Microsoft 365 knowledge & learning versus training

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By Linda Parkinson-Hardman on

Microsoft 365 knowledge & learning versus training – Context not Content

Too often ‘user adoption’ focuses on providing “wheel them in, wheel them out” training. That’s fine when you’ve made a change everyone MUST adopt, for example when you change from one time recording system to another that all staff must use. But what happens when you’re providing a suite of tools staff can choose to use or not, such as Microsoft 365? Whilst training still has a part to play, it’s not the content that matters, but the context.

Context wins out over content every single time, it doesn’t matter if someone is at work or in their home life, if the context for change makes no sense to them, they won’t engage.

This is a better way of explaining the oft used marketing concept ‘what’s in it for me?’.

But, too many times I hear this phrase trotted out without really understanding the fundamental concept it points towards which is that the recipient is always going to be in the driving seat – it doesn’t matter how much your organisation desires a change to take place, unless it is mandatory AND there is no other option, then individuals always have choice.

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As a way of illustrating this, I’d like to share one of the activities we do with many of our clients to help them maximise adoption of Microsoft 365.

Before we implement any sort of knowledge and learning programme, we do a knowledge needs assessment. This isn’t really designed to assess ‘what’ people know, but the behaviours they have now that will support or undermine the desired outcomes. For example, we ask questions related to sentiment and work styles, as well the sorts of applications they currently use to do specific tasks related to the strategic goals set at the beginning of the project.

Recently, we’ve been doing a lot of Microsoft Teams rapid deployment with clients to help them address an immediate need for home working driven by the coronavirus pandemic. And we developed a short, 13 question survey we could tailor to each client.

When we analysed the results of these surveys though what we’ve noticed is two things across all clients:

  • Even though email use to share files internally drops significantly – it doesn’t stop and is still high by comparison to other methods.
  • The use of 3rd party applications to share files is higher than expected at the outset and remains high even after Teams has been implemented.

This gives us a clear message that there are still staff for whom the context of sharing via Teams still doesn’t make sense. That could be for a variety of reasons; perhaps they didn’t attend the online training sessions or perhaps their colleagues don’t share files with them – making them less likely to adopt the behaviour by osmosis; or perhaps they just don’t want to!

Whatever the reason, because this is about choice and as there is little likelihood of turning off Outlook or blocking access to third party applications their working style can continue unchecked.

To be honest, this isn’t the problem it appears to be, after all if they are doing the job, should we worry about how they get it done?

The answer to that question is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ because again, it depends on the context.

If staff work mostly on their own documentation with little collaboration needed, and yes there are still many office jobs that work in this way, then it’s unlikely to have any great impact in the short to medium term.

However, if these staff work with many shared documents, such as Excel workbooks, then they could potentially hold up their colleague’s workflow because they effectively ‘lock’ the documents in silos they cannot get out of.

Microsoft 365 training is never going to address these two scenarios because it’s not the ‘how’ they need to know, it’s the ‘why’ and that is what context is all about. And this is borne out by our survey.

What we’ve also found is that it isn’t lack or acquisition of skills that drive this behaviour, the personal rating people give themselves across a range of skill sets does not correlate with the use of specific applications. Again, it appears the determining factor is context. For example, even in organisations where Skype for Business has been the only messaging application for several years, the skills set around uncommon behaviours such as sharing screens was lower than might have been expected in all the organisation’s we surveyed given the length of time the application has been available.

To overcome this inertia, a range of knowledge and learning opportunities must be made available which addresses both how and why they use Microsoft 365. After all, the process of learning is irrelevant if no real knowledge is acquired.

This is the reason why we’ve banned the word training from our vocabulary at Silversands, and instead we work with knowledge and learning.

Knowledge involves understanding, comprehension and mastery. It’s about acquiring, sustaining, growing, sharing and applying information to achieve an organisational impact.

Knowledge helps us plan what people need to know in order to make the desired behaviour change. We do this by mapping personas and scenarios onto the strategic goals of the organisation. Once mapping is completed, the required knowledge is added to the matrix. We also encourage clients to help their users develop a minimum set of digital skills, defined by the Government’s Essential Digital Skills Framework:

  • Digital foundation skills
  • Handling information and content
  • Communicating
  • Transacting
  • Problem solving
  • Being safe and legal online

When the knowledge plans are complete, we focus on Learning. Learning helps an organisation structure the opportunities people will have to acquire knowledge, and training is just one of these.

Going back to our short Microsoft Teams deployment survey we noticed that respondents in every company had similar preferences:

  1. Assistance from others around me
  2. Web based information from the company
  3. Email hints and tips
  4. Learning on my own through trial and error
  5. Contacting the service desk
  6. Printed training materials and classroom style instructor lead training

Image: Knowledge Survey

The primary preference for asking a knowledgeable colleague would suggest that the introduction of a champion’s network would add immense value to the development of ongoing knowledge needs of an organisation as it (and Microsoft 365) matures.

However, it would be great if we could assume that these learning preferences held true across the entirety of an individual’s experience in the workplace, but research consistently shows that the way we acquire knowledge, which is then turned into skills, differs according to the outcome we expect. Staff in your organisation are no different and we know that not everyone who could attend a webinar, attends one. Whilst we aren’t worried by that, our clients often are, assuming that if staff hadn’t been ‘trained’ they wouldn’t know what to do.

But there are many reasons why people don’t engage, ranging from the purely practical like not having time or being sick or on leave, to the less obvious such as the perception of need.

However, having a ‘good enough’ number of influential people engaged can sometimes be all you need to tip the balance in favour of a change in behaviour. In this case, how you measure influence matters, and it all comes back to that knowledgeable friend. When these people engage, they influence people around them in ways you cannot anticipate, and they will help others out if they are struggling with some activity.

By far the best way to develop this is through some sort of champion’s network. But I must stress that this is not an excuse to offset the responsibility of user knowledge and learning on to a largely ‘unpaid’ (in the context of this role) workforce through a train the trainer programme. Instead I’m advocating building an internal business development network with knowledge at its heart, which empowers people to come together and share their experiences and ideas, creating the seeds that germinate in other areas.

A good champion’s network is the next logical step when an organisation works with context rather than content because it moves context up a level into concept.

Take a very simple example around document storage. Content would tell people how to upload a document to Teams or OneDrive, Context would say that OneDrive is for personal documents and Teams is for those things you’re working on together. A concept on the other hand would help people ask themselves what it is they need to do to achieve the objective, and in many cases, this might not even be a document!

Concepts underpin our understanding of the world around us, and context is how they show up in our lives and environments.

How can we help?

At Silversands we have a dedicated Adoption and Change Management Practice which follows the Proscii methodology promoted by Microsoft. We are prolific bloggers and run regular events that you may be interested in as well.

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