Effective practices for creating community-enabled business results

As more and more Baby Boomers approach retirement, companies are looking for ways to transfer their expertise to other employees. Some companies, particularly those with geographically dispersed employees, are turning to communities of practice to accomplish that goal, according to Darcy Lemons, senior project manager with theAmerican Productivity & Quality Center, known as APQC.

A community of practice is “a group of people who come together to share and learn from one another both face-to-face and virtually,” APQC explains in its recent best practices report, “Sustaining Effective Communities of Practice.”

The report identifies 18 effective practices for creating organizational value with communities of practice and breaks them down into 5 categories:

  1. Creating a sustainable community strategy. This includes creating a single, enterprise approach; building on existing networks; ensuring that communities fulfill explicit business objectives; using a combination of corporate and business-unit funding; and establishing clear roles and responsibilities.
  2. Establishing practices and approaches for sustaining communities. In addition to aligning communities with business needs, this category includes connecting people with other people; using community performance plans; and leveraging technology.
  3. Providing tools and resources for community leaders. It is important to define a community leaders’ role and responsibilities; to build an internal support network for them; and to provide them with training. Applicable training might address using technology, facilitating a meeting, communicating effectively, and time management.
  4. Promoting awareness and communicating value. Best practice organizations promote the benefits and results of communities of practice (e.g., in success stories posted on an intranet, released to the community itself, and/or published in the company newsletter).  They also reward and recognize community of practice accomplishments, and support and sustain member engagement by addressing the “what’s-in-it-for-me factor” (e.g., giving them resources to perform their jobs more efficiently, providing them with a creative outlet, etc.).
  5. Measuring success. This category includes ensuring that measures align with business processes; using both activity measures (the number of people participating in a meeting or community activities) and measures of effectiveness (whether community objectives are being achieved); as well as measuring the “health” of the community across its life cycle.

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