During times of crisis, some the best initiatives can come from the ground up, said Marcia Conner, managing director of Ageless Learner and consultant to two Fortune 30 chief learning officers. For this reason, organizations should capitalize on the interest and dedication of their employees.
“Consider adding a supercool, bottom-up grassroots component to your education efforts,” Conner wrote in a November Fast Company column. “Every activity that helps people become mindful about their role as educators ups the conversation about learning in the workplace and leads to people learning more.”
Companies can facilitate grassroots efforts by implementing an enterprise-wide application for workers to initiate learning on topics they’re interested in. If a small group forms and participants can find their own instructor, organizations should encourage it, Conner said.
“This self-organizing model offers a vehicle for people to enroll in and teach class[es] on topics interesting to only a few people. And it gets more instructors, not fewer, excited about teaching what they know,” she wrote.
These ground-up efforts cost organizations next to nothing and can help engage employees during a critical period of uncertainty; in the midst of massive layoffs and shrinking budgets, employees might be more comfortable (and productive) if they feel their organizations are taking a vested interest in their development.
The social networking component also appeals specifically to younger generations. In her article, Conner explained how Booz Allen Hamilton is piloting a Craigslist-type program that offers a “hub for people offering and seeking goods: education, learning and the teaching that leads to wider knowledge transfer and deeper responsibility throughout the organization.”
However, the implementation of grassroots initiatives might not work in every industry. At the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for example, there are compliance and security issues that might prevent this kind of “formalized” casual learning to take place.
“As you can understand, we have an extremely large amount of sensitive data,” said Mitch Chazan, chief of the Web Integration, Collaboration and Development branch at the IRS. “Security has always been a big issue. It gets more and more important every year as new types of hacks and viruses are developed.”
In these cases, perhaps other grassroots-style efforts, such as job shadowing or swapping, can apply. It’s worth exploring because now’s the time for organizations to focus attention on the resources they already have — their employees — and make sure they’re maximizing their potential while taking it easy on the bottom line.
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