Lean Startup Social

It was a great job! I worked fully remote in IT for Kellogg’s as Global Lead for Digital Collaboration. My instructions: “go make Yammer successful”. That was it. I wasn’t even given a working laptop (I had to use my own.) And there was not a lot of support (the company was definitely not set up for remote working).

But I was confident I had the answers people would want to hear. After running social learning and collaboration pilots and projects for many years, I thought I had all the use cases I needed. So I jumped in, set up a few calls, and told people how Yammer would change their work lives.

I went too fast. I thought I had all the answers. I was wrong. I didn’t listen first.

It was time to go back to the drawing board.

In a previous job I developed an intrapreneurship program. It was based on lean startup principles. This seemed a good fit for what I wanted to do, so I decided to use lean startup to test ideas for an internal consultancy service.

I pulled out a Lean Canvas (you could also use the Business Model Canvas) and got to work. This was real business analysis in action. I had a product in Yammer that I thought people would want, but needed to test where it would be best applied in the context of their work. I needed to work out how and where I could “sell” it and my support services into different parts of the organization. I had to find partners to help expand my reach globally. And I needed to establish how to measure my success.

Lean startup methodology requires you to actually talk to people to test your ideas, to ask people about their “jobs to be done”. It’s very different to usual internal workplace deployments (of tech, learning programs, comms/HR content pushes). You cannot assume you know what people need. Probe-sense-respond; it’s Cynefin in action. Adaptable, agile, iterative. I believe it’s the only way to develop successful corporate projects.

I ended up having close to 2,000 conversations. You can read more here.

Lean Canvas image is from https://blog.leanstack.com/why-lean-canvas-vs-business-model-canvas-af62c0f250f0

Are You A Practitioner of “Social Learning”?

I just had a lovely call with a Learning leader for a global 100,000+ people company about getting started with social learning. They had some very good questions. I thought I would share my thoughts on them as it was a really enjoyable conversation.

1) Why is there so little about the How of social learning? Everything is about the Why.

It’s true. There are books, articles and many conference presentations about why you should support social learning in the workplace. But there is little available to explain how. I think there are two reasons for this.

First, the why needed to be the focus for many years. No one was listening. The early proponents of workplace social learning, collaboration and  the technology that can support it, had to work hard. The most prominent are those who I owe my career trajectory to – such as the ITA (Harold, Jane, Clark, Charles, and Jay) and Dan Pontefract. Others have taken up the why piece, including many technology vendors. This leaves a problematic situation. Too many are “practitioners” of the why, not the how.

Second, few people have had careers as practitioners of social learning. I’m very lucky to be one of those people (along with Mark, Helen, and Michelle). But even then, I don’t really call it social learning. It’s collaboration support, connecting, community management, innovation ideation, design thinking, or whatever makes sense to those I work with. Simply put, I help people collaborate and learn together. I enjoy theory, but I love the challenge of doing. You need to enjoy working in the grey and have thick skin to like doing this work.

2) Why are there no stories of companies doing social learning well? What companies are known for great social learning?

This highlights one of the most common misconceptions of social learning in the workplace. Heard of Facebook, Google, Dropbox, even Microsoft? How about the thousands of small remote-only companies? They do it, but most would not even call it social learning. They have business-outcome-focused collaboration, information sharing, or “working together”. It’s just not called social learning and isn’t owned by L&D necessarily.

Stories on LinkedIn, HBR, Forbes/Inc etc. about social learning tend to be hyperbole. Every big company has good and bad. Most legacy enterprises practice social learning to different extents. But it’s in pockets with certain groups and people. It’s just not a enterprise-wide part of the culture. This what I worked with at Kellogg’s.

And that’s OK because – honestly – it’s unlikely to be enterprise-wide. Support who wants to be supported. Work with those who are open to new ideas. You likely work in a small team. Social learning support actually helps you target high value internal clients and get success stories quickly. Some ideas will work, others will not. You just need to be flexible and ready to iterate.

And remember, no employer branding poster ever says next to a smiling headshot: “[Company Name] is a great place for learning socially”. Seriously – social learning support is not Leadership Development with Harvard Profs in VR. It’s practical, quick, and incredibly valuable. But it’s not a big shiny thing.

If you want help getting started with the practical side of social learning (or collaboration support, or your term of choice) in the workplace, get in touch.