The typical big company has undergone five large-scale changes in the past three years, and no employee is immune to the effects.
Even if they sit at the same desk and have the same signature on their email as they did five years ago – and that’s unlikely – what they do in their job and what they need to do to hit their goals or get promoted will have changed a lot.
This means that change management has become incredibly important for any executive worth their salt to get right.
In today’s work environment a change management “project” should not simply attempt to get employees excited about forthcoming changes – there’s too much change for that – and it’s not enough to help them understand why the business is changing (again). Instead, they need help developing the capabilities and the confidence to do their job in the new environment.
One way to do this is to build a “community of practice.” This is a group of people who are informally linked by a common interest or concern in the company, such as working in the same region, working on the same product or project, and so on. Communities of practice offer a built-in network to their participants, which is a critical resource in the midst of change.
At a recent CEB networking event, a senior IT manager whose company was undergoing major restructuring said that the community of practice in which he was a part had been incredibly helpful. It provided employees with useful peer-to-peer knowledge and support to cope with regular changes to their roles, processes, and operating model.
Caring for the Community
While these communities can be a useful resource for employees, almost 60% of companies struggle to sustain participation. There are three steps that IT managers in CEB’s client networks have found useful to sustain engagement and attendance:
Set an agenda: Over a third (38%) of IT professionals surveyed on the topic say that maintaining a compelling agenda is the hardest part of sustaining a community of practice. An agenda that resonates strongly with the participants elevates attendance in community events.
Agendas should not be dominated by top-down messages from executives; instead, they must balance senior management influence with the perspective of the community members to increase the personal value of participating in the community.
Make sure you have enough willing leaders: Community supporters tend to assume that a volunteer-based model will be sustainable. But this is soon disrupted when volunteers become busy or move to a new role (and in a frequently changing firm, that’s likely).
Instead, make sure you have a cadre of future leaders waiting in the wings by talking about the development opportunities that come with this kind of leadership experience.
Plan events and provide resources: A good community of practice will offer a wide mix of events and useful resources. Most communities do things like provide networking opportunities, set-up online portals to share important information, put on social events, and offer mentoring.
Make sure you also put on virtual events to include remote audiences. The most effective communities start with one or two events and then expand on the initial success.