Tag Archives: Matthew Loxton

Communities of Practice – Behaviours and Benefits

By Matthew Loxton1

Why do people participate in Communities of Practice2 (CoP)?

An Applied Psychologist or a Knowledge Management person might tell you it is for the pure enjoyment and commitment to their identity as an expert in the field.  People want to contribute something to their field, to leave a mark, to better the practice, and to be seen in a positive light amongst their peers in that domain. They often self-identify in occupational terms, and part of their persona hinges on that occupational identity – The answer to “who am I?” is often coloured in occupational terms.

People offer discretionary participation and exchange of ideas motivated by intrinsic forces of their own personalities, and the behaviour of the company should be to support them, enable them, and in some cases to defer to them when it comes to their expertise.

Individual Benefits of Communities of Practice

Here are the most salient benefits as I see them:

  1. Occupational Security
    Gone are the days when an employer could offer guarantees of employment for life, but while the employer can’t offer job security anymore, being in active contact with a broad network of practitioners in their field, the individual is far more likely to find their next position through a contact than on their own. (Hudson 2010)
  2. Passion
    Let’s face it, some people will get out of bed at 4am, trek across bug-infested marshland, and endure mosquitoes, nasty sandwiches, and soggy clothing – just to catch a glimpse of a rare bird. They don’t do that because anyone paid them, but because they get a thrill out of it.
  3. Community
    Besides spotting that elusive Red-Belied Woodpecker, the next best (or even better) thing is to tell people who would understand why that got you to crouch for hours in discomfort bordering on agony. They get it – they know what it’s like and you don’t have to explain why, just where, when, and how. Not only do they understand, but their questions are passion-supportive, and their suggestions are net contributions.
  4. It’s Bigger than ME
    Besides what we know about a good life and a great career (passion, expertise, reward) (Collins 2001), and about fulfillment (mastery, autonomy, purpose) (Pink), what makes this transcendental is that it feels bigger than the individual – they get to feel a sense of being an integral part of something bigger than mere success, a sense of meaning.

Benefits of Communities of Practice as perceived by Senior Management

Let’s turn to the hard-nosed CFO/COO and explain why they should care and how this may hit EBITDA and make the investor smile?

Let’s count the ways:

  1. Succession Planning
    A CoP is a ready-made breeding ground for succession-planning and risk mitigation because it identifies and trains natural replacements should an expert leave or become unavailable. Not only will you know who the stand-ins are, but they will already have an idea of what the need is and have methods and ideas similar to the person they replace.
  2. Recruitment
    CoPs naturally extend out into the regions beyond the organization and not only would the CoP know who is out there, but also have a track record on them and be able to point the recruiters at a specific place to fish and specific people to approach. It reduces the time and cost of recruitment to mere pennies on the dollar and with far higher success rates.
  3. Retention
    People who are passionate about some aspect of their job tend to stay there and are likely to view fondly an employer that makes exercising their passion a reality, and see it as a good place to work – even when somebody flashes more money to entice them away. Once the cash side is “sufficient”, passion beats money almost every time.
  4. Engagement
    Engaged workers are productive workers, and nothing spells engagement quite like being passionate about one’s occupation. By creating social groups built around mutual passion for an occupation, CoPs drive engagement for as long as the firm’s mission and the occupation domain are aligned.
  5. Intellectual Capital
    CoPs generate intangible assets that can be replicated and reused, and which increase performance in the form of methods, processes, techniques, and case studies and results. On their own, these increase performance, but when turned into explicit knowledge can be licensed out or sold for hard cash (Like Kodak is interested in doing to raise cash). When hinted at publicly, they drive up market value and can push share-price up. They also siphon up knowledge created by other firms and create a net gain in intangible assets.
  6. Reduction of Waste
    CoPs produce standards, templates, and documentation that cut down on mistakes, reduce re-inventing the wheel, and force a reduction in variation.
  7. Quality
    Standardization and process improvement lead directly to improvements in product and service quality, and the relentless refinement native to a CoP drives out error and variance, and steadily increases quality.
  8. SPEED!
    Ever hear that the grapevine is faster than light? Well this is where the social network acts directly to the benefit of the organization.  “Hey look what I found” is faster by orders of magnitude than drafting a corporate memo, and gets to the right ears in the right jargon faster than a speeding bullet.
  9. Adaptive Capacity
    CoPs have a finger on the pulse of changes in their domain of excellence and are quick to notice developments in technology or practice, and this gives the firm a head-start on noticing changes in the business environment, and also the flexibility to make appropriate changes in good time.


Firms that do provide the infrastructure, scaffolding, and deference to grow CoPs will find themselves with more engaged and more productive staff, higher levels of Intangible Assets, and over and above lowered costs and increased revenues, could see a climb in the share price as the market puts value to the non-physical assets they have built.

Notes and references

  1. Matthew Loxton is an occasional guest blogger on topics related to Elisabeth Goodman’s blog site themes of process improvement, knowledge management and change management – key topics to support Elisabeth Goodman’s work at RiverRhee Consulting on enhancing team effectiveness. Matthew holds a master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and donates KM expertise to medical institutions
  2. A Community of Practice (CoP) is a dispersed group of people with a common interest in a subject who have decided to work together to share what they know, learn from each other and work collaboratively to achieve common goals.  Their involvement with each other is voluntary, although it may be driven by cascaded objectives, and they do not have the same management reporting line. A CoP requires active facilitation and support with a careful balance of formality / informality” definition taken from John Riddell‘s definition included in Elisabeth Goodman’s presentation: “Sustaining Effective Continuous Improvement In An Organisation: A Holistic View”, at IQPC Business Process Excellence in Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, London, 7th April 2011 http://slidesha.re/h2vVhN
  3. Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great : Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. New York, Harper Collins.
  4. Hudson (2010). Networking: Tapping into the Hidden Job Market.
  5. Pink, D. H. (2009) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Hardcover

Crowd-sourcing and tagging: an application of knowledge management to continuous process improvement and innovation

Guest blog by Matthew Loxton1

This discussion is about Process Improvement from a Knowledge Management perspective, but rather than covering the topic from the stratosphere, I have chosen to dig into a very specific and somewhat narrow slice – the use of internal crowdsourcing and tagging as a conduit to producing (and encouraging) process and other improvements.

There are two pathways involved in how knowledge and process-improvement work together:

–      Ongoing or incremental process improvement in the Kaizen spirit, where small incremental changes are made by the practitioner in response to observations. This is essentially a “heads-down” effort that can result in building changes in the business process-flow (with[i] or without process tools).

–      Big-bang innovations that could lead to paradigmatic changes in anything from processes/procedures, to methods, to products, to strategic direction. Usually these come about not through maturing ideas in a domain or Community of Practice (CoP)[ii], but through importing an idea from an external domain where it was matured – most likely in an entirely different application.

In this blog I will address both of these with a common infrastructure and approach, but before we get started, there is a video that I need you to watch – because I am going to base the discussion on what Clay Shirky presented at TED Talks entitled “How Social Media Can Make History[iii]

Identifying controlled vocabulary to make it easier for people to share their knowledge

What I want you to imagine is combining a Controlled Vocabulary, Tagging, and the kind of internet behavior that Shirky described in the video.  By using your entire staff (and possibly partners, customers, and visitors) as a crowdsourced monitoring system for process improvement, you can have process improvement built into the framework itself and make use of the goodwill and cognitive excess that the people possess.

Imagine for instance that you settle on the tag #Fail as a term to describe something that is wrong – this could be anything from a problem in a parking bay, to something misstated on the corporate intranet, to a broken manhole cover on the factory floor.

With a smidgen of software tools to display a crowdmap, reports tagged as #fail can come from any number of sources – internal twitter-type text messages, images or video captured with cellphones, PC screenshots, emails, and so on.

Instead of having to first find the right form, fill it out, and send it to the correct department, the individual has a single place to go and a simple mechanism to tag something using whatever capture medium they have at hand or find convenient. Using a controlled vocabulary shortens the amount of description needed, and using tagging based on a controlled vocabulary enables easy capture without requiring a significant investment of effort by the individual – both making participation more likely.

Using tagging to address errors, failures and to innovate

The same mechanism used to tag errors and failures can be used to celebrate something[iv], to draw attention to something innovative, or to ask for help by simply using the internal vocabulary with which everyone should already be familiar.

Since tagging isn’t limited to canonical structure, several tagwords can be used in conjunction either by the originator or by any subsequent handlers of the message or contributors. It also easily enables “me-too” behavior in which a situation that gets reported by one person can trigger recognition by others, who can then in turn add information as a refinement or as further information.

For example, let’s say that a screenshot of an error message is captured with tagwords of #fail and #IT.

The IT department would be able to pluck the incident from the tag cloud, know who sent it and where they are, and then further code it with tagwords to refine the responsible IT group like #serverteam, and right down to the responsible individual, #bjones.

If more people recognize the situation as something they have encountered, they can simply add to that, and both geographical and rate information would be immediately apparent.

Using tagging in this fashion also enables big-bang innovations by creating a messaging portal through which paradigmatic innovations can penetrate the organization.  A person can notice a method or concept or product matured elsewhere, capture it in any way that is convenient and immediate, and tag it so that it can be noticed and reacted to within the organization.


Building on foundational Knowledge Management principles like knowledge-sharing behavior and tagging, and using them in this way across the intranet to foster and enable improvement can not only save costs, but can lead to dramatic innovations with far-reaching effects for the organization.


  1. Matthew Loxton was previously Global Director, Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom.  He is currently seeking a Management Position in Knowledge Management or Organizational Development at an innovative organization.  You can find out more about Matthew at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mloxton
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog


[i] Using a tool allows the next enactment of the process to be created without any special training or even announcement having to take place

[ii] The friction between CoPs generates both new ideas, and exposure to ideas that have matured in other disciplines or geographies by stepwise changes. The region where CoPs overlap usually has practitioners who can translate from one domain to another.

[iii] [http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html]

[iv] As per Dean Kamen’s statement that “you get what you celebrate”