We asked Jen Molinaro, Director of Global Talent Development, VF Corporation, to provide some feedback on why its important to learn from others this coming year.

As the business environment changes, flattens, and expands, with advancements in technology greatly increasing our access to information and to each other, it is imperative for learning practitioners to respond by rethinking the ways that people can learn. In my 20-year career as a talent-management consultant and practitioner, I’ve continuously been asked to do more with less, a request that is only increasing today. Although I find this challenge exciting, it demands creativity, curiosity, and the recognition that there are less traditional learning resources and methodologies available to us.

For instance, working for VF Corp, an innovative global apparel and footwear company that is 60,000+ associates strong, I have discovered that learning is happening naturally, without instigation or intervention, and can be found in the organic and autonomous uprising of passion that our associates have for both technology and their areas of expertise.

Here are four ways that we, as learning practitioners, can enable people to learn from others, harnessing the power of their passion despite the constraints of limited budgets and resources.

Helping People Do It Themselves

To build technical content, we have historically leveraged subject-matter experts (SMEs) and have long believed in leaders teaching leaders. However, we have found that recently SMEs are taking the initiative, given their passion for their topic, to develop their own learning content.

Within VF Corp, a lead business architect in our technology function prepared and delivered numerous presentations for different audiences to articulate the role and value she brings to the organization. She has taken it upon herself to adapt her content into digestible, quick learning elements and deliver it to the organization.

In this case, we (talent development) merely acted as the marketer to her effort and resisted the temptation to over-orchestrate her content into formal learning models or frameworks. We believe that her passion, her drive to make this happen, is what will inspire the audience.

Our challenge as learning practitioners: To provide support and partnership for people to craft expert content and encourage their initiative and creativity while not forcing a learning process, model, or template upon them.

Promoting the Creation of Learning Materials

Today, almost anyone can become a code writer, app developer, or videographer, so we’re seeing a rise in user-generated content. Not only do people have the opportunity to advance technologically, but given the ease of access to information, a person can become relatively expert in almost anything.

In the last year, we’ve seen several instances where organizations capitalized on user-generated buzz for marketing purposes (Damn Daniel and his white Vans, Kohl’s and Chewbacca Mom). As learning practitioners, we should apply such approaches to the purpose of learning.

Our challenge as learning practitioners: To find the right content from within our organizations, appropriately exploit the technology, and effectively frame the learning. This does not include changing or editing the content. We should also be willing to encourage, reward, and recognize the efforts that our associates make to positively impact the lives of others through technology-based learning content.

Encouraging the Development of Communities of Practice

Communities of practice (CoP) are continuing to surface as a social-learning activity with high business impact. Often, these are groups that form organically and are made up of peers across an organization that are responsible for the same or similar functions or share the same interest—for instance, marketing leaders across product lines, talent-development leaders focused on retail populations, or strategists aligned to different brands.

The main objectives of such groups are to create a learning environment, share best practices, and gain efficiencies to then apply them in their respective businesses. For groups that are more mature or tenured, they may even begin to craft work streams or deliverables that have an impact across the organization.

Our challenge as learning practitioners: To nurture these groups, support their efforts, and increase their impact, marshalling CoPs as cross-functional learning environments for those that may not have domain knowledge or be a typical team member.

Focusing on Social Learning

Although learning from others (social learning) is not a new topic, it is one that in 2017, we should see emphasized as part of our learning investments and programs. Two of the biggest opportunities we have as learning practitioners are, first, to shape the points of view on social learning in our organizations and, second, to guide learners to the most relevant and current content that matches our values and beliefs and supports our internal human-capital systems.

In the absence of having a strong organizational philosophy, values, and guiding principles about talent practices, leaders are left to wonder if practices such as eliminating performance ratings have been considered, or if the practices are even a good idea—or, worse, they come to their own conclusions.

Our challenge as learning practitioners: To get ahead of the social-learning curve by clearly defining our organizational point of view on learning and talent, and to create guidelines that support our point of view (for example, trusted sources, toolkit for engagement, embedment into existing programs). Also, we must provide easy access to those trusted sources via social networks (like Yammer) to guide self-directed learning.

If we meet these challenges and are open to adapting our roles as learning practitioners, 2017 will be a good year for learning from others.

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Jen Molinaro

Jen Molinaro is the Director of Global Talent Development of VF Corporation. She joined VF in October 2014 and is responsible for leading integrated talent development solutions that support the company’s strategy, including executive succession and development, assessment and learning, and engagement and measurement.
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