While scouting for more best practices in Talent Development, I had the pleasure of chatting with Donna Tharp and Jean Butts from the Northeast Texas Council of Girl Scouts of America. Their Knowledge Management initiative – with almost 100% volunteers! – garnered them an Axis Award last year. Here are some of their thoughts.
Q: What led you to move from a more traditional training approach to a micro-learning approach?
A: Watching trends evolve in learning, we discovered that our learners are less willing to give up hours and travel to attend training. They are volunteers, and it’s about the balance of value vs. time, so it becomes very important to deliver value in an expedient way. We also observed the pendulum swinging too far in “the make it fast / make it easy” direction, with the result that we lost some of our value. The GSNETX Learning Channel was created to restore and build value.
Q: Why did you select Facebook as your delivery mechanism for your micro-learning initiative (vs. Linked In, Twitter, blogs, etc.?)
A: Why did we select Facebook vs Linked In vs Twitter?
- Because our learners are already there, no additional username / passwords required.
- Facebook is 24/7 – it’s not once and done.
- Facebook makes use of hashtags, which means that everything that we publish can be curated and retrieved.
Now, about crowd sourcing answers: if it’s an important question, then the answers should be accurate and clear, free from emotions. It was in that intersection that the seed for the GSNETX Learning Channel (GLC) was born. We observed many online community interactions full of questions, partial answers, misdirection - and frequently found golden nuggets of wisdom. That’s when we knew that we had potential to create something easily consumable that held real value and make a difference.
Q: You relied heavily on volunteers to develop and publish this curriculum. How did you engage them and work with them to deliver quality content?
A: We were blessed that we already had an existing team of volunteer facilitators for in-person macro learning courses. Within that group we found 10 volunteers to get us started with one post per day the first year. Once we were successful, we mined our community interest group for folks who could write well and asked them to begin writing for us.
We provided the GLC Authors with a “How to write a GLC Post” Memo and the list of hashtags and ask them to write 4 or 5 posts per month, read/edit when necessary, and curate the photos. We developed a work plan to get ahead of the posts by 4-6 weeks so that we can edit, prepare and schedule posts for publishing at one time, freeing up the next 3 to 4 weeks, freeing us to work on other projects.
We found with volunteers, it is crucial to build strong relationships, ask directly, be specific about what you need, and describe the benefits to them. Then praise, feedback, and more praise – frequent and consistent!
Q: How did you market the program and get buy-in from your troop leaders to complete it?
A: 1) First, we have volunteers take out their phones and connect to the Learning Channel at our new leader onboarding welcome session. We’ve also added it to the training page on our website, and integrated it into our official volunteer publications.
2) We announced our launch in an existing GS Community of Interest for local leaders with a jump to our page pinned at the top of the group.
3) We also shared information about our page with administrative volunteers who are influencers in the organization and asked them to help us connect people to the page.
4) Finally, we crowd source ideas and pictures from the volunteer community group to use in our learning posts. As people see that “they” could be highlighted, they are more likely to engage and enjoy and participate.
Q: How has the shift to micro-learning impacted your troop leaders’ ability to perform their role well?
A: Questions of desperation in community groups have decreased, AND we notice volunteers who are not authors using information we published to answer questions, as well. We now have dozens of experienced volunteers who can answer questions with accuracy! Additionally, new volunteers have liked our page and the support we gave them so much that they, in their 2nd year, are joining the learning channel as authors. Leaders building leaders more quickly through micro-learning!
Q: What other resources have you put in place to reinforce adoption of the content and ensure its application?
A: For longer content, we introduced “mini-macros” this year by creating “Events” in Facebook. Event promotions are seen by our followers on their walls, giving them the chance to RSVP. The content of each event, however, has its own URL, which keeps all posts inside the event collected together. Each Learning Event is focused on a single topic and features a series of 10 posts to tell a more in-depth story.
We have also piloted an “official” Community of Practice (CoP) called “New Leader Academy”. This differs slightly from the Community of Interest mentioned above in that it is limited specifically to Year 1 Leaders only; has planned interactions and engagement opportunities; and has dedicated mentors to catch questions and point members to answers and resources.
Q: What advice would you give to an organization considering a similar type of initiative?
A: 1) Find someone with strong left-brain capacity who thinks like an engineer, can break the big picture down into the details, organize and manage those details in project format and then gently but effectively bug people to set and meet deadlines.
2) Think about what the Big Buckets are in your organization and assign those – with hashtags - to the days of the week, like programming a television guide.
3) Create a guiding codex or library of hashtags organized by your topical daily theme, which will give you a publishing structure to adhere to.
4) Remember that a post is generally only 2 to 3 sentences with a picture. Think also of related content that fits within the larger topic and assign hashtags to those as well.