communities – Not Everyone Will or Wants a Group Hug

Compressed Picture of Jack M for email Jack Merklein from Xerox Global Services did a really great presentation at LearnTrends 2009 entitled - Common tools for Diverse Communities at Xerox Global Services.  You can find the LearnTrends 2009 Recording including Jack’s presentation.  A few follow-up thoughts.

Jack is responsible for the development, care and tools for learning communities and knowledge sharing initiatives.  In practice this means a lot of different things and across many different learning communities.  A few of the different communities he discussed:

  • New Hire
  • Sustainability
  • CxO

While the title centered on tools for communities and knowledge sharing and he provided a list of tools …

Existing Tools:

  • Outlook email distribution lists
  • Live Meeting with Brain Shark
  • DocuShare
  • Calendars
  • Wiki
  • Instant messaging
  • Links to training catalog

Emerging Tools:

  • Podcasts
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn (Intra-community)
  • Training videos on YouTube
  • A Second Life Island available

Most of the discussion didn’t focus on tools.  Instead, it focused on Jack’s no nonsense ability to make communities an effect part of learning.  And particularly, I got to spend time with Jack on how he sells learning communities in the organization.

Jack does an amazing job of finding out what people in the community really care about and need.  For one community, they meet every two weeks and a lot of times the topic comes a week before and he pulls in subject matter experts to present.  He ensures that the facilitation then focuses on the key issue that the people in the room cares about.  I’ve seen exactly this kind of thing work really well before.  But I’ve not seen it done as systematically as how Jack has designed it.

Jack was a quote machine during the session, here are some of the phrases he used:

  • "Publication warden"
  • "Billable always wins"
  • “CoP Warden”
  • “not everyone will or wants a group hug”
  • "young and stupid"
  • “Training is a resignation”
  • "Capture it damn it - put on community site" (responsibility of all members of a community to make knowledge explicit)
  • “Amenable to bribing everyone”

Part of the beauty of Jack and his style is that the language he uses is plain, business oriented.  Everything sounds obvious when he says it.  In a way, he didn’t feel like he was ever “selling learning communities”.  That was my language.  Instead, he asked people if they wanted help with a particular problem.  If he could bring together experts and expertise and facilitate a conversation on X and then help capture that – is that something you’d want.  Absolutely!  In fact, we all want that all the time! 

In a later session, we discussed the fact that one of the big barriers in many organizations is that they don’t “have a Jack.”  Selling learning communities or social learning or anything other than formal learning / training is hard because we find ourselves using the language of learning or learning community. 

As an example of needing a Jack, the question - How do you avoid the issue … “I’m too busy” … Jack’s answer is basically, if the value is high enough, you are focused on problems they are faced with right now, they will come.  His example is a community that meets on Friday afternoons.  Yikes.  I’d never plan something then.  But he gets amazing participation because the topics focus on hard hitting topics where people need help right now.  Senior leaders participate because they see the value.  And participation is rewarded through recognition … and sometimes bribed.

Now let’s all be a Jack!

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