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At this point, I expect that most of you are asking yourself “Huh?”  Ora na azu nwa is a Nigerian proverb which translates to “It takes a community/village to raise a child.”  I’m sure that many of you are familiar with this saying and its meaning.  I bring this forward as a metaphor for what I want to discuss in this entry, and that is: “It takes an organization to develop its talent.”

I think that most would agree that in the big picture, many things end up coming full circle. If we think for a moment about the way that societies developed, for hundreds if not thousands of years, there was a strong reliance on community.  People collaborated with, borrowed from, and generally helped out their neighbors.  For most of that time, their neighbors were physical neighbors and their communities were physical communities, meaning interactions were limited to those that lived in close proximity.  Within that context of neighbors and communities, different people brought different strengths to the table, and communities worked because where one was weak, another was strong and vice versa. Some hunted while others gathered.  Some primarily used their hands while others primarily used their minds.  The balance of things worked and, although oftentimes unspoken, there was a reliance on and an understanding of the fact that it worked because everyone played their part.

Then, technology ushered in an era where people had such an incredible wealth of information at their fingertips that many turned to an attitudinal approach of self-sufficiency (i.e., a sort of “I will figure out my own way through this” type of mentality), supported by the plethora of information and resources that were readily available.  Parents started to get concerned that children would get “lost” in the world of the internet and wouldn’t be involved in their communities or able to relate to “real people” in the manner that they had when they grew up. 

The emerging reality, powered by technology and innovation, is that people are still engaging in communities and relating to their neighbors.  It is simply that the manner in which people relate and in which communities are formed, defined, and operate, is changing.  We are no longer dependent on the physical constraints of the communities of our past.  But the core of what people are doing is the same, both virtually and physically.  In other words, within these newly forming and defined communities, the core principles of community remain the same: where some have needs, others still have solutions.  And this is the takeaway that we need to begin to operationalize – how do we help to create communities in which people can relate to and help one another with their learning and development needs?  How can we enable the organization to develop its own talent?

This is where the idea of People-First Learning comes into play.  People-First Learning is a concept that is based on the very simple principle, indicated by its name, that the learner begins by connecting with other people (vs. connecting to content).  This allows the learner to provide context around their learning need and in turn allows advisors, within the specific context of the need, to provide advice, expertise, knowledge, etc.  The importance of content does not go away.  In addition to sharing expertise, experience, and other anecdotal advice, an advisor may end up directing a learner to content, but it will be more valuable because it will be done so in the context of the learner’s specific needs.

In the same manner that people have shown a strong willingness to connect with and even conduct business with those that they have never and will never meet (e.g., eBay), our experience with our clients proves that people are also willing to provide advice to and learn from those same “strangers.”  As learning professionals, it is our challenge to develop strategies and systems that empower them to relate to these virtual neighbors and establish communities centered around learning.

Organizations of even a modest size almost always have the vast majority, if not all, of the knowledge and expertise that they need for everyone in the organization to be successful already contained within their knowledge ecology.  The trick is figuring out how to make that knowledge and expertise readily available to all.  This was the goal of more traditional KMS (Knowledge Management System) solutions when they started to become en vogue 15 or so years ago, and for the most part, they fell short of meeting that goal, largely because those systems focused on connecting people to content.  If they had a people to people component, it was often an afterthought and/or did not get implemented well. 

This is where an enterprise mentoring solution like Open Mentoring® comes into play. Regardless of client, our high-level goal is the same: to help all of our clients create enterprise-level, People-First learning and knowledge sharing cultures.  The shift that is actively occurring is that organizations are “loosening the reigns” around who can be involved in mentoring.  While still necessary here and there within organizations, the focus on formal, controlled, limited participation programs (e.g., for High Potential Development) is moving to a focus on creating enterprise-level mentoring cultures where the entirety of the organization’s human capital is made available to whole organization.  The result is the emergence of true People-First Learning and the ability for organizations to effectively and holistically develop their own talent.