How innovative leadership can kickstart a smart learning enterprise

If you're lucky, once every so often in your career, you'll get to join forces with a woman like Karen Paterson, the British founder of Patersons Global HR & Payroll, and a woman who's marked up no less than three 'Entrepreneur of the Year' awards.  

Without a doubt, Karen is a maverick in her field.  For starters, she is small, feminine and sparky, in marked contrast to the grey suits who run most of the world's fast growth IT companies.   A fearless decision maker, Karen is always keen to adopt new and innovative ideas, as long as you can stand your ground and convince her you've got an idea with legs.

Back in 2007, I was hit with this particular 'lucky stick' when Karen offered me a new role as head of Online Tools, Websites & Marketing at Patersons.  An unusual position, it enabled me to step across departments and countries, managing the development of collaborative tools and web-based communities, promotional webinars, online marketing and knowledge share initiatives.

Karen had a vision to make Patersons a smart learning enterprise and this, I believe, was a key factor in helping the business expand over three continents in double quick time.  

So how did Karen direct the creation of a smart learning culture, and what lessons might other business leaders take away from her example?

1. Enable The Workforce With Collaborative Tools

Instant Messaging
As a tech-savvy CEO, Karen was quick to see the benefits of giving her workforce access to online communication tools.  For example, everyone was setup with a customised version of the Instant Messaging tool Pidgin, which allowed Patersons global team to interact quickly and efficiently across countries and time zones.

This simple but highly effective tool helped us get things done far more quickly on a daily basis.  Support team members rapidly gathered answers to live support client issues from the development team, project management or IT.  Co-workers across locations could help each other solve work issues, provide informal learning support or answer questions on the fly.  You could instantly check if people were in the building or not, without having to make calls or leave your desk.  Also, Instant Messaging enables conversations between several people, increasing the opportunity to share important information highlights in real time.

When used with a bit of humour and politeness, Instant Messaging can be a great way to support relationship building within your business.  Informal chatter helps people to get to know and like each other, and in turn, work better together.

Web Conferencing
Web conferencing is another tool that made a big difference to productivity. Karen green-lighted the use of this technology and made sure it was made widely available at Patersons, encouraging and supporting live conversations, presentations, show-and-tell and training sessions across the organisation on a daily basis.   As a working mum, Karen understood better than most that flexible working arrangements can help keep your workforce sane and productive.  As a result, many people worked from home, or in the field, and web conferencing ensured that everyone could keep in the loop and collaborate regardless of location.

Wikis and Document Share
Wikis and Document Share websites were also setup to enable teams and experts to share documents, knowledge and resources within a live, editable website environment.  Virtual Private networks ensured this data remained safe and secure whether it was accessed inside or outside the company buildings.


2. Create a Knowledge-Sharing, Collaborative Community

One of Karen's major ideas was Patersons Community website, a custom-built online portal which provided knowledge resources to potential clients, customers, partners and employees.

As well as providing online User Guides, Forums and FAQs, the Community played host to a series of bi-weekly webinar events.  By last summer, the Community had over 7000 members, and had presented webinars to over 800 attendees.

As well as running webinars to promote Patersons core offer, Karen saw additional value in giving our audience access to expertise and research devised by other leaders in the field of Global HR & Payroll.  These events proved to be of great interest to our audience, and helped position Patersons as a organisation that appreciated the value of sharing and collaboration.

The product webinars aimed at new and old customers also had the added benefit of helping to keep sales and client management teams up-to-speed on the latest product initiatives in a concise and easy-to-absorb manner.

3. Commit to High Quality Online, OnDemand Training

More formal training was also highly valued by Karen.  This was demonstrated by her investment in a dedicated in-house team that produced high quality elearning modules and assessments within a custom-built Learning Management System (LMS).  Her business reasoning was that the more deeply our clients and employees understood the workings of our software, the less likely they were to need more costly customer support services.

I count myself lucky that I had the chance to work with a CEO like Karen, who really understood the importance of online collaboration and learning as a means to drive better business results.

Without her visionary thinking and leadership, the company would probably have chugged along in the slow lane, unable to take full advantage of the global business opportunities on offer.  And I would never have had this great opportunity to learn how to manage the development of such a wide range of collaborative initiatives.

Oh and least I forget, I should also mention Patersons vision won another major accolade when the business was awarded 'Fast Growth Business of The Year 2010' at last year's Fast Growth Business Awards.

If you happen to be a business entrepreneur or leader who's wondering how to make 2011 a much better year for your business or organisation, perhaps it's time to take a leaf from Karen's book.

For more information on how to improve your performance with collaborative and social tools, why not get in touch with The Loop. We'll be happy to chat further about initiatives that could actively support your business objectives for 2011.