The global health crisis brought on by COVID-19 has put the transformation of work into stark relief. It has changed how we work. Those that had already started to use digital technologies to change work found it an easier transition. However, those that had not explored the flexibility of digital work environments have struggled – discovering that ‘lift and shift’ approaches that replicate in-office dynamics directly to the virtual environment don’t actually work very well. Digital workspaces also and heighten and expose cultural problems that have long existed.
The way we work is changing – and it will never go back because the flexibility and fluidity that digital connectivity and collaboration offers is immense; it literally gives many individuals hours of their day back, helps them juggle family and work responsibilities, and increases their productivity when done well.
At The Community Roundtable we’ve been working with online work communities for over a decade and they are demonstrating a new organizational model that fits the digital and knowledge economy. Instead of rigid, control-based governance, communities require structures that rely on shared intrinsic motivators to inspire, support, and reward work. As a result, communities capture more energy, productivity, and leadership while often achieving massive scale. They don’t just allow self-management and individual agency – they require it. Behaviors – not roles – determine leadership, productivity, and personal growth.
Understanding Community Governance
In 2009 we created the Community Maturity Model to help the organizations with which we worked to understand the changes required to move from a highly extrinsically-controlled, hierarchical, and rigid model of organizations to an intrinsically-supported, networked and fluid organizational model.
We’ve spent the last decade publishing annual research, The State of Community Management, and holding roundtable discussions with experts and members of TheCR Network in order to understand how this evolution was happening in practice. We have learned a lot.
Evolving Governance Standards
This week speaking at the Digital Workplace Disruption conference, I was reminded by how far the discussion around the future of work has come; what once was the future of work is more and more the reality of work. Organizations are much more likely to understand that all the investments in technology will do nothing without investment in governance, management, leadership, and culture change. Organizations are also accepting that the COVID crisis will not end the change in working practices so their choice is to adapt or become increasingly inefficient.
It seemed like a good time to revisit how we represented the competencies in the Community Maturity Model visually – because many harken to a more traditional understanding. Strategy is no longer mandated and fixed, but evolving. Leadership is not related to a role but to behaviors. Culture is easier to understand.
The Community Maturity Model is evolving in the following ways:
In successful communities, strategy co-created and adapted as needed. Alignment comes from a compelling shared purpose that energizes everyone in its pursuit. Commitment comes from the shared value that is generated by the community – which returns more value to every participant than is contributed. Intrinsic incentives are aligned across the ecosystem rather than fractious between creators, distributors, and consumers of value so commitment and loyalty do not require coercion.
Leadership is achieved not through a bestowed role but by behaviors that earn the trust of others. Everyone has access to lead and leadership is earned by having a vision that resonates, relationships that influence, and a big enough network to have impact.
When the focus of work is on transactions and content, culture is ambiguous and difficult to understand. However, when behaviors determine leadership and decisions, culture becomes clear. Culture can be seen in the breadth and depth of different engagement behaviors, which we define broadly in the Community Engagement Framework. Measuring these behaviors and tracking them over time can reveal how culture is changing.
In our traditional understanding of management is that it is a role responsible for managing work tasks and the people performing those tasks. It is focused on assigning, monitoring, and reporting. It is disturbingly patronizing and paternalistic. In communities, there is no structural control that can force and pressure members into doing anything and it, therefore, creates a more democratic and equitable culture. Community management then is not about managing individuals and their actions – it is focused on managing the environment and the governance model. Much of their work focuses on strategy, infrastructure, guidelines, programming, and measurement – all the things that define the vision and the boundary conditions while making it as easy as possible for members to contribute and access value.
CONTENT AND PROGRAMMING
We tend to obsess about content – and it is important but it’s not an end goal on its own, although you wouldn’t know that looking at many of our metrics. The objective of content is to help others learn something – and learning can also be done through conversation. So the goal is less about maximizing the amount of content and ensuring that there are learning pathways for people to explore at their own speed, full of opportunities to find content and connect with relevant peers and experts.
In a extrinsically controlled organization, governances is focused on standardizing roles, tasks, processes, and rewards. It creates structures that tend to feel like constraints and cages and inhibit individuals from bringing their whole selves to work – because the organization does not celebrate the things we do and are that don’t fit in their boxes. Diversity in controlled organizations is a bug, not a feature. In communities, where every individual has self-efficacy and determines how they show up and contribute they are free to be who they want in any context. Differences are prized because it means the community can seize new opportunities that it couldn’t before. Differences challenge others to learn and explore. The goal of governance in communities is to ensure that the elements of a successful community exist and are updated as things change – and to create the boundaries that determine the purpose of the community, all of which are co-created with the community itself.
TOOLS & TECHNOLOGY
In organizations designed for control, tools and technology is a core mechanism to enforce control. It’s job is to increase the productivity of processes and outputs, which it does by standardizing them. The challenge with communications tools and technology is that good communications, relationships, and creativity cannot actually be forced. Tools can help and support but they can’t force someone to be more empathetic than they are. In a community environment, tools and infrastructure can make behaviors easier, through the UX design and integrations. By making some behaviors easy and others hard, tools increase the likelihood of behaviors without extrinsic coercion.
METRICS AND MEASUREMENT
In a production economy driven by extrinsic control, output is the primary artifact of productivity. In a knowledge economy, maximizing the production of knowledge/content is actually detrimental in that it overwhelms people and makes understanding and decision-making more difficult. One need only look at how effective disinformation campaigns are online. Overwhelmed with content, people rely on emotion not facts to focus their attention. With no control over tasks or individuals, the focus of communities is to make behaviors that lead to outputs easy and socially rewarded – so the focus on metrics becomes engagement behaviors vs. outputs. This puts the focus not on generating more content for its own sake but on building the connections, trust, and dialog necessary for a shared understanding and response. It turns out, it is also how to maximize creativity and innovation because it ensures people feel safe to share their ideas and questions.
The Future of Organizational Governance is Community Governance
Years ago, when I used to say that the future of all management was community management I would get confused reactions. Today, when I say that many people enthusiastically agree – because they see how poorly we are prepared to deliver a broad and inclusive economy that tackles the multiple complex crises we are facing. While organizations continue focusing on delivering more and cheaper products, individuals are literally struggling to live. The economy is working well for fewer and fewer people – and it is unsustainable, out of touch, and doing little to address the most pressing needs or biggest opportunities we have in front of us.
There is a different and better way to create economic wealth that is both equitable and sustainable. Communities change how we work.