Talent development functions are increasing their focus on self-guided development, which makes user-generated content— learning content created by employees and shared using social media—a natural fit for their needs. While many organizations aren’t quite ready to relinquish control over the information workers access for guidance with their jobs, most talent development leaders don’t let those concerns stifle their social learning efforts. Instead, they build cultures that emphasize trust, teach employees how to share meaningful content, and formalize policies that clearly spell out expectations for social media use.
Case in Point
Amway leverages the flexibility of social media to reach its 19,000-plus employees across more than 100 countries and territories worldwide. The global direct-selling leader’s “need to meet people where they were and enable employees and managers to own their development” spurred the establishment of Amway University (AU), explains AU Supervisor Angie Wittkowski. “To provide for development of knowledge, skills, and capabilities to be successful today, and to enable our employees to develop capabilities to meet the future strategic needs of the enterprise, we knew we needed to drive a transformational change in learning at Amway.”
While the transformation didn’t replace traditional instructor-led training and e-learning, which are still in use, “AU provides a social, collaborative, learning environment that gives every employee the ability to access learning anytime and anywhere in the world,” Wittkowski says.
Planning and Global Teamwork Pay Off
Wittkowski and her small enterprise talent development team in HR partnered with colleagues and other talent development teams across Amway’s market regions and corporate to form a Global Enterprise Talent Development Council to oversee AU’s establishment. She describes it as “coordinating efforts and providing thought leadership and guidance about how other groups can bring their schools to life within the university.”
The global group split into five teams of 50-plus members, each of which focused on a critical path: Leadership Academy, Professional Development, Functional Schools, Technology Implementation, and Design and Change Management. Team roles were clarified to “support the design, creation, launch, and sustainment of Amway University.” Each team then created nine unique user personas, profiling characteristics and needs of the employees who would utilize AU. Wittkowski calls the personas invaluable in facilitating “design decisions, change management plans, key stakeholder identification, and interviews of end-users to ensure employees had a voice in building AU.”
Teams overseeing the Leadership Academy, Professional Development, and Functional Schools tracks identified, cataloged, reviewed, and recommended resources and learning assets. They also designed some of the eventual online aspects of each learning focus. The Design and Change Management group aligned content, design, messaging, and the online experience with AU’s guiding principles; interviewed stakeholders; and shaped communications to establish and market AU. The Technology team assumed responsibility for implementing the collaborative tools that would enable Amway’s global employees to access AU.
The council selected Jam, an SAP product, as AU’s platform because it “is designed to function as an enterprise social network and allowed the sharing, discussions, and collaboration that were critical to their vision,” Wittkowski says. “Our Technology team also built integrations to existing resources and created support plans for end-users.”
After a successful pilot involving 1,300 participants, and subsequent adjustments based on their feedback and experiences, Amway University officially opened in August 2014. Change management and communication plans continued to unfold through 2015, enabling successful rollouts worldwide and showcasing the opening of 11 initial Functional Schools within AU.
A Powerful Learning Destination
Since its launch, AU has been visited by 94 percent of Amway’s global workforce, Wittkowski reports. “Communities are being created; employees are contributing content, leveraging the expertise of their global colleagues through forums and discussions, and driving their own development through both traditional and social learning.” Core content is available in 12 languages, and additional Functional Schools are in development.
By early 2016, employee contributions were impressive: On average, 583 monthly blogs, more than 2,300 discussions, more than 4,500 documents, 1,600-plus photos, 1,400 videos, and more than 10,300 wiki pages. Wittkowski and her team continue to refine and improve their metrics, and focus on supporting Amway’s goal of a rich learning culture in which employees can “learn collaboratively and achieve their highest professional goals.”
She calls AU an evolutionary effort: “We understand that the transformation to a learning culture doesn’t just happen, it is cumulative. AU will continue to evolve as we continue to learn what our employees and our company need. We believe in potential, and we aim to inspire achievement.”
Want to Learn More?
To better understand the strategies and practices talent development leaders are using to leverage social learning effectively, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) partnered to research collaborative learning and the approaches that are driving success. The results are reported in Social Learning: Developing Talent Through Connection, Contribution, and Collaboration, which found that 54 percent of learning leaders who shared their insights were actively using social media to support learning in their organizations. The report also examines such questions as:
- Do most organizations embrace social learning?
- How are employees using social media in the workplace?
- With the plethora of platforms and tools available, which ones are organizations using?
- Are concerns justified when it comes to the content workers post online?
- What about the effects on talent development functions—what does social learning use mean for them?