#TipTuesday – Train, Train, Train

|   Nov 10, 2015

After sharing nine previous tips on building a successful enterprise social network (ESN), we come to a subject that has been near and dear to my heart for decades – training and learning. I was a professional educator/trainer for over 30 years before switching gears in 2009 to a different path. I am, therefore, very confident and experienced in the subject matter of this post.

For the first nine ESN tips, see my previous blog posts. For now, let’s concentrate on tip #10:

Train, train, train.


Helping users become familiar and comfortable with the use of your ESN can take place from a number of angles. Let’s consider a few…

1. Train new employees. There is no better way to introduce new employees to your company and its culture than to encourage them to dive into the ESN right away. It is where they will learn the most about the company from unfiltered and unsanitized sources. Tell them in orientation sessions and employee documentation about the ESN and make sure they know not only how to establish an account and access it, but speak to the “why” as well promoting the value of working out loud and thriving together. HR should have a role in this, but so should the teams that welcome their new employees.

2. Welcome new account holders and give them a next step. For the last couple of years, we have sent daily welcome emails to those who have established an account on our ESN in the past day, giving them a little info about it, why we have an ESN, and a few of the major links they should know about, including training opportunities. We make sure in the email that we give them one specific call to action to take as the next step. For us, that’s clicking a link that takes them to a group for newbies with the prompt to answer the following three questions about themselves:

  1. What is your favorite part of your current role?
  2. How do you hope to use Buzz? (Note: Buzz is the name of our ESN.)
  3. What is one thing that you did as a child that got you into trouble?

We love the interaction that the responses provoke! The third question is just a fun one to lighten the mood and get to know people on a more personal level. Of course, the “New to Buzz” group where these discussions reside is also a place where they can ask their newbie questions and play around without any fear of doing something they think will embarrass them. It’s important to get new users to do something besides merely lurking so that they more quickly participate and become an active part of the community. The sooner you can get them to post a message or comment or complete profile data, the better.

3. Train for various roles. Consider the major categories of people who will use your ESN, why they are motivated to use it, and then prepare helpful material and live sessions to help those audiences succeed in their ESN use. For example, we hold periodic live webinars for several groups of people: those who serve as group admins, those who use it for project management, those using it for idea challenges, and those using it for dated/timed town halls. We’ve also held occasional sessions with leaders in groups or one-on-one to discuss how they can benefit themselves and those who report to them through effective use. Particular business areas would do well to train their people on ways specific to their business area and how ESN use can benefit their work processes and outcomes. A combo of live sessions and readily available documentation is needed here.

4. Train for different levels of expertise. As long as people continue to come and go from your company, you’ll have an ongoing need to train newbies in the tool, both in the “why” and the “how.” Introductory training shouldn’t attempt to cover everything because that’s too overwhelming. Break up the subject matter into reasonable chunks than people can digest before moving on to more advanced uses. A good community manager will want to replicate himself/herself as many times over in the enterprise as possible, so building the community management skills of your greatest users, advocates and enthusiasts will help scale growth far more effectively than hoarding the leadership role by oneself.

5. Use a variety of methods. We have readily available for our ESN users quick reference sheets, complete user guides, short videos, recordings of longer training webinars, live virtual sessions a couple of times a month, one-to-one mentoring as needed, tips included in weekly broadcasts sent to all users, instructor-led classroom sessions upon request, booths at major events, and of course many eyes looking at questions asked on the ESN throughout the day to answer the 300-400 questions posed by users in a typical week. People don’t magically know how to use your ESN just because you made it available or because you did one or two things once upon a time to train them. The need is ongoing and people have different preferences for how they learn. Recognize that fact and attempt to meet the need from whatever angle the users may approach whenever they may be ready. And don’t get discouraged when, after all your attempts, you occasionally hear someone say “It’s too hard to use” to “I don’t know how to…” After five years, 44,000+ users, 1.5 million ESN posts and countless training opportunities, we still hear comments like those every month without fail. Train, train, train.

6. Publish a calendar of live training and links to on-demand resources. We publish a quarterly live training calendar that is prominently displayed on our ESN home page right above a number of additional clearly labeled links to on-demand resources. We record and keep links in that same place to the most recent live webinars so anyone can view at their leisure any of the training we do. We publish in a weekly broadcast details of the training opportunities scheduled for the next week. We post details in an ESN broadcast message about each and every training session coming up. For those sessions, we make attendance as easy as possible by not requiring anyone to register in advance and by intentionally not using the company’s learning management system (LMS) to host or track completions. Our priority is to make it easy for the learner to participate – not to force learners into a cumbersome LMS process just so it’s easier for us to track.

7. Be an advocate for informal, social learning over formal. Formal learning teams in many companies – especially large companies – still tend to think they need to control access to learning behind an LMS. I don’t know if that’s in part to be able to justify their existence by documenting how many completions they see, or through unnecessarily extending the corporate need to track some learning (such as annual compliance training) to all learning. Regardless, I just want people to be able to learn in the easiest manner possible with as few barriers as possible between them and the information they seek. The sooner companies jump on board the informal, social learning bandwagon to develop the knowledge and skills of their users, the better off everyone will be. As far as I’m concerned, learning management systems can die today and the world will be a better place because of it. Long live informal, social learning! It’s how most learning happens, anyway, and it always has been. Just ask any caveman. And make sure your follow and read the great content from people like Jane Bozarth and Jane Hart on social learning.

So there you have my take on some considerations regarding the ongoing need for your people to know why and how to use your ESN. Be versatile. Accommodate user preferences for style, time commitment and specific needs based on role and current expertise. Always look for gaps in knowledge and be creative in finding ways to fill those gaps.

Never forget tip #10: Train, train, train.

[This post has been modified from the original version first published at jeffrossblog.com.]

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