Imagine any scenario in which one of your employees needs to learn something, and you might guess that their first instinct will be to search the internet for relevant material. They put keywords into the search bar, hit enter, and instantly receive thousands of hits that might be useful. Yikes!
They may start skimming over results, but your employee (and you!) might wonder whether these are credible sources, whether the information is accurate, which will be most relevant to your context, and which have the best summary or advice – none of which is immediately obvious. Seldom will people go much farther than the first page of links to pick a place to start, and yet the most rich and relevant material may indeed be just beyond your employee’s scrolling limit.
It’s a lucky accident when people find exactly what they need. With this situation in mind (a situation that occurs millions of times a day, I suspect, across the internet), it’s easy to imagine why curation can be an important aspect of supporting employee development. In fact, frustration with finding the best learning resources is one of the developmental hurdles people complain about with some frequency.
Curating resources to support other people’s development is a somewhat misunderstood concept. At its core, of course, curation is about making specific recommendations. As a leader, you may find yourself sending recommendations to your entire team, or giving specific recommendations to one person. Many of your curated recommendations will be one-off – things that you think people will be interested in at a point in time. But you may also decide to put together several suggestions for a particular learning need (all at once, or in a series over time).
Whatever your purpose and intended audience, keep in mind that the art of curating is rich, and the results are more than a bunch of items on a list. Curating learning resources for employees doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be thought-through.
The state of the art
The concept of curation is partially borrowed from experts in museums. And their work goes beyond gathering items for display. We’d do well by emulating their practices:
Finding and filtering. Museum curators know where to look for materials relevant to their collections, and they use their best judgement to discern which will be most appreciated. Use that same know-where and judgment in making recommendations to your employees – do the work of assessing credibility, quality, and relevance before forwarding materials that look interesting. This is especially true when you’re only sharing a few options; use your knowledge and experience to identify the best resources.
Contextualizing and connecting. In signage and catalogs, museum curators take pains to describe why each piece is important, and they make linkages to other items in the collection to help people see relationships among items and the unique contributions of each. Your employees, too, can benefit from your pointing out how the item you are passing along fits into recent conversations and enriches what you know they’ve already understood. Just a few sentences that explain why you think people will find the item interesting and where they will find the most impactful content within the material provides enough context to help people set their intentions in exploring the material you recommend.
Facilitating learning and calling to action. Museum curators have an educational mission and sometimes desire people to take action based on what they’ve learned. That comes through in their communications and tour guide scripts as well as the storytelling and revelatory juxtapositions that prompt both reaction and action. In your role as a people developer, you can ask questions, engage discussion, and request feedback to get people to deepen their learning and consider how key ideas from the material can be applied in their work.
Annotating your curated resources
Next time you decide to pass on an article or video, or point out a book or conference, take a bit more time to put a developmental spin on that recommendation. Practice the art of curating, and comment briefly on the suggestions you make:
- Describe what the item is and how it’s relevant.
- Point out the specific value you think the employee can gain from the material and which sections are most important to that end.
- Prompt learning by suggesting avenues for reflection, identifying application opportunities, or starting a dialog.
That little bit of packaging ensures that your recommendations get attention and lead to the learning outcomes you and your employee desire.
In short, ia world of chronic information overload, don’t underestimate the value of curating resources to support employee development. Providing recommendations saves employees from hours of frustrating search time and time-consuming rabbit holes, and helps them to use their precious time for focused learning instead. But remember: “Aggregation without curation is just a big pile of stuff.” (Steven Rosenbaum)
This post is part of a series exploring the moves leaders can make to promote development of their teams and employees. Check out the entire developing people series. And please get in touch if I can help you to aquaint your leadership team with these moves and the details of practices that ensure they are effective. I can offer a workshop and other learning materials on the subject.