Posts Tagged ‘community of practice’

On the Psychosocial Determinants of CoP Success

August 30, 2012

Over the past few years I have been inching along with a thought – what if we looked at Knowledge Management through the lens of psychology, what would we see and what problems and issues would stand out in relief against the many prickly problems faced by KM practitioners.

One that stands out to me is the question of whether CoP success (and we get to define that however we like) is proportional to variation in how much and how its members share knowledge.
When we look at this from a psychosocial perspective, the question that pops out to me is why do some people share knowledge and others don’t, why do some share more and others less.
Is there perhaps a character trait that predisposes people to sharing knowledge, are their environmental pressures and social norms that cause the behavior to vary, are these relatively stable over time and place or do they vary according to some sort of root cause?

Success Factors

Here is the first pass at a list of facets for what constitutes “success” for a CoP:

  1. Longevity
  2. Membership Factors
    1. Member Count
    2. Member Seniority
    3. Member Diversity
  3. Activity
    1. Level of Interaction
    2. Number of meets
    3. Participation
  4. Productivity
    1. Creation of a Controlled Vocabulary
    2. Innovations
    3. Creation of Operational KPIs
    4. Documentation of Best Practices
    5. Degree of Outreach
    6. Efforts in Training & Induction
    7. Mentorship

Psychosocial Constructs

So far this is what I have noted as potential constructs.
The list needs to be expanded somewhat and then trimmed back to only those things that really contribute towards explaining variation in success.

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Locus of Control
  3. OCEAN
  4. Individualism vs Communitarianism
  5. Emotional Investment
  6. Great Leader / Cult of Personality
  7. Action vs Reflection
  8. Conservatism vs Liberalism
  9. Q
  10. Creativity
  11. Frustration Tolerance




Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management practitioner, and is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice. Matthew holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.

We are getting Talent Wrong

April 19, 2012

A lot of people really enjoy the various talent shows that have rippled out across the world over the last decade – Britain Has Talent, America Has Talent, … and all the variants that stretch from Australia to Korea.

The shows of course serve up the maximum of weirdness and horrible lack of talent too, which perhaps says something about how deluded some people are about their abilities, and that performance requires not just passionate enthusiasm (or gall) but also excellence of ability.
To be really successful at anything, of course, requires more than just piles of eagerness, and some people are unskilled and also unaware of it.(Kruger and Dunning 1999; Hodges, Regehr et al. 2001)

I find the shows horrifying though, and I am left staring into space thinking that what the shows really demonstrate is that we have got something very, very wrong.

Let me explain.

It isn’t that I don’t also feel the emotional surge when some little child like Holly Steel or Jackie Evancho or Ronan Parke belt out a vocal with voices that belong more in the body of somebody in their 30’s with a lifetime of experience and training than in somebody under 12yrs old. The thing is that these people have more or less already been “discovered” early in life and are pretty much the “normal quota” of stunningly good performers. These are the ones that become a Sarah Brightman or a Celine Dion, and while their trajectories are in an early, nascent phase, they can be plotted out into the future with little stretch of the imagination.

One can look at Olivia Binfield the 7yr old poet and champion of animals, and it is easy to see her future mapped out ahead as the next Carol Ann Duffy or Jane Goodall.

I feel that same sense of wonder over them as the audience does, and these are the people that Simon Cowell means when he says that these are the “special, special talent” that he is there to find, but I think that these leave us so awe-struck that we miss the bigger picture.

The performers that chill me to the bone are the adults – Jamie Pugh (37), Julian Smith (40), Paul Potts (41), Susan Boyle (49), Fiona Mariah (50), or Janey Cutler (80).

These are adults whose talents have been available but unknown to anyone but themselves and their immediate circle for decades – at the time of his first public audition Jamie Pugh was driving a van as a day job and delivered pizza by night, Paul Potts sold cellphones, Fiona Mariah was a busker, and Janey’s singing was known only to local pubs in Lanarkshire.

For every Faryl Smith (12) or Zara Larsson (10) that can make your jaw drop in amazement, is there perhaps an eighty year old Janey who just never got heard until just two years before her death, or never at all?

One might think that at least there are shows like these that make some inroads into the numbers that we must be missing, but as such they only scrape the surface – they focus only on a very narrow band of human ability related to performance art, and there is no real equivalent to the rest of the spectrum of what people are capable of – There is for instance no mathematics, engineering, or general science equivalent to “X-Factor” or “America’s Got Talent“.

Happenstance discovery through game shows is really not a satisfactory way to deal with either our problems or with the planet’s talent, we simply should do better.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it.


Hodges, B., G. Regehr, et al. (2001). “Difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence: novice physicians who are unskilled and unaware of it.” Acad Med
76(10 Suppl): S87-9.

Kruger, J. and D. Dunning (1999). “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
77(6): 1121-1134.

Communities of Practice – Behaviours and Benefits

September 27, 2011

This blog post entitled Communities of Practice – Behaviours and Benefits is hosted on Elisabeth Goodman’s blog page.

Please view it there

CoP vs CoE – What’s the difference, and Why Should You Care?

June 1, 2011

In a previous blog I covered how corporate Silos and Communities of Practice work together, and in this blog I will cover two similar ways to leverage expertise.

Other than having snappy Three Letter Acronyms (TLA), Centers of Excellence (CoE) and Communities of Practice (CoP) provide a company with ways to consolidate and build on its expertise in areas that bring direct financial and competitive results, and which translate to higher customer satisfaction, increased referenciability, and improvements in both capacity and capability. Both techniques of deploying expert knowledge provide increased job satisfaction and career development for staff at the same time.

One requires special organizational changes and an operational budget, and the other simply needs some infrastructural support to let people do what they are passionate about.

The following operational definition of a CoE is fairly useful

Whatever you call them, a Center of Excellence (CoE) should, at a most basic level consist of:  A team of people that promote collaboration and using best practices around a specific focus area to drive business results. This team could be staffed with full- or part-time members.” (Strickler 2008)

Strickler goes on to list what he considers to be the responsibilities of a CoE:

  • 1. Support: For their area of focus, CoE’s should offer support  to the business lines. This may be through services needed, or providing subject matter experts.
  • 2. Guidance: Standards, methodologies, tools and knowledge repositories are typical approaches to filling this need.
  • 3. Shared Learning: Training and certifications, skill assessments, team building and formalized roles are all ways to encourage shared learning.
  • 4. Measurements: CoEs should be able to demonstrate they are delivering the valued results that justified their creation through the use of output metrics.
  • 5. Governance: Allocating limited resources (money, people, etc.) across all their possible use is an important function of CoEs. They should ensure organizations invest in the most valuable projects and create economies of scale for their service offering. In addition, coordination across other corporate interests is needed to enable the CoE to deliver value.
  • (Strickler 2008)

In comparison a CoP provides more or less the same in terms of 1-4, but has no official authority over deployment of company resources such as people, places, equipment, or budget.

A CoP provides as follows:

  1. Support – provision of a network of experts from both inside the organization and from outside
  2. Guidance – a CoP can be entrusted to devise and document best practices, standards, methodologies, tools, bodies of knowledge
  3. Shared Learning – Except for actually creating formalized roles in a company hierarchy, a CoP does all the same things as a CoE under this heading, plus provides mentorship, apprenticeships, and access to external informal and formal trade groups.
  4. Measurements – besides providing measurements of efficacy, a CoP typically describes what measures are appropriate for the proper execution of the domain of expertise or trade
  5. Governance – in this one dimension a CoP differs greatly from a CoE and instead of managing resources, a CoP strives to refine and improve the domain of expertise itself. A central function of the CoP is to improve the domain itself rather than simply managing its deployment. A CoE for project management seeks to improve the deployment of project managers and the like in furtherance of operational targets, whereas a CoP would seek to improve the entire field and practice of project management itself.

The Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) offers a more detailed account of CoE including how to measure them

(Craig, Fisher et al. 2009)

They also offer a broader definition

(Craig, Fisher et al. 2009)

Their categories are similar to that of Strickler, but the SEI tabulate them as follows:

  1. Internal Business Process
  2. Customer Focus
  3. Leadership
  4. Innovation and Learning
  5. Financial

Again we can usefully compare what a CoP does on the same dimensions

  1. Internal Business Process – A CoP applies domain principles to service organizational goals
  2. Customer Focus – While a CoP is focused more on refining the domain than on customer service, it acknowledges that this is a business goal of the host organization and therefore puts domain expertise in service of customers.
  3. Leadership – a CoP provides leadership on the use and principles of the domain itself
  4. Innovation and Learning – These are perceived as vital objectives and programs within a CoP, although it must be said that neither a CoP nor a CoE are natural sources of innovation as such since they are both conservationary entities rather than innovative.
  5. Financial – CoPs have little or no financial responsibilities , in part at least because they depend on members to provide discretionary effort and volunteerism rather than performing work in exchange for payment.

So What is a CoP then?

Wenger (2007) defines CoPs as follows : “Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour“(Wenger, McDermott et al. 2002) and goes on to provide some examples to demonstrate

“… a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope. In a nutshell: Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Wenger, McDermott et al. 2002)

A CoP is an affiliation of people who share a common practice and who have a desire to further the practice itself … and of course to share knowledge, refine best practices, and introduce standards – but more on that later. CoPs are defined by their domain of interest, but the membership is a social structure comprised of volunteer practitioners.

CoPs differ from a CoE mainly in that they tend to have no geographical boundaries, they hold no hierarchical power within a firm, and they definitely can never have structure determined by the company.
However, one of the most obvious and telling differences lies in the stated motive of members – CoPs exist because they have active practitioner members who are passionate about a specific practice, and the goals of a CoP are to refine and improve their chosen domain of practice – and the members provide discretionary effort that is not paid for by the employer.

CoE members are paid by an employer substantively to perform that role, whereas CoP members may use infrastructure and time provided by their employer, but provide services and participation out of discretionary effort of their own. They are not paid for services rendered in the way a CoE member is.

For example: a CoP for Project Managers would transcend organizational boundaries and consist of members who are passionate about Project Management itself, and who may or may not be employed by the same firm or live on the same continent. They participate and contribute towards the improvement of project management itself because their common interest in refining and improving the practice of Project Management gives them a common interest.

CoPs may remain internal to a single company but there is no reason why they should do so (and plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t), and while they would benefit from support from the company, they don’t have to have it.

What a company can do for CoPs is provide resources like time, places to meet, IT services, stationery, coffee, tea, cookies, and maybe some money for occasional travel and beer.

What a company gets in return are fired-up and expert people who are masters of their game, and a set of practices and methods that get used consistently across different silos of the organization.

Suffice to say that companies that have thriving CoPs tend to be the leaders in their market niche and tend to have better staff retention and higher EBITDA than those that don’t.

Let’s look at the core characteristics of a CoP according to Wenger (2007)

  1. A Domain
    ‘…[a CoP] has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people’
  2. A Community
    ‘In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other’
  3. Practice
    ‘Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction’

(Wenger 2007) in (Smith 2003, 2009)


A CoE is something that you must be able to afford to put in place, whereas a CoP is something you cannot afford not to put in place. The essence of a CoP is the concept of management being enablers and then simply getting out of the way of passionate people so that they can do their thing. Whether a person’s passion is codification systems for diagnosis & repair, financial measurement, or business analytics, there are bound to be others in the company, amongst business partners, or within the customer-base that are dying to work together on refining and advancing their domain of interest – all you need to do as a manager is enable them, empower them, and get out of the way so they can put passion to work.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert, holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.


Craig, W., M. Fisher, et al. (2009). Generalized Criteria and Evaluation Method for Center of Excellence: A Preliminary Report, Citeseer.

Smith, M. K. (2003, 2009). “Communities of practice.” The encyclopedia of informal education Retrieved 31 May, 2011, from

Strickler, J. (2008). “What is a Center of Excellence.” Retrieved 31/5/2011, 2011, from

Wenger, E. (2007). Communities of practice: Learning, meanings, and identity, Cambridge university press.

Wenger, E., R. A. McDermott, et al. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge, Harvard Business Press.

Passion and Purpose : An Attainable Intrinsic Motivator?

December 21, 2010

The topic of work satisfaction either as a construct on its own or as a predictor of performance or productivity goes all the way back to Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne Plant study at least, and must be one of the top three most researched and published topics in IO Psychology. However the existing instruments tend to stay in the 40’s and 50’s for predictive power against performance, and that seems to be where they are stuck.

For an area that takes up such a big slice of our life, it deserves better – a typical career starts at around 18 years of age, and for about 48 weeks of the year it occupies us for nine hours day (at least) for five days a week (if you are lucky). Knock off 8 hours for sleep, an hour for commuting, and all you get in change for your 24hr terrestrial rotation is six hours to be “yourself” and life outside work.
Many people socialize with people from work, take work home, and marry somebody they met at work.
Losing a job is for most people somewhat of a personal identity crisis.

Clearly work takes a huge slice of our lives, and the degree to which you find it interesting and rewarding has been shown to be critical to health and happiness if not also wealth.
From a Knowledge Management perspective the implications for Intellectual Asset Management are also immense – people who are disinterested in their work produce results that are far inferior both for them in terms of health and happiness as well as for their employers in terms of productivity and ROI.
A really good worker that is engaged in what they do and puts in effort that results in achieving organizational goals is a critical competitive advantage in the market, and it is from them that much of the growth and innovation comes.

Measuring Work Behavior

Most instruments take the approach of a quasi market, and view this work thing as a quid pro quo of “this work for that pay”, and then help the management to ask how to get more work done – and if they are also Taylorite or Theory X in approach they go further and ask how to get more work for less pay and benefits.

However, like Maslow, they are undone by the concept of passionate people, but first let’s just sketch what I am talking about here.

Going back to a blog post I did about Leadership Replacement there is a kind of matrix for what one would get out of various combinations (modified a bit here), it looks like so:




Result: You have a …





















Clearly by this matrix, if you want a person who punches a card and does the expected list of tasks each day, then passion isn’t required, just an equitable exchange of money for ability.

However, if you want a slice of discretionary effort and the chance at pulling ahead of the competition, more than disinterested exchange of labor becomes mandatory.

One measure that is frequently used to tell if staff are pulling in the same direction as the corporate mission requires, is Attachment.
This construct has been studied from a variety of angles, ranging from the similarities between work attachment and romantic love (Hazan and Shaver 1990), staff turnover and attachment (Koch and Steers 1978; Abrams, Ando et al. 1998; Maertz Jr, Griffeth et al. 2007), to studies on attachment as a basic human need that plays itself out in work settings (Hepper and Carnelley ; Baumeister and Leary 1995; Simmons, Gooty et al. 2009).
In a real sense the phrase “I love my work” is more than just a casual metaphor, and speaks to real and deep-seated needs within people for affiliation, interaction, and purpose.

Attachment speaks mostly of affiliation, but also of alignment to a shared purpose, and to a sense that what is being done and achieved is valued – people with high levels of this sort of attachment also feel a sense of deeper interest in the work itself – but there is a curious thing that happens when that interest runs deeper still.

You get a person who becomes a bit obsessed and develops more than just an interest, in fact, a passion – and this has been largely missing from the original theories of work.

Mayo, Taylor, Gilbraith, and even Maslow, not much mention of passion.


Passion gets a bit unnerving because it goes beyond mere interest and the person that comes under the spell of a passion for a subject area forms an affiliation and bond with the subject itself, sometimes to the virtual exclusion of everything else.

A person who regards their work as a calling, something they are passionate about, needs no extrinsic motivation and seems to see no need for a work/life “balance”.
It isn’t that they balance differently, it’s as though the term simply becomes meaningless because work and life become entangled to the point where the person’s work and life are virtually identical and where their work is an essential part of their identity both publicly and personally.

We could view such people as some sort of aberration, a kind of benign obsessive pathology that visits itself on the broad population to produce here a Mozart, there a Michelangelo, and on occasion a Kasparov.
An alternative view is to regard these people as simply having more of something on a scale and whose skills and interests set each other on fire – the hint seems to be that passion is something that can be grown and increased in people that lie just under the combustion point.
Be that as it may though, we certainly want to know who in our organizations are either already passionate, or have the propensity to become passionate, and to be so about something that is aligned with the corporate mission.

So ala Seth Godin and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others, I want to measure to what degree a person is passionate about what they do as an occupation and also see how close that aligns with both the role they occupy and the organization they are in. Does the corporate image and mission fit like a surgical glove over their passion, and if not, how far from it is it?

In the 2nd release candidate of a Knowledge Management & Organizational Learning Climate survey, I added two items to measure respondent’s self-perception of their degree of passion for their job and their area of specialization where I had previously just asked about their passion for the company’s mission.
The initial results show an interesting split between respondent’s feelings of passion for their company’s mission and their subject domain on the one hand, and that for their job on the other.
While it is far too early to claim a tendency, it is fascinating to wonder what it would mean in terms of potential job enhancement.

However, this instrument was not designed to delve into passion as such and we should perhaps recap on the current thinking on what constructs comprise job satisfaction and performance.

Constructs ahoy

My initial construct ideas gleaned from various authors and many TED talks are:

  • Passion/Purpose
  • Autonomy/LoC
  • Feedback/Reward
  • Expertise/Excellence

I have several questions to solve before an instrument can be built – for starters, are “passion” and a “sense of purpose” part of the same construct, and can I measure them both at the same time?
Secondly, since various authors have also posed
Locus of Control (LoC) as a component of job satisfaction (Brett 2001) it makes sense to measure this, but I suspect that LoC and “Autonomy” are the same thing or closely related (Aubé, Rousseau et al. 2007). There is even a hint that a combination of passion and internal LoC is critical to entrepreneurship (Carsrud and Brännback 2009)
Thirdly, I wonder if “Feedback” and “Reward” are also at least stable-mates and that measuring for a cluster that includes both would also be significant

The biggest question is whether passion is ever entirely internally fueled, or whether autonomy/LoC is mediating the degree of feedback/reward and level of expertise/excellence that is needed to turn an interest into a passion. Once passion is fired up, is it the case that as long as LoC remains internal, that feedback and perception of excellence are mostly internal, or would an organization need to “pump” a bit?

… and of course, how exactly does one manage a passionate person?- Does one just leave them alone and provide infrastructural support, and what does one do if their passion is diverging from the organizational goal?

Next Steps

My plan is to build up a model of passion as it applies to the work environment and construct an instrument to measure it in that context.
The general idea is to have a tool with a Knowledge Management perspective on passion vs performance, and at the same time to benchmark and see what external factors can prime and steer passion.

Stay tuned!



Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge assets to work.



Abrams, D., K. Ando, et al. (1998). “Psychological attachment to the group: Cross-cultural differences in organizational identification and subjective norms as predictors of workers’ turnover intentions.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
24(10): 1027-39.

Aubé, C., V. Rousseau, et al. (2007). “Perceived organizational support and organizational commitment: The moderating effect of< IT> locus</IT> of control and work autonomy.” Journal of managerial Psychology
22(5): 479-495.

Baumeister, R. F. and M. R. Leary (1995). “The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation.” Psychological bulletin
117: 497-497.

Brett, J. M. (2001). “The Psychology of Work: Theoretically Based Empirical Research (Organization & Management Series).”

Carsrud, A. L. and M. Brännback (2009). Understanding the entrepreneurial mind: opening the black box, Springer Verlag.

Hazan, C. and P. R. Shaver (1990). “Love and work: An attachment-theoretical perspective.” Journal of personality and social psychology
59(2): 270-280.

Hepper, E. G. and K. B. Carnelley “Adult attachment and feedback seeking patterns in relationships and work.” European Journal of Social Psychology
40(3): 448-464.

Koch, J. L. and R. M. Steers (1978). “Job attachment, satisfaction, and turnover among public sector employees* 1.” Journal of Vocational Behavior
12(1): 119-128.

Maertz Jr, C. P., R. W. Griffeth, et al. (2007). “The effects of perceived organizational support and perceived supervisor support on employee turnover.” Journal of Organizational Behavior
28(8): 1059-1075.

Simmons, B. L., J. Gooty, et al. (2009). “Secure attachment: Implications for hope, trust, burnout, and performance.” Journal of Organizational Behavior
30(2): 233-247.


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