Community Often the subjects that are most critical to business performance are either complex, very specialised or specific to an organisation or profession. This can be referred to as domain knowledge and it is essentially what makes that organisation what it is. It’s this intrinsic link with the context and culture of the organisation that make a formal learning approach to skills acquisition in these environments so challenging: it’s difficult to make this knowledge explicit and capture it in a way that doesn’t lose that all important context. This is one of the main reasons why learning and development functions who do not operate at a partnership/internal consultant level are today bypassed as irrelevant. Accessing information and a wealth of resources is not the issue; understanding how to readily and effectively apply or adapt it to my context and understand if it has positively impacted performance for the business is the key. This is where communities step to the fore. Quickly returning to my quest for tennis mastery (well, tennis basic proficiency), a plethora of YouTube videos, apps, books and articles exist to help develop my knowledge of technique. So to help frame the issue, formal assets are very helpful – there are some elements of the sport that can be captured as explicit knowledge. However, I am a 40-year-old, fairly active but novice tennis player with pretty good co-ordination, a bit of a dodgy shoulder and a tendency to overthink. This is not a search term that yields many results, but augmenting my research with a chat with Nigel, qualified coach support and this core knowledge starts to make more sense and gather more immediacy. From this experience, friends who wish to return to the sport ask for advice, with many of us sharing some common traits. So the input flow can be applied, adapted and shared with others to continue this process. Communities impact performance at so many levels and yet their value is often overlooked. They deliver more than creating effective environments for learning, fostering good working relationships and sharing knowledge. If learning professionals take an active interest in the facilitation and evaluation of community activity, they can shape strategy through providing deep insight into process efficiency, competitor performance, customer perceptions, opportunities for innovation. But to fulfil this arguably limitless potential, they need to be supported. Communities, where there is real engagement and intensity of dialogue, deliver value to its participants even if the organisation doesn’t actually take much interest. Where learning teams do take an interest and augment them with better technology to improve access to people and knowledge, measure their value to secure future investment and bring in new participants to provoke new direction and ideas, yield significant business results.
Quick case study: At France Telecom, global product managers were invited to participate in community skills development programmes to encourage these global leaders to adopt a more facilitative rather than commend and control approach to product management.
In just one case, the voicemail community reported that thanks to the adoption of this approach, over €10m of additional revenue was generated simply by that manager acting as the facilitator between sharing of practice in implementation of voicemail menu services between two European countries.
These communities were supported with collaboration technology and a representative from the global learning and knowledge team who provided mentoring services to community facilitators and would measure community value against defined qualitative and quantitative measures.
All communities thrive on a clear purpose so in our next instalment, we’ll be focussing on the importance of goal setting.