Companies typically face three big problems in managing their skills base: Normal learning approaches require too much time to scale up relevant knowledge. Hiring for new skills is expensive and also too slow. And skills from new hires are rarely properly shared.
Businesses of all types have fought to solve these problems. Some conduct ever more advanced offsite or onsite seminars and training – but these are costly, take time, and don’t adapt fast enough to incoming needs of the business and teams. Online training is often perceived as a hassle and participants can become disengaged. Other companies try to jump-start knowledge by bringing in consultants, but this risks only temporarily plugging the gaps.
The reality is that most of these efforts involve throwing money at only the immediate problem. Few budgets can meet the continuous need for up-to-the-minute learning and training, particularly in fast-evolving tech areas such as programming languages, software development, containerization, and cloud computing.
A fresh approach is needed
A handful of companies have found a solution. They’re adding community-driven learning to their existing training approaches. They recognize the wealth of knowledge held by individuals in their teams, and create an agile, natural process to share this knowledge via hands-on workshops. This is a logical progression from existing efforts to connect staff for social bonding and business collaboration.
In practice, what these companies do is create an open, well-managed community of trainers and trainees from within their staff base. Trainees (any employee) feed into a wish list of the specific skills and areas that they want to learn. Trainers (who are staff members with regular, non-training roles) offer lessons on skills or knowledge that they excel in. It is a system open to everyone, with managers, who understand the incoming strategic requirements of the business, helping to prioritize topics and identify potential trainers.
To succeed in this approach, businesses need good leadership and appropriate time allocation. It starts with Chief Technology or Chief Information Officers, who must endorse the importance that the company places on tech innovation, by actively facilitating employees to spend 10 to 20% of their time learning or training others. Once a learning initiative has begun and is nurtured and adapted, it often grows quickly as staff see others taking part.
The results we’re seeing from community learning at GfK
There have been some powerful results for companies running community-driven learning. At GfK, we provide consumer, market, and brand intelligence, with powerful predictive analytics. Since we began our own community-driven learning initiatives three years ago, we’ve witnessed compelling improvements. Our teams can initiate targeted, in-house training whenever necessary, with zero red tape. This has delivered a significant growth in innovation. We’re attracting and retaining top talent, and there are marked improvements in our speed of adaptability.
For example: We swapped initial hackathons for two-day learning events, run five times a year, called “we.innovate”. Our tech teams have full access to these staff-delivered interactive lessons and workshops. The skills covered are shaped by a combination of staff requests and the specific strategic needs of the business. Among the 40 or so topics on the list, we’ve already covered Kubernetes, basic and advanced usage of Git software to track code changes, domain-driven design approaches to software development, cloud computing, cyber security, test-driven development, and much else besides.
Hundreds of our staff have participated in our community learning, and we constantly encourage people to step up as trainers to keep things fresh and relevant. We measure progress by monitoring engagement levels and what the average level of expertise is per individual.
As we have experienced, this is a self-accelerating process. The scale of participation grows fast, meaning the results quickly become transformative at company level. Innovation is the currency of the future, and we are growing ours by drawing out our employees’ substantial individual expertise and distributing it as widely as possible.
To find out more about our innovation, visit gfk.com/careers