Monday, January 24, 2011

Does Hiring play a part in a Social Learning Culture?


One of the most popular posts on this blog is about my ideas of what constitutes a social learning culture. In that article, I wrote about the need to bring together the most passionate people you can find for your business. If that is true, then intelligent hiring has to be at the center of an organisation's social learning strategy. While technology is crucial to the success of a social learning initiative, at the center of it all are people. In today's blogpost I want to articulate my points about why hiring is crucial to success of a social business and ask if L&D has a place in developing a hiring approach for the organisation.

The 90-9-1 Rule
Wikipedia's most active 1,000 people — 0.003% of its users — contribute about two-thirds of the site's edits. - Nielsen, 2006

I've linked to this resource several times and to me it represents the constraint for most communities. Researcher Jacob Nielsen in his 2006 alertbox said that in most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action. This is what we often term as the Participation Inequality principle of online communities. Now if we were to extend this principle to a mid-sized company of let's say 2000 users, that gives you about 20 people contributing to all the action on your social platform. Traditional hiring eventually norms to an equilibrium similar to that of the outside world. 1% on the big, broad internet still amounts to thousands of users. 1% participaton the intranet, is something that an organisation serious about social learning can ill afford to live with.

I Think of Workplace Learners on a Spectrum
When interviewing people, I like to investigate their inclination and approach to learning. Now what I use, has no scientific basis though I want to introduce it to you all the same. I tend to think of people on a spectrum as you'll see above. On the left hand are the people who I call the laggards (for want of a better term). These are the people who cannot articulate their approach to learning clearly and don't present evidence of being self driven in how they learn, share and connect. The dormants on the other hand show evidence that they can learn when presented with a challenge, but don't quite demonstrate that they can drive their own learning. They do show promise and are perhaps only awaiting inspiration. The learners are the third kind of people on my spectrum. These individuals can show evidence of having proactively picked up several new skills over the past few years. They however aren't in a position to influence change in their peers, because of their current lack of sharing and connection. The resistors are a special kind of people on the spectrum and I'm not even sure if they're a different breed. These are learners who already share and connect in their own way. Despite their obvious ability to be social learners, they're resistant of newer approaches to learning and can often be wary of new tools, platforms and strategies. The really special people are the sharers, who can not just drive their own learning, but have no trouble adjusting to any kind of collaborative environment. The tools are only a means to an end -- they focus on making the most of the environment they get.

Now I'm not trying to pitch my approach to you - it obviously is very 'me'. What I'm trying to say here is that learning is also a skill and different people show different levels of proficiency with this skill. To build a true learning organisation, you need to avoid hiring the laggards and dormants until they demonstrate evidence of at least being able to drive their own learning proactively. While job interviews focus a lot on core competence, I wonder if it's crucial that we try to gauge learning ability when you're hiring?

Emergent and Novel Practice need Sharing
A lot of knowledge management thinking draws from Dave Snowden's work on the Cynefin model. Snowden describes situations, models and systems by way of four main domains - Simple, Complicated, Complex and Chaotic. For simple problems, the cause and effect relationship is absolutely clear. You could write a five step process to solve the problem and you'll get the same results each time. It is akin to turning the handle on a sausage machine - you know exactly what to expect. For problems in the complicated domain, there's again a clear cause and effect relationship, but you need to analyse the situation to establish this. Once you've understand cause and effect, you can easily apply an established practice.

It's here that things become interesting. When problems head into the complex domain, cause and effect are so mixed up that you can determine the relationship only in hindsight. Depending on how a few parameters change, things can look quite different. This is where story telling and experience sharing is crucial. Knowledge sharing helps establish patterns that can help identify cause and effect relationships. This leads to solutions in this space (emergent practice). What's even more interesting is the chaotic domain, where there's no visible relationship between the cause and effect. This is where problem solving becomes iterative and we do what seems like a good choice. Depending on the result, we retrospect and take the next step. In the chaotic domain, collaboration helps drive the right decisions eventually leading to a novel solution for a novel problem.

Most organisations are looking to outsource problems in the simple domain. Organisations are likely to retain the problems in the complicated domain, but the problems that we have little idea about are in the complex and chaotic domains. We need sharers to solve these problems. Hiring helps us seed our organisations with smart people that are willing to share, collaborate and connect to solve tomorrow's problems.
After that rather long setup, the question I want to ask is if L&D needs to play a larger role in the way organisations hire. If we really care as much about collaboration and knowledge sharing in the enterprise, then is there a case for us to invest ourselves strongly in our employers' people strategy? How can we help HR identify the meta-cognitive candidates that can be the sharers our businesses need? If we say we don't need to bother with this , then are we saying we can afford participation inequality? What do you think?

21 comments:

Mikko said...

O man, that was a 'load'! There were so many - almost too many - inspiring ideas and insights there. Especially this core question, how do see possibly all the possibilities that a person carries within herself and how to create such an atmosphere that all the abilities can contribute to the 'scene'. Awesome approach to Very Big questions! Thanks!

John said...

You can meet different personalities in an office. As the boss, you always look for a certain quality of an applicant that makes him/her qualified. I'm glad you shared how it actually works.

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Every organization is filled with people with diverse personalities. The trick is how to take advantage of these diversity to meet the goals of the organization. Hiring will be a good way to get a fresh perspective.

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An organization will not work properly if all members have the same personality. Diversity is really needed to take advantage of each individual's strength. This is why we should hire people that can bring value to the business instead of the ones who are just there to earn money.

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