Social Learning Isn’t Just Having Yammer!

May 6, 2019
The original article is published on the Microsoft Tech Community Yammer Blog.

“I’ve added a group in Yammer to our course. And no-one is talking in it!”

 

I’ve heard this so many times. Learning and Development run an in-person course, bolt-on a Yammer group for the attendees to “talk to each other about the course” and wonder why no-one does so. Quite often they blame Yammer. It's the wrong answer to their question.

 

The problem arises because most learning and development departments are actually focused on training, rather than learning. For them, training is a formal event, in a classroom or online learning environment. It stems from our mistaken cultural beliefs that all learning happens formally. Many *still* have a mindset where learning means classroom. Executives and HR leaders have that same mindset – train to change. But this is shortsighted and costly (after all, social learning is cheaper than formal courses).

 

signal-2019-05-06-092326.jpegc. Mark Britz 2019

 

Driving new skills and behaviour change through Yammer is relatively easy and effective.

 

One example: at Kellogg's, where I launched and ran Yammer, the field sales teams were very disengaged and quality of their delivery was variable. We created a strategic set of Yammer groups to first get field sales reps sharing their displays in grocery stores around the globe. Unless you went to a supermarket, most employees and leaders never really thought about products on shelves. Next, we asked (game) senior leader(s) to start liking their work. Quickly, employee engagement shot up. Then we asked leaders and managers to start making connections between reps and also ask questions to improve consistency in delivery: such as “how did you manage to get an endcap display in that store!?” or “great job [rep], but it's missing a few of our required products. Can you tell us if you weren't able to get them on the shelf?”. And more like this – open questions, targeted questions, *all learning questions*. And what happened? Engagement and quality improved.

 

After a short time, some of the regional team leads created groups to run their teams through. The success was obvious and these teams no longer needed support (just checking in occasionally). The behaviors were already in play.

 

Can you imagine the alternative – flying all field sales reps to the various HQs for more formal classroom training. Or forcing them to take general quality and sales elearning modules? Or sending large docs of text to their managers to “tell the information to their team”? It wouldn't have been as effective.

 

This is not to say that no formal learning is necessary. Of course some of it needs to happen formally. But for most employees the need for formal training decreases as their career progresses. For the Kellogg's field sales reps, they **already* had formal Kellogg's sales training (and it was excellent). But as Workplace performance strategist Mark Britz likes to say: “no one goes to work to learn.” And he’s right. We go to work, not learn. Learning is a byproduct of working. The key for organizations is to find ways to support people learning in their job – not apart from it.

 

This is where social learning comes in. And Yammer is a great tool for scaling social learning support.

Three key takeaways from the many Yammer learning experiences I have supported is:

 

1) Go where people's attention is. Some of the field sales reps were happy to use Yammer to connect and share. With networks effects, the more that shared, the more others joined too. Why then send them to an LMS when their attention is someplace else?

 

2) Reduce friction to connection. In this instance, it means taking away the barriers to connection between different levels of the org. It took quite some cajoling, but after coaching a few senior leaders they took to Yammer. There was no hierarchical friction between them and their departments. If a field sales rep needed support, they go it from all levels. How can you reduce friction in your company?

 

3) Enjoy the process and have empathy. If you don't enjoy the process of working out how to support social learning/do learning differently, and just focus on the end results, then it will usually take you to the wrong answer. You need to enjoy the process to see what works and doesn't work. You're not offering a solution in it's entirety. And have empathy for those you are working with – this is new and they need support.

 

And remember, just having Yammer is not “doing” social learning. If people don't share on Yammer, if execs don't engage, if people aren't talking to each other – the problem is with people, not the technology. But Yammer can faciltiate the social learning support at scale across large organizations. In my next blog posts I'll talk about how you can support this in more detail.

Discuss this article in the Microsoft Technical Community.