Published on March 8, 2014
Enablement communities – or communities of practice, depending on your functional specialty – are becoming very popular for organizations dealing with the pressures of operating a business in today’s fast changing environment. While a multitude of factors are driving change, the impact is consistent; organizations need to respond to stakeholder demands faster, with greater specificity, innovation, and ever-increasing levels of service. To keep pace with evolving market expectations, organizations are developing workforce structures that are more fluid and dynamic with decision- making authority. The information required to make decisions is being distributed throughout the organization. This change in organizational design establishes a new competency that must be pervasive throughout the organization, that competency is the learn-network-share competency. Accelerating innovation, product quality, and service exponentially without dramatically raising labor costs requires a workforce that can stay at or near the forefront of knowledge relating to their respective professions and industry. As the front line of knowledge advances with breakneck speed, organizations are turning to community efforts, realizing their formal training systems were not designed to deliver to these new workforce requirements. Essentially, the ‘half-life’ of knowledgeisgettingshorter,requiringorganizations to embrace new technologies to support more effective life-long professional development. Modern organizations are embracing community efforts because they need to distribute the knowledge development responsibility across the organization. They need solutions that provide for: • Capturing and sharing new internal knowledge • Curating external knowledge • Identifying and providing networking opportunities with subject matter experts inside and outside the organization • Indexing knowledge to aid discovery and internal usage • Evolving the knowledge base using process feedback Communityinitiativesarenowhelpingtheworkforce at many of the worlds leading organizations. BraveNewTalenthasseencustomerinterestinonline communities grow rapidly at many of the Global 1000 companies. A good example of this trend is Zappos, which has just announced they would attempt to transition to the ultimate enablement community model, redesigning their organization as a holacracy. Best Practices For Building Online Enablement Communities
Learning theory experts have talked about enablement communities or communities of practice since the 1990’s. While the terms we use today may be relatively new, the core structure, goals, and key activities that characterize an enablement community have quite a long history. Before we had online community environments, professionals captured and shared knowledge through writings and speaking, and before that, men and women formed guilds to share knowledge and translate that knowledge into skilled labor. In essence,whattodaywecallacommunityofpractice is, in reality, the evolution of apprenticeships and guilds. This evolution now enables scaling. One-to-few knowledge sharing environments are highly effective at producing skills transfer in limited numbers, but they are not as great at driving consistency across large audiences, fostering innovation, or maximizing labor force productivity – three things modern organizations depend upon. Innovation often occurs when someone is presented with a challenge or opportunity they previously did not know how to solve, and either devises a new method using existing approaches, or conceives of an entirely new approach. As many organizations have become larger and more complex, learning and opportunities to innovate have become far more distributed. The vast majority of learning today doesn’t take place in formal structures: it can occur anywhere and at any time. Employees today naturally seek knowledge and advice from individuals and sources they discover in order to enable them to become more effective at their jobs. Learning and the application of newly-acquired knowledge-to-work-product is happening far more informally today, and enablement communities are organizations’ best response to help surface, aggregate, distill, and share what is being learned in pockets of the organization with others across the organization. Without formal effort, learnings discovered often travel through small networks within an organization, but rarely reach all of those who might benefit. Talk to anyone who has ever worked in a firm noted for sales or customer success best practice and what you will likely learn is that those organizations implemented enablement communities as a key tool used to help surface the most valuable process knowledge and evolving thoughts professionals needed to improve their performance. The premise of an enablement community is simple: deliver the right information and contacts to the right people at the right time and in the right place to enable the participant to advance specific opportunities more effectively. However, information alone does not make an enablement community. Human beings have a fundamental need to socialize and interact with one another. It is through interaction such as questioning a colleague, explaining a point, categorizing examples, and postulating solutions that information is transformed into applicable knowledge. “Holacracy is a system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a fractal holarchy of self- organizing teams, rather than being vested at the top of a hierarchy.”1 While news announcements like the one from Zappos are rare, many of the world’s leading organizations have earned and maintain their leadership position by empowering specific populations. The Ritz Carlton Group, for example, is well known for using a community of practice –sharing hotel operations knowledge with service staff in order to enable their extremely high level of customer care. Defining An Enablement Community 1 Wikipedia
more project-centric collaboration environments. When successful, enablement communities are credited with making a significant difference in the professional lives of the participants, and they work for a number of key reasons: • They leverage the power of the crowd/ communities to filter valuable information from an information flow to massive for any single individual or enterprise learning process to handle • They combine professionals with varying degrees of experience and exposure to situations so that complex applications of knowledge can be explored collaboratively • Theyprovideaforumthatisabouttheknowledge itself, not specific work product, so common issues and challenges can surface more freely These two terms are often used interchangeably and depending upon your past experience you may prefer to affiliate with one over the other. However, there are some social distinctions to note that affect the planning launching, and management of enablement communities. In a network, the relationship of one party to another party is known, and the boundaries that define the network are clear. Networks may exist without a shared goal or purpose and survive in perpetuity. A community, on the other hand, may contain individuals that may have no established relationshiptooneanother.Itssurvivalisdependent upon it evolving its value to members to warrant ongoing participation. Participants in a community are bound together because they share a passion about a common subject and a mutual desire to develop one another. Unlike networks, the members of a community do not need to actually know each other. Enablement communities are one solution in a range of solutions categorized as knowledge management solutions. The range starts with team-centric solutions such as brainstorming and idea capture tools, and typically ends with enterprise-wide knowledge sharing. Along the way, you often encounter discussion boards, Q&A forums, collaboration environments, and enablement communities. Enablement communities are typically very easy to focus, as their intended ROI really comes down to three measures: 1. Improving time-to-productivity 2. Improving overall productivity (capability and capacity) 3. Promoting Innovation Enablement communities are often considered the building blocks of classic enterprise knowledge management efforts, but are not the same thing. Enablement communities have a much narrower scope and purpose, and serve a specific population; usually a function within an organization, or an external customer segment. Enablement communities are also highly focused on supporting their membership in the advancement of specific opportunities or objectives, whereas greater and lesser knowledge management solutions support a wide range of non-specific, non-personal objectives. While similar in some ways to a team collaboration environment, enablement communities differ in that they support the continuous pursuit of knowledge around an evolving topic, versus a time- centric project or work activity. Members in a team collaboration environment are far more apt to have a consistent role throughout the duration of their participation, whereas members in a community of practice will assume a variety of roles as their discussions ebb and flow. Due to narrower scope and focus, enablement communities are often far more successful than Community vs. Netowork
an enablement community are: Time Savings – Communities of practice can radically reduce the aggregate amount of time individuals spend trying to find information to help them do their jobs more effectively. Most studies peg the typical time savings somewhere between 75 and 95 percent of the total time spent prior to the community. Sharing Improvement Across Geographies Organizations relying on one-to-one and one-to- few knowledge sharing interactions across a wide geographic area often see reduced or delayed sharing, due to the limitation of synchronous communications. Because enablement communitiesareonline,expertiseflowsunrestricted and is allowed to bubble up anytime, anywhere. Accelerating Time-to-Productivity – While learning curves in general have shortened, new employees joining complex organizations or changing roles within an organization often struggle for some time gathering the information needed to perform their job at an accepted level of productivity. Enablement communities can significantly reduce time by aggregating information into a single, dynamic environment – helping employees become autonomous much faster. Reduction of Rework – Enablement communities quickly bring to light many interactions between a more knowledgeable individual, and someone whose work product often leads to rework. Throughout organizations, interactions that lead to rework happen daily and often these interactions are repetitive and dispersed. The community allows SMEs to answer specific questions and demonstrate practices; posts shared can be accessed at any time and more efficient than replying to multiple requests via email. It is often said that an enablement community can be launched in mere minutes. While it has become much easier to deploy technology tools that form the online home of enablement communities, launching one is still something that requires effort. Being successful will require assembling the right team of participants, including: Community Sponsor – A community sponsor that is passionate and that has the professional capital necessary to pull together resources, recruit collaborators, and motivate other to participate is essential. The community sponsor does not have to be an organizational leader, but they need to be a leader Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) – Successful communities of practice need more than one subject matter expert to periodically chime in on conversations and help make sense of complex information. In an ideal world, this pool of individuals would be made up of individuals from both inside and outside the organization CommunityManagers–Whenacommunitystops providing value, members leave and they rarely return. While many believe that communities self form and auto-regulate, the truth is it takes community management to keep the value evolving. Community managers live and breath in the community, they make an active efforts to get to know all or certain segments of members, they help pull in content from members, they facilitate conversations and they promote successful interactions The ultimate goal of an enablement community is to improve workforce productivity, The most common benefit components in an ROI formula for Benefits of Establishing an Enablement Community
outside to participate is key to creating valuable destination that can capture interactions from other environment that already support this level of cross organizational thinking, namely e-mail and individual web searches. Lead by Example – It might sound a bit cliché, but leaders need to set the tone for their communities bydemonstratingthroughexamplethattheactivity of regularly sharing knowledge is both needed and apt to be acknowledged. Communicate Purpose – Communities that launched with a well-formulated purpose that participants could buy into were far more apt to be successful than communities that were launched to simply share knowledge. Simple, non- purposeful sharing is something that routinely happens networks. What elevates sharing in enablement communities is the common drive across community members to specifically achieve or improve something. Constant Reinforcement – Having a dedicated communitymanagerthatcanacknowledgedesired activity as close to the point of creation as possible and drive both visibility and further interaction with the sharing is essential. Make Participation Feasible – Communities often launch without making participation a possibility for the intended participants, who need to dedicate regular time in order to learn. The 90-9- 1 concept is an observed social norm (in a crowd of 100, 90 will consume the interactions of 9 around the contributions of a single individual). In a smaller enablement community, low participation levels lead to stagnation. Incentives can influence greater participation, move the ration more in the range of 60-30-10, which can be accomplished by makingthecommunitytheplacetoexecuteroutine process learning, i.e. the home reusable document libraries, support communications, brainstorming sessions, product feedback loops, etc. Reinvigorating Team Performance – Learning in private offers far fewer rewards and recognition than learning in in a social environment. Online enablement communities provide interactions that produce gains in team performance and allowing for greater public recognition of pivotal contributionsbyteammembers. Thepublicpositive reinforcement also creates motivation among others in the team to share. Reward schemas that mix tangible and intangible rewards can help spur growth and reinvigorate it periodically throughout the lifecycle of the community. Launching an enablement community is one of the best ways to improve productivity for workforce segments which require an evolving flow of knowledge to be more effective. While launching a community takes time and effort, with a passionate leader and the right people supporting the initiative, any organization can begin surfacing phenomenal learning from the ‘crowd’ that is the workforce itself. While the definition of success is largely derived from the initial goals that led to the community, the desired behaviors required to enable it are consistent. The following enablement community success factors have been observed within organizations around the globe: Leverage Curated Content – Many organizations try to build their enablement community by relying solely on internal content. This practice fails to acknowledge an already existing learning behavior the organization needs to tap into, all that a person needs to learn about does not come solely from internal resources. Pulling content from outside the organization and allowing experts from How To Measure And Deterimine Community Success
At BraveNewTalent we often say we are the most experienced at what not to do in building communities. Fail forwards is one of our company values. Failure is acceptable as we learn from it and move forward. In fact, failure often needed for innovation to take place. However, its important to understandandlearnfromwhereothershavefailure in their community building efforts to maximize the chances of success of your community. BraveNewTalent has observed that communities need the 3 C’s in order to succeed: • Content – In any form of digital format • Context – Relevant to all of the community membership profiles • Connections – Between members within each community BraveNewTalent has observed the following points failure: Penalizing Participation – Sounds like common sense, but many organizations inadvertently do exactly that. Many professionals are overburdened and already report virtually no time for self- development or learning, so expecting participation without understanding that some priorities may need to flex from time to time in unrealistic. Many managers also talk about support for open discussion, but then publicly attack, disparage or retaliate against individuals that initiate frank debate about touchy subjects. Online communities thrive when a difference of opinions lead to interaction/debate. Communities devoid of differing opinions rarely thrive, so it is important that all participation be welcomed, acknowledged and engaged with. Not Understanding Calls for New Behavior Teaching others and sharing what you are learning is not a normally observed behavior among most of the population. Not understanding that your new Broader Participation – While communities of practice are much narrower in scope that other knowledge management approaches, they often benefit from a wider range of participants to drive diversity of thought and perspective into the community. Consider inviting a number of participants from outside the organization and outside the function. Walking upstream and downstream from the community purpose can also help drive diversity of perspective i.e. a sales enablement community can benefit from limited customer and upstream vendor participation. Don’t recreate the wheel – Adding an enablement community to an already complex array of resources and communication channels available to an individual is a sure fire way to achieve very little. At BraveNewTalent we try to deal with the challenge of scarcity of attention by enabling members to access all the content from the communities they belong to in a single learning stream. If you attempt to add to destinations that compete for your audiences attention, without displacing other destinations, you will have an even smaller faction of your members attention. Tie into existing events – Online communities that gather in person from time to time often thrive more so than communities that never convene in person. When launching a new effort, try to time the launch to coincide with a large gathering. Throughout the year, use the community as the online home of meetings and events. Seed, Seed, Seed – Launching an empty community is like inviting a bunch of people to visit the future home of a planned community where the only thing visible are utility lines and roads, it is hard to envision value! Planned residential community builders realized a long time ago that sales launches were far more effective once buildings for community services were in place and model homes complete with landscaping and furniture were in place. Online communities need to be seeded with content and model interactions to both demonstrate value and set the tone for interaction. Community Points of Failure
in unique ways. Treating all community members the same simply doesn’t work. Non-effective Content Filtering – Not all content isshare-worthy. Ablogpostforexamplecanexpress someone personal views on a professional subject but include no actionable learning information. Failing to filter effectively when priming a community with content and failure to help members filter can produce an online community with as much if not more distractive ‘noise’ as an individual’s web searches, robbing the community of the value proposition afforded through filtering. This is the Context part of BraveNewTalent’s 3 C’s of community. Not Establishing a Regular Cadence – Many individuals need elements of the world around them to demonstrate some regular cadence. Luckily, nearly all successful communities develop a rhythm. Work communities have standing meetings, family communities have set family time, and community organizations like churches have scheduled services. Online communities that do not tap into the rhythms of their members often fail to garner traction. Integrating community interaction into the cadence of a professional audience’s daily life is a balancing act, try for too much and you end overwhelming, try for too little and community seems inactive. Not Focusing on Value – Communities only thrive when they deliver value to their members and when that value grows in relation to other competing interests. Participation in most communities isn’t forced; while it may be encouraged most communities depend upon their members making aconscientiousefforttobeapartofthecommunity. Rarely will members fully understand the full value of a community the moment they join, but if they do not discover it soon, or the value fades quickly, then so too will participation. Successful communities pander to the needs and contextual interests of their members. Moving interactions about problem solving, future planning, product or Not Understanding Call for...(Cont’d) community teaching others and sharing what you are learning is not a normally observed behavior among most of the population. Not understanding thatyournewcommunityinitiativeisaskingpeople to behave differently than they have or may feel comfortable doing is a common mistake. Effective change management focuses on establishing desired behaviors up front, positive reinforcement throughout, and tying desired behavior into as many routine processes and interactions as possible. Not Supporting Persona Differentiation – ‘Personas’maysoundlikeamarketingterm,butthe idea of supporting individuals with different needs (use cases, activity patterns, etc.) is found in most professional disciplines. In online communities, personas are often used to distinguish members by their activity pattern and role in the community. In every community, there will always emerge a small minority that creates the vast majority of the original content shares. Within that core group you could have SMEs who speak from a macro level perspective and practitioners who develop and educate on best practice using knowledge garnered from these experts. You will also then have another minority audience that captures the vast majority of interactions from shares from your core group. This category of members are your active audience. With BraveNewTalent communities, this audience can be further segmented by competency or experience level, geography, etc. The majority of members in an online community fall into a persona category that many have termed as ‘passive lookers’. This persona category is not passive at all. Studies have revealed that this audience often formulates opinions and responses to shares in a community, but opts not to share themselves. It’s a normal behavior that makes increasing community participation a real challenge. Communities that thrive use community management tactics that recognize the different personas and service/support them
Not Focusing on Value (Cont’d.) tool support into a community often provide organizationswithbothamethodandamechanism todetermineandcapturewhatcontentisbeneficial. Successful communities focus heavily on tagging and indexing shared resources to surface the value when needed. Failure to Evolve – The entire premise of enablementcommunitiesrestsuponanindividual’s inability to stay on top of changes in their world because it is evolving so quickly. Communities that fail to evolve as quickly as their members need them to lose their value and therefore engagement. As an organic entity launching and managing a community is about influencing the community in a needed direction versus forcing a static design. As new business issues arise, new members join, popular events occur, etc.; the community will evolve if allowed to. Protectionism however is common, many community sponsors/leaders/ managers take pride in what they have built and fight against change. Failure to Excite – Once community members settle into a routine and incorporate the community into their cadence of life, there is the risk for the community to become boring even if it continues to provide value. To keep the community alive and flourishing, community managers need to periodically shake things up, throw something unusual into the cadence, spark controversial discussion – take something away that is often used and ask how to evolve it when people cry out. Community growth via member referral usually only happens when members are excited about what is going on in the community. For a detailed brief of an enablement community in practice, please read our solution brief, “Enablement Communities In Action: Lockheed Martin Military Connect”, attached as a companion to this white paper. If you would like to discuss the observations made here about building successful enablementcommunities,orlearnmoreabout how BraveNewTalent supports professional knowlege sharing across the workforce of the organization, please visit contact Master Burnett via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org. BraveNewTalent 1020 Kearny Street San Francisco, CA 94133 USA +1 415 738 8000 Website: www.bravenewtalent.com Twitter: @bravenewtalent For More Information Master Burnett, Director of Strategy Enablement Communities In Action
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