Building Customer Communities
There is this topic in my head for quite some time and I try to focus on it to add some clarity what it is really about.
I am consulting large enterprises to implement new development tools and methods. While of course, there are lot of open questions in terms of technology and its functionality, I see a maybe even bigger challenge in people’s mindsets. I noted some thoughts about Change Management and New Work on my personal blog already, but besides that, there is another big aspect which might help to sharpen my activities a little bit more.
The metaphor of self-help groups might be a little strong, but it makes a point:
Once you feel you are not alone with your challenges / concerns and you know there are others that also share openly their experiences (the good and the bad ones), it might be easier for you to get through it.
If you try something new and you see that others have already done it successfully, you might ask them how they did it and learn about mistakes they made in order to avoid them upfront.
I think one possible method to deal with the excessive need of education and challenging new technology is: Team up! We all struggle with the speed of evolution in the IT sector, some more, some less. But if we help each other, we can all have a more successful (and more fun!) journey, I’m sure.
In the traditional way organisations are set up, hierarchies play an important role. There is one big boss on top of a pyramid and the further down it goes, the less power the people have. While hierarchies help to make complex systems easier to understand and are a good tool for top-down communications, they bring the risk of building silos of teams that only communicate to each other via their managers as postmen.
“A network organisations is a collection of autonomous firms or units that behave as a single larger entity, using social mechanisms for coordination and control”, says Analyictech (link down below)
While they talk more of companies connecting as a network organisation, this definition is also valid inside one enterprise but here, its main goal is more to get access to the right expertise inside an organisation.
This visualisation shows nicely the difference – and the possible combination of hierachies with networks.
Imagine the following: You are working in the IT department for HR and have some questions about Machine Learning – what is it actually all about, what aspects are important, how can I use it in business, what about e.g. data privacy guidelines in my company?
There might be some knowledge in your company about this, another department (let’s say the IT for your Sales teams) just developed the first MVP using Machine Learning in it. Wouldn’t it be great to just ask them how they answered all the questions of an early-adopter?
But how can you ask the question “Does someone in my organization have experiences with Machine Learning?”
I think there are two options to organise the growth of Machine Learning expertise in your company:
a) you can create a new department, collecting expertise about Machine Learning and acting as the go-to-point for everyone with questions about Machine Learning. This department would probably get a manager, get a cost center and so on…… but the nicer option would be:
b) establish a network / a community of people working on this topic / with this technology. One of the community members can volunteer as coordinator if necessary, but everyone can stay in her/his original team and continue to work in the original job. The community can be a virtual organisation being accessible by everyone interested. Also, if the Machine Learning topic is very established or disappeared, the virtual community can just disappear if not needed anymore
Culture of collaboration
Besides the questions how to create, moderate and “operate” a community, its success obviously depends on the community’s members. If everyone is just there to consume from other’s knowledge, but not contributing, the community will dry out soon.
It’s crucial that the members are willing to
- admit weaknesses / uncertainties / questions where they don’t know the answer and need help
- share insights, being it positive or negative ones. The willingness to share is key for every community!
To establish such a culture of collaboration, several requirements have to be met in your organisation. In the sources listed down below, I chose some important ones:
- communicate openly and transparent : it already helps if you know who is working on which topic
- honor the individual: Your peer is super chaotic and unorganised? Maybe she is super creative, can think out of the box and help you recognise routines you do for a long time but are actually useless?
- your office / workspace should invite you to share: This might either be the physical office place where you work by offering open areas (check out this documentary what change a new office brought to RGA.
- But it might also be your virtual workplace. Especially in organisations where the majority works remotely, it is important to have some rules / guidelines describing how collaboration works online. Tools like MS Teams and Slack can help, but obviously it is crucial to use them right.
- leadership needs to act as good role-model and demonstrate an open , collaborative style of communication
Acknowledge that collaboration generally makes the world a better place. Highly collaborative organizations recognize that collaboration lowers stress, increases retention and loyalty, and improves the bottom line.
(quoted from “iedp.com”, see link below. But I love this quote!)
This post’s goal is to describe the motivation why building communities is so important. The next posts will focus on specific topics and dig a little deeper there.
If you have thoughts, you agree or disagree – I would be more than happy to read your comments!
some of the sources I used:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReRcHdeUG9Y ( just one example for Simon Sinek’s many very inspiring thoughts )
- “The New Kingmakers – How Developers Conquered the World” by Stephen O’Grady ( ISBN 9781449356347 )
- “Führungs- und Organisationskonzepte im digitalen Zeitalter kompakt” by Ralf T. Kreutzer ( ISBN 9783658214470 )
- “IT-Organisation in der digitalen Transformation” by Hinrich Schröder and Arno Müller ( ISBN 9783658186449 )
This article was first posted on my personal blog: https://nicobost.me/2019/09/28/building-communities/