We have known for a while that most development occurs informally by navigating challenging experiences laced with interactions with key others. When I ask learners about the first step they take when faced with a new challenge, the response is invariably, "I go talk to someone" or "I go talk to <name of a specific person>."
There is also growing evidence from Organization Network Analysis that the strength/quality/volume of the informal connections in an organization drives overall performance. High-Performing and High-Potential employees not only do their job well but also help others succeed. And the network connections this support for others creates never seems to follow the lines (or dotted lines) on the org chart.
Capitalizing on organization networks can be a real opportunity, particularly as a tool to develop individual and organizational competence.
Before the advent of the online social world, I worked at a company where we created Competency Brown Bag sessions. We assembled cohorts of leaders (didn't call them cohorts back then) who were working on Individual Development Plans. We would select a specific competency that was a common need and then facilitate a discussion about the skill using kicker questions like:
- What does the skill look like?
- What examples have they seen of someone using the competency effectively or ineffectively and what was the impact of their behavior?
- What assignments or experiences would help in developing the competency?
- What articles or books have they read that were helpful?
The cohort members then selected useful tidbits from this "face-to-face blog" to add to their Development Plans. The Brown Bags were crowdsourcing without the web. The sessions were very popular and lead to meaningful impacts on skills and careers.
I am now seeing companies creating online communities that mirror the Brown Bags. Once mission-critical competencies have been identified and built into talent processes, the companies encourage volunteer communities to pop-up around the key skill sets. Crowdsourcing Development can dramatically multiply the effect I saw from the Brown Bags. Learners don't have to wait for a meeting and can get information, support and ideas 24/7. The learners may also create their own cohorts and meet virtually or face-to-face. If you were employed at Facebook, you'd probably call this "Hacking on Competence."
Crowdsourcing Development is also a great addition to the growing trend to eliminate standard performance reviews and to replace them with more employee self-serve processes with an emphasis on quality conversations, regular feedback and self-development planning. Talent Management can also mine the crowd discussions for additional tools and support ideas.
The technology to analyze organization networks is also advancing apace. I recently connected with ConnectWith (pun intended), a Pittsburgh-based spinoff from Carnegie Mellon's startup incubator Project Olympus. This brilliant team has developed real-time methodology to mine an organization's internal communication tools - email, instant message, collaboration tools - and find where lines of communication exist, as well as where they're breaking down. The resulting dashboard of graphics and analytics describe leadership traits, collaborative traits, and influence traits related to turnover and other business outcomes. Very impressive. ConnectWith is looking for more beta sites so feel free to connect with them. Ok, enough with the puns.
The proverbial Grapevine matters and can be leveraged. Leaders need to embrace the importance of networks and accurately understand how their networks operate or if the networks are weak or dysfunctional. Leader's who demand that the chain of command be followed or who are threatened by informal leadership should be discouraged or removed. Employees should be recognized for and encouraged to not only focus on their own job performance but to do whatever they can to help others succeed.
I think my next posting will be "The Job Description is Dead! Long live <????>"