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Sustaining communities of practice

CoP member survey results

In addition to the benefits of CoP participation stated above, APQC's CoP member survey tallied the responses of more than 700 CoP members from the sponsor and partner organizations to determine if participation in their CoPs helped them perform their jobs better. The responses fall into several buckets: strategic focus, tactical processes and outcomes.

Strategic focus:

As noted previously, effective CoPs appear to have a compelling value proposition, senior leadership support, line management support and recognition, and strong communication. The CoP member survey results reinforce those notions:

  • 93% said their CoP has a clear, compelling business value proposition for participation.
  • 84% said their CoP has a senior sponsor.
  • 88% said business/line management supports the time spent on CoP activities.
  • 88% said business/line management recognizes the value of CoP output.
  • 70% said their CoP has a communication strategy to promote outputs and results to outside stakeholders.

Tactical processes:

Effective communities use many different tactical processes to manage their performance. There are many sources of information about these; please read APQC's "Using Communities of Practice to Drive Organizational Performance and Innovation" for an extensive list. Strong leadership, easy-to-follow knowledge sharing processes, and clear roles and responsibilities help communities maintain focus and achieve results over time.

  • More than 70% said their CoP has a skilled, dedicated leader.
  • 77% said there is an assigned role for knowledge capture and documentation.
  • 87% feel that their CoP has an easy-to-follow knowledge sharing process. Outcomes:

The APQC study focused on how CoPs drive organizational performance and lead to innovation:

  • 24% said their CoP focuses heavily on innovation, but 60% said that innovations bubble up during the course of interaction.
  • 53% said their CoP activities drive better organizational performance.
  • Only 39% have a documented measurement system.
  • 92% indicated that participation in their CoP(s) somewhat or definitely helps them perform their job better.

Realign processes

Determining how your CoP members feel about their CoPs and correlating their activities with achieved business outcomes should provide insights about how to realign CoP and business processes to improve performance. Integrating communities of practice into the daily work of members can lead to increased member engagement. APQC's research on the stages of implementation of knowledge management also shows that this close integration, essentially putting in one place the knowledge, learning and people members need to complete their work successfully, will lead to significant business improvement.

In addition to integrating community tools and processes into daily work, organizations should revisit their CoP design processes as well. The following questions are useful in doing so:

  • Does the knowledge sharing process still make sense, or have new technology or collaboration tools changed the rules of the game?
  • Do the current roles foster the connections (and collection) that the communities need?
  • Do you still need to communicate the same way or train people on new tools?
  • Do your overall set of metrics and those of each community need to be updated to reflect new organizationwide goals?
  • Does recognition or reward still have a place in your current and new communities?
  • Have you linked your technical and functional communities with the learning and development organization to ensure that the best knowledge is available in communities and in more traditional learning environments?

There is no magic recipe for realigning processes to support communities of practice. Each organization's business structure, culture and goals will demand different outcomes. However, by periodically assessing business alignment, identifying the health of each CoP's working structure, assessing member satisfaction and measuring the progress toward activity and outcome goals, organizations should have a clear picture of improvement opportunities.

Some characteristics of a community in the sustained performance phase include:

  • measurable progress against community objectives or creation of new objectives when launch objectives are met; • changes in measures such as member numbers, content numbers and other quantifiable issues;
  • activity that demonstrates learning;
  • work processes being modified to take advantage of knowledge sharing and collaboration capabilities;
  • taking action on lessons learned, forum topics and comments to knowledge objects to keep community content fresh;
  • communications to community membership;
  • shifting focus to knowledge innovation—better answers to new and tougher problems;
  • articulating community value through success stories;
  • knowledge sharing behaviors recognized in people development; and
  • active and involved leadership.

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