Driving Business Results with Social Learning

“Social Learning” is the latest term used to describe the informal knowledge transfer that happens through conversations, mentoring and website posting. Nurtured properly, it can create a natural learning ecosystem that augments formal training and stimulates productivity and workforce performance. The recent explosion of social media tools such as Facebook, Yammer, Wikis and Blogs has made it much easier to connect with colleagues to share information, ask and answer questions and innovate.

The “social” angle is not new. Similar collaborative knowledge sharing systems have been deployed by knowledge management (KM) groups for more than twenty years. One lesson learned by KM practitioners is that technology alone does not inspire long-term activity or create measurable business value. Two other ingredients are critical: context and behaviors. To be effective, a social learning implementation needs to be organized into multiple contexts aligned with skills, competencies or processes. With clear boundaries, learners understand where to seek or share information, and who might be able to answer questions or provide advice. A few examples will illustrate the approach and resulting value.

After a merger that added many international refineries, a client needed to find a way for the new colleagues to leverage existing technical expertise. Refining leadership championed the development of a new global network to connect technical experts, refinery engineers and operators to enable them to search for answers or ask questions concerning day-to-day operating problems, to share successful practices, and to tap into a wide variety of refining knowledge in a single location.

To ensure quick response to urgent questions, the web-based system features an email-enabled process that directs questions to a subset of over 1500 members who have registered their willingness to provide answers in a few of over 200 subject categories. Usually a question receives 2-4 responses within several days. But if no answer is submitted, the question is escalated to technical experts who are responsible for the subject area. Since the launch in 2004, over $100 million of costs savings has been documented.

Social learning was a success factor for another of the client’s critical business strategies – Operational Excellence (OE).  OE focuses on safety, health, environment, reliability and efficiency. Project teams were created to define best practices in each OE focus area. We created a community of practice (CoP) for each team that included employees who would be responsible for global rollout. These CoPs had an executive sponsor, a clear charter and operating plan and used a website and monthly meetings to share deployment experiences and collaborate on improvements to the associated practices and methods. The knowledge transferred in these CoPs was recognized as an important factor in creating and sustaining world-class health and safety performance.

What are your experiences?

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