How To Pitch The Value of Personal Learning Networks to a CEO – Wise or Folly?

After four weeks of participating in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks cMOOC, it has come to this.

Our pitch to the CEO on the value of personal learning networks.  In fact, through the various readings, discussion and activities of the previous three weeks, we have been building up to this point to undertake the following activity:

Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.

First Thoughts

My first thoughts when I read this paragraph was that this is going to be a simple task. When you believe in something, it’s not hard to influence others to see what you’re seeing. Or is it? My second thought was that we have a full hour with the CEO.  Usually it takes a long time to get into their diary and set up a meeting so with a full hour with them, it indicates that they’ve taken this topic seriously and really want to hear what you have to say.

My Worlds Collide

While participating in this cMOOC, there were things happening in my real life at work that linked the theory of what we were learning to the real life practicalities of working in a corporate environment.  For example, I was invited to be a part of a working group to inspire more users of our division onto Yammer (I think mainly inspired because of what I did at the People Day event) and secondly, every day I would have requests from people to “ask your networks what I knew about x and y” or “what do your networks say about a, b and c“.

That is, word was getting out there that I was someone who was connected.  I can get answers for the questions they were asking quickly.

Something didn’t sit right with me with that.

All of a sudden what was my PERSONAL learning network, the network that I built, created, maintained, nurtured and trusted could be up for exploitation by others who don’t have any.

So this assignment wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. If PLNs were going to be used in the organisation like this, why would I want to share mine with others?

Now I was considering doing a runner.


Go on. You knew there would have been a BitStrips cartoon in my blog post somewhere.

A Supportive PLN and G+ Community Understood The Dilemma

We discussed this concept with a small group of participants on the Explorer Personal Learning Networks MOOC. You can see it here.

The group debated the following questions:

  • Why does the CEO in our problem want to leverage PLNs?
  • Why does he/she think PLNs will help with company success?
  • Why do we think we need to place a structure on PLNs?
  • Why are some organizations successful with internal PLNs?
  • Why do other organizations fail?

What transpired was robust conversation to structure our thinking and make a logical case (whether for or against) on the value of personal learning networks.

So What Did I Do?

I came to the conclusion that I had to look at the organisation and its leaders and see how ready it was for social learning.  That is, it was obvious that the CEO may have thought that this was either going to be another fad or simply, a technological solution that needed to be implemented to get people to be social.

My aim was to dispel these myths and tackle the organisational culture first.  

So in effect, I’m not presenting a case either FOR or AGAINST personal learning networks, simply pointing to the current organisational culture and inspiring a dialogue so that they can see for themselves whether they are ready or not for this cultural shift.

I saw my role as someone who presented the facts that got them thinking and reflecting. I wanted them to see what they had to do for themselves.

Maybe I could guide them through the process but they had to make the hard decisions for themselves because I wanted them to see that they had a major role to play.

This was not something that they could mandate.

I created a fictional corporation called Personal Banking Corporation (and no, it’s nothing like the organisation I’m working for) and decided present slides to the CEO and the Leadership Team with the themes:

  • Where we are today
  • Where we want to be tomorrow
  • Define Peer Networks
  • View a Personal Learning Networks video
  • View a personal story of how a peer network helped colleagues in their lines of work
  • Use an example of a business problem and how we could solve it if we used a peer network and without (and present data and findings). This is where I used my recent example of how I asked my PLN to provide me with any sources on onboarding and induction programs for my job.
  • Talk them through Harold Jarche’s post on the Knowledge Sharing Paradox and Seek, Sense, Share Model
  • Spend some time looking at why peer networks will have its challenges with the current organisational structure – note how my first dot point is that “knowledge sharing is explicitly stated as a core enterprise behaviour” (I wanted to call this slide: “Why Peer Networks Will Fail at PBC” but thought it was too hard-hitting as it was self evident from these points that they’d have other things to address first)
  • Open discussion on slides presented so that CEO and leadership team can see for themselves that it’s not as simple as they thought.


What Are The Tactics I Used?

First of all, I decided to call them “Peer Networks” – I removed the word “learning” as my intention was to remove any preconceived ideas about learning.  I wanted to create a sense that it was just “part of the way we do business – in the workflow”.

Calling it out may have put negative connotations into their minds.  I also didn’t want it to have any connection with the Learning & Development department for fear of them having the concept packaged into a programmed event, formalised, structured, implemented, measured and evaluated.

Also, my assumption was that I was speaking to a CEO and a Leadership Team who were “Cautious Testers”, people who are “pessimistic but understand the need to collaborate because they can see the benefits of involving a greater circle of people.  These people don’t have much hands-on experience with social technologies, but they have some – enough to see the advantages of open leadership, but not quite enough to abandon their command-and-control practices” (1)

Secondly, I decided to use personal stories of people in my PLN.  I asked both Jasmine Malki (@JMalki) and Costas Sotidis (@LearnKotch) to video their personal experiences of how a PLN helped them in their respective role.  I thought personal stories of people outside the organisation would be believable and make them see that this is happening everywhere.

Costas, in particular focusses on the need to nurture, respect and share in order to maintain and retain a personal learning network because in doing so, we help with different ideas and alternative options in our new roles as knowledge workers.  He makes it clear that PLNs are something that we all have – not just the few.

How PLN has helped your role by Jasmine Malki (@JMalki)

How PLN has helped your role by Con Sotidis (@LearnKotch

Thirdly I decided to use a real business problem to explain how peer networks may help in solving them.  In particularly, I used my current role as a developer of Induction programs.  I am in the process of designing a new Induction Program for Store Managers and I asked the question to my PLN on whether they had an good sources of on-boarding and induction programs.  I wrote about it in my blog post Exploring Personal Learning Networks To Help Me in My Job.

I wanted to demonstrate two methods of gaining responses and information.  In the traditional way, we may have generated a survey, collated responses, measured the data and written reports that may have been costly and taken time to develop.  However with social media, we get instant feedback, personal stories, real life examples, people offering other connections, resources and networks – the interaction is richer and provides dialogue and conversations to occur that generate new and alternative ideas that we may not have considered for our induction problem.

In effect, as Maureen Crawford said in her blog, “the strength of a PLN is that nonlinear interactions and engagement results in emergent competence that is distributed across the network”. (2)

Fourthly, I wanted to add the current organisational cultural challenges into the mix so that they could see that there was a disconnect between a networked organisation and an organisation that did not value sharing and collaboration and provided examples such as:

  • Knowledge sharing isn’t explicitly stated as an enterprise behaviour
  • Senior leaders don’t use Yammer
  • Technology does not allow access to external social media sites
  • High turnover of staff in many areas raises questions of why would anyone want to share when they know they’ll be leaving?

The aim of these challenges is to get the CEO to think that there’s a disconnect and that he/she needs to address organisational culture first before becoming a networked organisation.

And it starts with the CEO.

Lastly, I added the last slide because I envisaged that the hour would have bamboozled the CEO and the Leadership Team with a quiet realisation like the one I had at the start of this assignment, “it’s not as easy as I thought”.

The intention was to generate discussion and come up with some ideas to work on the organisational culture first, to discuss what they themselves were prepared to give up or not – and to question their role in the entire process.

Where To From Here?

Although this MOOC has still one week to go before it finishes, I have found it to be valuable and worthwhile in my learning because I could directly apply it to my daily work. Connectivist MOOCs have been one the most instrumental and critical personal development activities I’ve ever completed but I think it’s because I’m a self-directed and willing learner.

If people in organisations could be more like this, we wouldn’t be answering the question, “what’s the value of personal learning networks.”

Recently, it seems my online and real life worlds are colliding.

I sit in a role of “Design Consultant Induction Programs” but I’m being called upon to use my other skills in the social learning space to teach others in the organisation how to use the technology to create and build learning networks.

Many of these requests are coming from outside my own Learning and Development function because I’m active on Yammer.

Last week, I applied for an internal role in our organisation called “Future Skills Strategy Capability”.  I saw it as an opportunity to be in a role that could shape the skills and capabilities needed for a workforce to face the future.

I guess in the new world of organisational change, I’m trying to see where I ‘best fit’ – maybe there is no fit anymore?

The problem is I don’t have experience in this nor have I shaped strategy in previous organisations.  All I had to go by is my own application, experience and actions I have done in the last few years around performance consultancy.

So I needed to make an impact.  I needed to get creative.

I used our company’s recent More Give and Less Take Marketing Campaign to structure an animated video with voice over using photos from our campaign to create “What Do We Need More and Less Of”  and included that in my job application using the application Shadow Puppet to create it.


My gut tells me I won’t get the job but that’s okay because I’m seeing signs that we’re on the right track.


Because we are not like the fictitious company in my MOOC assignment.

If you haven’t already seen the RSA Animate Video on The Power of Networks:

Thank you to my PLN:

Thank you to both Jasmine and Con for their support and assistance when I asked them to do these videos for me. It’s hard to believe that over a year ago, our paths had not crossed but with Twitter and by sharing our learning, showing our work and talking about our passion for what we do and how we can inspire others, what started as being part of our own PLN, I can count them as my friends now.  Thank you.

Thank you also to the Google+ community, in particularly our small group in the Explorer Personal Learning Networks cMOOC who bantered, discussed and deliberated ideas for how we would approach our respective CEOs.  


(1)   Christensen, Karen (2012): Open Leadership: A New Paradigm Emerges and Interview with Charlene Li Available at

(2)  Crawford, Maureen:  Non-Ownership, Outcomes and Competencies Available at

(3)    “Online Jam Spreads Information Mix”, Financial Business Review, 17 April 2013 Available at:

(4) Kamerer, Eric: Introducing Personal Knowledge Management to a Corporate Audience Learning Solutions Magazine, 30 October 2013.  Available At

(5) Hart, Jane: How Do We Deal with Unwilling Corporate Learners? Available at:

About Helen Blunden

My unique super power is that I see learning experiences in everything I do. #alwayslearning
This entry was posted in Development, XPLRPLN and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How To Pitch The Value of Personal Learning Networks to a CEO – Wise or Folly?

  1. Pingback: Personal Learning and Cooperation | Clyde Street

  2. essgarland says:

    Helen this is a wonderful, full-some response to the artifact project for #xplrpln. I love the video’s of Jasmine and Con, their experiences and ability to articulate make them convincing supporters of PLN. Like you I thought this artifact would be easy and even started to write it up before the course started in earnest but ended up in a different place altogether. Unlike myself, you are working in an organisation where the relevancy of social networking is already taking hold (this came out from mcKinsey today which sort of fits in with what you are talking about) I agree there is room for a networking mechanism that organisations can use to reach out and in (maybe, for me, with a little less personal). Thanks so much for making the effort with this. I have learnt from this and good luck with the job. I’d employ you 😉

    Ps I managed to get the Youtube videos on to wordpress by simply pasting the you tube link into “add media” video area (not youtube). I can play my youtube video in my wordpress directly (I’m still learning about wp too!).

  3. Pingback: #PLN for organisations | Personal Knowledge Management with Kneaver

  4. Jeff Merrell says:

    Bravo, Helen. You have such a wonderful way of weaving together a narrative. I love these kinds of posts because they give us all such a clear history of our thinking at a moment in time. Fun to read. And yup – I could definitely see giving this pitch to any number of organizational leaders I know. Great strategy in how to engage them into the thinking.

    One of the more tactical bits that I really liked is your comparison of solving a problem using a network vs. other approaches. Not only was it authentic (because you could give great examples), but I think this creates a really clear picture of what activating a network looks like. It’s more than just being able to get to ONE person through your connections (which is one way to think about networks — “hey – do you know someone who knows Bob?”). If it is a well maintained network (such as yours) it brings together many voices in a short period of time. That may be obvious to many of us – but your comparison with doing a survey really struck me as a great way to make the idea crystal clear to the unfamiliar.

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