Today, I spoke with Seth Kahan, who is a speaker, author, Fast Company blogger and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to building communities. I think this topic is extremely important because you can be very successful in today’s world if you own a community based on your area of expertise. It’s not enough just to have a traffic to a site anymore; you need to lead a tribe and have that tribe interact with each other AND you. This is just as important for a business, as it is for your personal brand.
Seth, why is building community so important, not just in the blogging world, but with discussion boards and beyond?
“Community is the fundamental human learning system.”
We need each other to test and apply what we know, surface new ideas, transfer our experience to current circumstance. We are social creatures at our core, and rely on the connections and synergies that arise in community to make sense of life, survive, and thrive.
What companies have built successful communities and which have failed and why?
One company that did an outstanding job with communities was British Petroleum. They were fortunate to have Geoff Parcell and Chris Collison on their side. These two wrote the book, Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations. It is an excellent primer, both practical and explanatory. The second edition documents their experience applying knowledge management within BP plus insights from a range of other organizations that have applied the techniques they outline, going into organizational community and how to cultivate it in some detail.
Another was the World Bank under the guidance of Steve Denning from 1995 – 2000. I was a member of the small team that introduced Knowledge Management to the organization. It was during that initiative that we realized community was, as President Jim Wolfensohn said, the “heart and soul” of developing and applying knowledge. 1996-1998 we cultivated over 100 communities that successfully delivered on the strategic priorities of the institution.
Of those that fail, there is a lack of respect for the living nature of communities. Many organizations try to assemble or mandate them. Both approaches are doomed to failure. I have been brought in to help resuscitate failing community efforts.
The three ingredients for healthy business communities are:
- (1) strong business benefits – a clear business case for the organizational investment.
- (2) attention to community concerns – ensuring that the common causes which unite the members are cared for.
- (3) participant payoffs that speak to the needs of the individuals participating.
A short case study from the World Bank is available on my website illustrating these three ingredients here. Many other relevant documents can be downloaded for free on my website.
You call communities “beehives.” What are your 10 famous ways to build better beehives?
Building beehives requires a new way of looking at the world. The main task of management, when working with a community, changes from supervising subordinates to enabling colleagues. To bring this know-how to bear on organizational needs, managers need to cultivate relationships built on trust and healthy growth.
Here are the ten techniques to building better beehives:
1. Share the idea with all who have a stake in success.
This includes those who will gain from the business benefits being achieved, such as managers, members, clients and stakeholders. .
2. Interact with potential bees.
When you are talking with people who may participate, ask for ideas, suggestions, and the names of others who would benefit by taking part. Listen to understand their perspective and concerns, especially if different from your own.
3. Identify a coordinator
This is one of the two most important roles in the beehive. Responsibilities include identifying important issues as they arise, planning and facilitation of events, linking members of the beehive, and fostering professional development.
4. Identify resident experts.
This is the second most important role in your beehive. These people will have “deep” knowledge of the community concerns.
5. Invite people to participate.
Communicate to people through their preferred media. Tell them what you are hoping to accomplish and ask them to be part of the effort
6. Make it easy for members to contact each other.
As soon as the beehive forms, publish a directory with phone numbers, email addresses, and expertise.
7. Invite open discussions.
Allow divergent ideas; don’t push consensus. If small groups form in your community to champion an alternative perspective, help them explore further. This multiplicity of perspective bolsters the work.
8. Communicate, Communicate, And Communicate!
Do everything you can to keep people in the loop.
9. Stay open to continued suggestions.
The community will evolve. This is normal. A community is a living thing and changes over time. Create ways for new ideas to be reviewed and processed easily without derailing progress.
10. Develop presentation toolkits.
Make it easy for members of the beehive to share their work with colleagues and other interested people.
Do you think a company will survive the next decade without establishing a beehive?
Successful companies today require a social component to succeed. In the early stages a company may be able to get by with only command-and-control running operations. But, as soon as success starts to take place, knowledge sharing – which operates outside the traditional hierarchical org chart – becomes critical. Companies that prefer to isolate their members by keeping their noses to the grindstone, focused only on their work program lose valuable competitive advantage. I don’t know of a company today that can operate that way and succeed.
How can building communities help individuals build personal brand reputation and career success?
Communities are essentially social networks with a common focus. They represent high leverage opportunities to establish expertise, judged in the light of informal peer evaluation. They are highly trusted and if you can succeed within a given community, news will travel fast about the quality of your results. Research has shown that weak ties are the most effective at job networking. Individuals who know how to work their communities will be able to quickly navigate to those positions and opportunities that represent the highest returns on their effort including the building of personal brand and career success.
I invite people to stay in touch with my work by sending me an email at Seth@VisionaryLeadership.com.
Seth Kahan blogs on Change Leadership for Fast Company. He has been selected by the Center for Association Leadership in Washington, DC to serve as a Business Visionary for his pioneering work in organizational community development and storytelling. He is the author of Building Beehives: A Handbook for Creating Communities that Generate Returns and is currently is working on a new book entitled Face-to-Face. Seth has over 25 years leading people to the frontier of collaboration and organizational performance. He has worked with more than 250 executives and more than 60,000 professionals.