Communities to accelerate change
New skills and practices often require fundamental mindset shifts in the way to approach business problems and models of interaction and managing work and information flows. An organizational memo and slide deck briefing will not suffice to transition the workforce, but instead requires leveraging new network-based social structures and digital tools to broadly increase the uptake of new skills and embed new practice into organizational culture.
Companies or organizations who have made the investment in enterprise social networks or widely available collaboration platforms have the technology to integrate Communities for Change as a powerful component of change programs. Communities provide important value for change initiatives. Organizations can expand the reach of the change program by activating horizontal knowledge flows and decision-making. Community interactions provide more two-way processes to engage stakeholders and broaden social learning in the context of work and socializes knowledge management. A community becomes a venue for sustained peer-to-peer exchanges, surfacing expertise. A community for change also gives leaders and executives a view into breadth and depth of the change program’s effectiveness.
Business integration champions -Coalescing a community of business-side champions can be a vital element in an overall change initiative. A business integration champion community brings together identified leaders who become advocates for the change across their organizations. An online community program can be structured to engage its members to provide input into change strategies and guidance, suggest and help design adoption campaigns and participate in discussion forums and virtual roundtables on initiative topics and challenges. Importantly through the online community experience, champions can gain a sense of connection with one another.
The community becomes an important resource for guidance and governance material, communications tools, and shared success stories, showcasing case examples of business process integration. The community also becomes an opportunity for both expanded professional networking and recognition. As with all successful communities, this kind of champion community entails a program design that includes curated and original content, a blend of online and live events, active facilitation of member interactions by a community manager, and an opportunity for leadership to participate and bring their voices to the mix in focused ways.
Education and applied practice –Communities of practice have proven to be effective for advancing the expertise or practice within a domain, and members have some form of pre-articulated or validated reputation or credential. The formal experience of practice is a learning resource in an of itself.
Communities for Change include dimensions of a community of practice augmented with additional program features that are well-suited to initiatives that seek to introduce new disciplines and practice such as Agile or applied data science into an organization. Often in these kind of initiatives, there is a strong element of initial education, training and credentialing of a cohort of members who will be directly integrating these new practices into their work and business processes.
Key resources in these types of communities includes not only access to training, but access to sets of approved methodologies and tools. As individuals move through training and initial practice, they also find the community a place for ongoing advancement of their expertise via interaction and knowledge exchange with their peers and senior mentors. Another key element is to design the community to include a curated portfolio of applied projects to the business so that practitioners can learn from relevant projects and executives can gain insight into how to sponsor or bring projects into their own lines of business. Other key community-based resources can include thought leadership or innovation examples from sources external to the organization. The community can also be the launch point for crowdsourced responses to challenges or missions for members of the community to tackle.
Accelerating strategic initiatives – Communites for Change models can be used to coalesce and accelerate strategic initiatives. A fine example of this is a case study highlighted in the book “The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees” by Mark P. McDonald and Anthony J. Bradley.
In this instance, CEMEX, a global cement and building materials manufacturer wanted to increased the use of alternate fuels in their plants. CEMEX used community collaboration to gather their plant staff and drove three cycles of engagement in the community. The first was to engage 500 plant managers and engineers in the initial call to assess each plant’s practices. The second cycle was a collaborative and transparent review of practices across all plants, identifying best or innovative practices. The third cycle was transitioning the community to an ongoing knowledge sharing group, that not only brought improved practice, but helped even the best performing plants move towards continuous improvement. This kind of initiative would have taken two years with more traditional approaches, according to McDonald and Bradley, but in this instance took six weeks.
In a 2012 Harvard Business Review article entitled Accelerate! , John Kotter proposed a new concept of using network models of interaction to coalesce “informal networks of change agents” whereby “the network and accelerators can serve as continuous and holistic change function.” As companies embrace these more network-based models, Kotter proposed that companies would begin operating in what he calls a ‘dual operating system’ of both hierarchy and networks.
Fundamental underpinnings of successful communities are careful design and strong facilitation and stewardship through community management practice. Communities for Change are highly leveragable network-based social structures to mobilize, accelerate and enlarge change initiatives and can be incorporated as a powerful addition to change management practice.
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