Could You Crowd-Source Your Next Training Program?

Crowd-sourcing, in which a challenge or problem is posed to the public online with the solution hopefully arrived at by masses of people pooling their ideas together, has possible application to the corporate world. In particular, what if your company used its intranet to crowd-source among your employees the company’s top five challenges for 2014?

An article on by Amy Alexander got me thinking about this. In the piece, “Want to Shape Future? Shake Out Ideas, Bottom to Top,” Alexander tells the story of Brasilata, a can-making company in Brazil, which revolutionized the business challenge process by relying heavily on its low-level employees for ideas.

“The firm’s chiefs ask staff—bottom to top—what they think could be done better. That shapes the future at a rate of 150 ideas per employee per year, with 90 percent of all those staff-cranked eurekas put into practice,” Alexander writes.

I’ve always believed those who have the best ideas about how to fix or improve a business are those on the front lines, or those who are carrying out a company’s day-to-day plans. Those people usually are not high-level executives, but entry- and mid-level employees. In fact, I never believed that sitting in an office and coming up with ideas or offering “critiques” of others’ work alone should even count as a job. So, this idea of tapping an organization from the ground up for change appeals to me.

Those at “ground level,” after all, have a stake in fixing or improving an organization because doing so often means improving the quality of their work life. For instance, if a company’s customer relationship management system isn’t working properly, or isn’t being optimized, who is going to suffer the most (next to your customers)? The employees who have to help or sell to those customers.

If you can crowd-source solutions for your top business challenges from the ground up, can you also crowd-source training programs? I thought maybe an experiment might be called for in which you designate a training program’s content to be crowd-sourced. Let’s say you need a sales training program for a new product line. Instead of having a corporate training or learning professional planning the program with the sales manager, what if you started the process of letting the sales staff know about the upcoming product release? You could explain, having them sign confidentiality agreements if necessary, what the new product does, why it is being launched at this particular time, and what you would like customers to know about it.

Once educated, you ask the sales associates what they need to know to sell this product. You might be surprised how little experienced, successful salespeople need to be ready to sell a new product. Or, just the opposite, maybe you’ll find there are details about the product you never would have thought to teach them about that they feel are important to understand. For example, maybe they think it would be helpful to know how minor repairs of the product can be done—because they anticipate questions from savvy customers concerned about potential repair needs. Maybe they’ve found in the past that customers often are hesitant to invest in a product that requires difficult repairs.

You can even crowd-source leadership development programs. Just ask your pool of high-potential employees what they want to ask your top executives, and how they would approach putting together a leadership program if they were in your (the trainer’s) shoes. It’s a potentially fun exercise that forces hi-pos to think the way they will need to when they are company leaders—when the day comes for them to work with trainers to put together leadership development programs. At the same time, of course, it allows you to craft a leadership program that fits their collective vision.

Are you ready for this experiment? What training program will you decide to crowd-source from the ground up? Or are you doing this already? What tips can you pass along to other companies that want to try crowd-sourced training?