Thursday, September 29, 2011

Interview about the birth and growth of the HR community

On October 6th, we are going to work on a casebook learn and organise through social media with a group of about 12 learning professionals. Though the analysis of various cases of learning and change processes in which social media has played a role we hope to gain more insights into this relatively new field. I interviewed Remco Mostertman, the initiator of a large HR community mainly on LinkedIn (Remco is on the right). Here's the interview:

"It all started about 5 years ago. The basic idea was that we all need to improve and develop the HR field. I am convinced HR is the most relevant discipline in organizations, but HR is not always taken serious. There is a need for innovation in HR. The main target hence are line managers in organizations. I believe in learning by connecting and exchanging experiences.

At first I just started with a LinkedIn group. I accidentally running up to LinkedIn, I was receiving all kind of annoying reminders and wanted to get rid of those. Searching on LinkedIn I discovered LinkedIn groups. Immediately I saw the potential of the group section of LinkedIn. In many LinkedIn groups nothing much was happening, and I thought I could do this in a better way."

"There are different types of communities: communities of purpose, communities of practice and communities of interest, the HR community you could say is all three. The core team is a community of purpose, the community as a whole is more a community of interest. I started inviting my acquaintances, then they another 1 or 2 people out of their networks. I saw that we grew to 20 members, now there are 15,000 members in the largest group and come every month 750 members join. In the beginning there were no subgroups possible on LinkedIn, so we started groups next to the main group started, such as change management, social innovation, diversity, leadership and talent management. Now there are subgroups possible on LinkedIn and we work with subgroups, like HRD Employability and Vitality.

I learn continously. Learning by doing, that's my learning style. Every week I have some new experiences. Sometimes I think about a problem, and forget that I have a huge think tank I can ask for help.

Mix online and offline
"A mix between online and offline is important.
People get to know each other online, but when they meet each other there is more depth. I organize World cafés four times a year (see photo), about 80 people attend. The world cafés started when we had 5000 people and wanted to celebrate this. It's been organised 8 times now, at zero cost. I see that the online interaction deepens.

I received many applications from different countries such as India, which I rejected. I thought: I'm going to start a global HR group there is an interest. Currently I have 16 international groups, such as Italian and Russian groups. Great things happen here-it is booming. I search local group managers and organize international conference calls. My dream is: 10 country-based communities that eventually linked together and all contribute to the discipline of innovation by sharing knowledge and experiences."

Business model
"The business model is changing. The newsletter from LinkedIn is free. Eventually we will have a spin / off. so. There will be a fixed group knowledge partners, and there are organizations that will have paid subscriptions, for example on a HRjob-site and people who pay to participate in activities of the HR Business University. Besides the HR community I work one day a week for the University of Amsterdam, where I coach students."

Role of social Media
"Social media are supportive, they are a means and not an end. Social media have to help achieve my ideas. Without the media I was going to build a community anyhow, but it would not have been possible on this scale. Social media also promote transparency and increase the speed. People will in the future have to be authentic, unethical conduct will be visible.

I started with LinkedIn groups, and then there are about 10-12 twitter account currently. Now the HR community participates in a newsletter from one of the partners; we provide trending topics from the groups. We always ask whether people approve, but without exception they agreed to have their issues highlighted in the newsletter.

We use a tiered model, the most current topics owners make a summary for the knowledge portal and the newsletter. We are building nine websites, including two knowledge portals. Knowledge of the groups is then secured to the website. There is also a magazine 2-4 times a year. We have put up Facebook pages for future use, there is nothing to be found currently. Each topic has its own website soon, a LinkedIn (sub-) group and a twitter account."

Critical situations in the growth of the community
a. Tipping Point
"There is a tipping point: a LinkedIn group with over 2,000 members runs itself, even though it differs per theme. What makes a theme work? Whenever they are needed. I do an inventory and latera twitt poll (a poll via Twitter). From there I gather a few sub / theme groups and start. If I invent the topics myself "accidentally" they may grow, but not as good. So start from the questions / orientation. Besides that what is always needed ... active moderation on the content. Remove advertising and promotions or remove spam and place jobs in the section for jobs. Start discussion and / or boost them. From the tipping point onwards, this is less or not needed. Until 2000, you need to recruit and activate members. Only 5% are active, 10% send or read things, so at 200 members, it is not dynamic. However, it can be a good number for a project or group that wishes to exchange information, but not for a community of practice / interest. I'm amazed how fast it develops. HRD and L & D subgroup on LinkedIn already has 1100 members (in 2 months!) and there are four face-to-face peer meetings planned. We do not actively market this.

b. Core Team.
"In the beginning I worked alone, but at some point you need a buddy. I have created an inner circle of about 20 very enthusiastic people who share the same passion and goals and cooperate in different ways and with different intensities. Yet, with the enormous growth there was also a need for more structure and stability in the heart of the community, now there's a solid core team of six people who put in time, and participate at least 1.5 years till December 2012. I invited a number of them myself and some expressed their interest to join to me. Each member manages a label. A label is what we use to market a business unit or window. There are four named values ​​from which we work: skills, openness, curiosity and ownership. We work with shared leadership."

My own role
"Maintaining the LinkedIn group takes me about two hours a day. Some professionals start a group, and nothing happens, they underestimate the work. It's hard work and you must begin with a vision. Every community has a leader. I am the leader for this HRcommunity. You also need luck. What I bring: I like to experiment with the computer, I want to discover how it works. I have a passion for HR, Social Media and the development of organizations. My role is very diverse: till the tipping point I invite people and alert them about discussions, after the tipping point it grows by itself. I also moderate content and topics, and start boosting discussions. I try to read everything, it provides a good view into the field, I enjoy reading everything. I get a message when someone starts a new thread. Sometimes things go out of hand with advertising issues, then I filter it out. This is a lot of work, but otherwise it's annoying for the members. I put all applications manually on a list of members in an excel sheet, and I review the composition of the group occassionally."

"We have contributed to an HR field in motion and development. There is an active community with 20,000 members nationally, 30,000 internationally. The largest group has 15,000 members, 50% are consultants, 40% work within organizations, 5% are students and 5% recruiter. I would like a mixed composition - so I am pleased with the growth in number of students since this was only 1%. The number of people is not an end in itself - the dynamics and depth are more important than the numbers, the debates and reactions, and numbers of people showing up at meetings. In my perception, there are more and more in-depth topics, they run longer and more people participate than in the beginning. Participants gain new insights, news and interesting facts and get new contacts. The network has a value. Thus I have been approached for cooperation, but the bottom line is that I'm not selling products, then people will lose interest in the community."

"It is a different way of working. If you ask a question, you often get a solution and suggestions within few hours. Even I forget sometimes that this is possible. Within the HR field, the awareness that being active in a community is part of your work is not so high. The community-based work is not in the DNA of organizations. What has really surprised me is the incredible speed at which things are going and the mega impact. The goal for next year is: develop the groups and platforms, further animation and professional development, connecting people, developing a talent bank and career portal for matching on the labor market and an assessment site for HR service providers .

Read dutch? There is an article by Kim Castenmiller. The home of the HR community is a linkedIn group. You may follow Remco Mostertman on twitter or the HR community op twitter

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Develop creativity and empathy through opposing perspectives

I have been rethinking my focus. I started working within the framework of knowledge management and communities of practice. But knowledge management in the Netherlands is still associated with databasebuilders. And communities are hijacked by the marketeers for client communities... The core of my work is about 'the learning professional' / the innovative professional / the creative professional. Communities of practice as still a very powerful environment to stimulate professional innovation at an individual and collective level. I found a book which divides the learning professional in personal and professional development. Not sure how useful I find this distinction however.

I've lived in various countries and I am convinced that a new environment works great for self-knowledge and awareness of your own beliefs. An anecdote: when we lived in Mali we were invited by Bintou, a colleague to join her for lunch on a Saturday. We were very surprised to see that everyone had already eaten, and we were seated separately with a dish to eat and left alone. We thought we were late but that was not the case. Then you realize again that there is a strong social connotation in the Netherlands to lunch invitations. It's not about the food, it's primarily a social activity, eating together, while at Bintou's she literally wanted to feed us. Those types of collisions between different worlds make you more creative and empathetic.

Here's a great TEDtalks of Raghava KK, artist. He wrote a children's book on the ipad. If you shake the iPhone changes the perspective, instead of a father and mother there are suddenly two mothers. He believes that learning children to understand different perspectives stimulates creativity and empathy. Have a look, it's great!

And for the social media twist... you can use social media to broaden your view to various perspectives. It's not automatic though. You have to be aware of your networks and who you are following. Follow some people on twitter from a radically different background, or lurk in some totally different communities... Who knows what you will learn..
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Friday, September 09, 2011

Finding the perfect learning platform in 5 steps

After the holidays I have been bumping into the same issue with different clients: "Which platform you choose for a online part of a learning trajectory as trainer/facilitator?" It is already clear that you want to combine online learning with face-to-face meetings, you need a private online platform and there is also a budget for it. With the enormous amount of social media tools it is much easier for a trainer/facilitator to make his/her own choice of tools fitting the learning activities rather than trying to fit your learning activities into a predetermined platform.

I have a first blog post written about the broader range of platform options that exist for online discussions.
In this blog post I'm going deeper into the selection process for online exchange in a private group. In large organisations, there may be a platform available and you may have to decide whether you want to use this, or an alternative. I noticed many start with the tool rather than thinking about the participants and the learning activities.

For a good selection process, take the following five key steps:

Five step approach to finding your learning platform
  1. Make a shortlist of potential platforms by asking around (and I'll help if my shortlist), review and test them on the following criteria:
  2. Identify what your participants are familiar with
  3. Determine the features you need by designing the learning activities
  4. Look at the implementation trajectory of the platform
  5. Find out what the price is

Make a nice table (something like this) to sort out your findings in writing and help support your decision to support (x-ax the potential tools, y-ax the criteria

Re 1. Make a Shortlist of possible platform There are many different platforms. You can be practical by asking some experienced people. The shortlist that I currently have for tools that are relatively easy to implement are Elgg, Moodle, Ning, Drupal, Bloom Fire, Buddy Press for wordpress, and Social Engine. Do you have a good platform, please let me know by leaving a reaction!

Ad 2. Familiarity of participants with tools This step is often forgotten, but is important. You can send a short survey, some people call or arrange a meeting. If you combine this with the design of learning you save two birds with one stone. Awareness of different tools also gives an indication of how easily they get used to a new tool. If many people are familiar with such a tool like Yammer, but it has not all the features you want? This may be an argument for your intent to reconsider. Because it gives you a flying start.

Ad 3. Needed functionalities (based on design of learning activities) To know what features you need as a minimum requirement, you need your design of learning activities already have quite some detail. Would you give assignments, much literature do you need to upload, do you want to tag? Can you use videos? Do participants need a blog? This determines the features you want. Often you will develop a good feel for the various functionalities when you have worked with a number of platforms. And balance 2 and 3: if a platform has fewer functionalities, but people have experiences, you might simplify your design.

Ad 4. Implementation path Some platforms like Ning, you can tweak by yourself as a facilitator in one afternoon. Other platforms such as Drupal need more support and expertise. Maybe you want the platform to be hosted on your own server or not. These are implementation requirements. While chosing a platform these are important to consider too. To what extent do you support? How long is the design and implementation process?

Re 5. Price Well, it speaks for itself .. What will it cost? Per month, per year? How easy can you cancel? (Important in a learning process with a clear endpoint)

Although it is now may appear as a very structured process, in practice it will be messier. But what is important is that you first look to at the experiences of users and design of learning activities before you select the best tool - though you will probably not find the perfect tool... after all the process is more important than the tool.

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