Posts Tagged ‘knowledge worker’

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.


Interview Questions – A way to get better performers, or get sued?

January 20, 2011

I was going to post a nice article on a fashion game-show and what it can teach us about business, and my stand-in article was on how to get value out of all that ubiquitous company gossip and rumor.
… but then I got into another long exchange with several recruiters and HR professionals about interview questions, and I decided to talk about that instead.

Besides, I love yapping on about statistics and also came to realize that this was a subject that is a foreign area to many HR people – apparently and according to three HR Professionals, statistics and questionnaire design are not typically in the training for HR staff and recruiters.

Status Quo

Here’s the situation:

Many recruiters have lists of their favorite questions to ask candidates, and there are more blogs and articles online than you can shake a stick at with lists of “best questions”, “favorite questions”, and “most common questions”. Some recruiters have their own lists, some draw from those blogs and articles, and others make up new questions as they go, or even do it on the fly during an interview.
What gets my giddy-goat is that while they all wax lyrical about how wonderful their questions are and how happy they are with the results, almost none volunteer how they determine that their questions do anything whatsoever other than make them happy and take time.

The articles tend to be empty when it comes to explaining the reasoning behind the “top ten/twenty/forty-two” list, and can’t point to results other than (at best) a few hand-picked and probably fictitious anecdotes. Many recruiters also espouse questions to “throw” the candidate, catch them off-guard, or startle them, which is supposedly going to reveal a “true character” or do something else that is simply marvelous but undisclosed.
… and of course there are many examples of those “why is a manhole cover round” sort of question which are spoken of in hushed and reverent terms.

My question is why is one asking these questions at all.
I mean, it takes time, effort, and presumably one needs to take notes and then compare answers, and time is money.
The answer is that the questions are going to give insight into the applicant’s personality and abilities.

Fair enough, I say.

… but this is hiring and we are presumably trying to get a better performer than those of our competition, and whose performance translates into achievement of corporate objectives – EBITDA, for example.
In which case, I am not so sure that we are trying to discover “true character” as much as simply trying to match applicants to a role in such a way that we are more likely to achieve operational goals – in other words, performance.

What to Do

Firstly, don’t ask illegal questions, it can get your employer into a whole heap of pain.
I say this because over the years I have been asked about my religion, my age, my national origin, and even my political affiliations, and each time I made a mental note to eradicate that if I joined the firm.
There is silly, and then there is just plain ridiculously silly – Don’t ask questions that expose your employer to legal action for improper discrimination. It costs money, it harms the reputation, and it just isn’t necessary.
Simple rule, if you aren’t sure of the legality of a question, leave it out!

Secondly, get a book on questionnaire design and interviewing (Scheaffer, Mendenhall Iii et al. ; Oppenheim 1998; Van Bennekom 2002; Swanson 2005), and maybe one on qualitative analysis (Ezzy 2002)

Here are some basic points before we get to my recommendations on designing a process for interview questions:

  1. Getting experts for technical or specialized tasks is a good idea, and you shouldn’t stop when you reach staffing – IO Psychology was founded precisely to address staffing issues.
  2. Don’t fret unnecessarily about sample size – a sample is used to predict a feature of a population to which it belongs and you aren’t trying to tell what is going on in the general population by using your sample of applicants, so sample size is not as relevant.
  3. There are robust statistical methods to deal with non-parametric situations in which sample sizes are small, such as Kolmogorov-Smirnov, Willcoxon, Kendall, and other tests
  4. Statistical tests are pretty much always going to be better than gut-feel and guessing since that is precisely what they have been designed to do. They exist because of the many and various biases and errors that come factory-installed in our Neolithic brains.

I often encounter this chestnut – “Past performance is a better predictor of success than chance.”

Yes it is a better predictor than chance, but that doesn’t mean that the question or the specific past behavior selected are better than chance.
While it is true that amongst the myriad past behaviors there are those that would predict specific future behavior, there is no reason to believe that we have selected the right predictors or that what we believe to have been a predictive behavior is going to be so.
In addition, don’t forget that people learn, and learning is exactly the opposite of past predicting future.

Dr.Shepell the EAP expert has suggested a regimen of measuring the predictive power of your questions over time. He suggested 2yr tenure as a performance measure, and that the scores from recruitment questions be correlated to whether the person is still employed at the 2yr anniversary to see if the questions had higher predictive power than chance. This is a simple task that can be done with standard features in Excel.

My suggestion is more complex and involves (a) post-diction to see if a question would have predicted known performers and (b) for prediction I choose the regular performance review scores. Predictive questions should correlate strongly with performance evaluation scores (unless the appraisals are rubbish).

An additional suggestion is to code the probationary outcome and either produce a dummy Boolean variable to correlate against the questions, or to expand the probationary result into a Likert scale with negative values if the person was released and positive values if they were retained. That allows a “no thanks” or “ok,sure” to be distinguished from a “Hell, No!” and a “Hell, YES” evaluation.

Here’s what I am recommending:

  1. Derive interview questions from four sources:
    1. previous critical events in the company’s history
    2. desired operational outcomes or goals
    3. the characteristics of known performers
    4. Industry-specific authorities (but make sure you understand the heritage of the questions)
    5. Like unpackaged drugs, do not get them from anyone without solid credentials
  2. Test them before use
    1. Examine them for Content Validity and Construct Validity i.e. do they test the things they are meant to and do they do so exhaustively and exclusively – the whole truth and nothing but the truth
    2. Check with simple correlation that currently known high performers answer the questions as you would have expected. If you have a top-gun Software engineer and want to get another, make sure the questions would be answered by them in the way you expected – if they don’t then modify your question or drop it.
    3. Check that the answers by existing staff correlate to their performance reviews – unless you are making a pig’s ear of the regular performance reviews, you should have simple numerical ratings that can be correlated to the answers to your questions. If there isn’t a strong positive relationship between the appraisal scores and your questions, then one or both are a mess.
    4. Take your questions to the company lawyer who knows employment law in your locality. This is not a DIY step, get legal advice before you put the company’s neck on the block.
    5. Take them to the Marketing department and get them to give you a feel for whether you are damaging the brand in any way. You shouldn’t have many questions so they should be able to give you a feel in a few breaths.
  3. Use them in a consistent manner
    1. Don’t ad lib and don’t change the wording or delivery
    2. Explain how long the questioning will take, who will use the answers and for what purpose, and how long they will be kept on record
    3. Keep records – this is company property, not yours to discard or lose
  4. Test them over time
    1. Use Dr.Shepell’s criterion – if the results don’t predict tenure, then something is wrong, probably the question itself.
    2. At each performance review, run correlations again and see how the questions are doing at predicting performance – if the correlation isn’t higher than 0.5 then you might as well be flipping a coin! You should be refining the question battery to give you an overall predictive power of 0.85 or above.
    3. Once you have a few years of data, get a good statistician in to do some fancier tests like Discriminant and Factor analysis.
  5. Be Sneaky Observant
    1. See if you can get people at other companies and particularly your competitors to answer the questions – the objective is to get a competitive edge over other firms in your market space by hiring better people than they are.
    2. Put some of the questions online in forums where SMEs that you typically hire would congregate, and see if they correlate to how senior the respondents appear to be in their area of expertise
    3. Approach known experts in the field to answer some of your questions and check those correlations

… but Why?

So why all this bother, after all stats is hard, and isn’t this going to take a lot of effort and time?

If you are keeping records of the answers people gave and how you scored those answers (and please tell me you are keeping scrupulous records), and if you have six-monthly or annual performance reviews that include numerical scores for various categories of performance (and please tell me you are doing this and keeping records), then all you need is to spare a few paltry minutes on extracting the values and running a correlation between the scores from the questions and the performance scores.

The IT folks can write a script to do all that automatically if your appraisal system doesn’t already have that functionality.

The effort is therefore not all that great since you should be doing most of it anyway.

The benefit is that you …

  1. Don’t waste time and effort asking, coding, and using questions that don’t do anything – if the question is as effective as flipping a coin, leave it off the list
  2. Get a solid basis for a defense if your hiring practices wind up being challenged in court – it is a whole lot easier to defend if you can show statistical tracking over time for questions used than standing there looking earnest and saying how you really really believe they are good questions.
  3. You get to demonstrate in real and tangible terms the value of your profession – you can show in hard numbers how the hiring processes lead to competitive advantage and shareholder value. Not a bad thing to be able to show these days!


Building interview and selection questions in a methodical way and tracking their predictive power eliminates many of the inbuilt biases that come with the standard-issue human brain, and creates intellectual capital that moves the questioning process from a smoke & mirror charade to a solid foundation and translates into real operational advantage.
The costs of doing it are lower than simply carrying on a status quo based on belief and opinion, and the additional effort involved in running basic statistical correlations is negligible.

There is simply no reason not to do so.


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.


Ezzy, D. (2002). Qualitative Analysis: Practice and Innovation (New South Wales, Allen & Unwin.

Oppenheim, A. N. (1998). Questionnaire design, interviewing and attitude measurement, Pinter Pub Ltd.

Scheaffer, R. L., W. Mendenhall Iii, et al. “Elementary survey sampling. USA: IPT, 1996.” Links: 126-195.

Swanson, R. A. (2005). Research in organizations: Foundations and methods of inquiry, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Van Bennekom, F. C. (2002). Customer surveying: A guidebook for service managers, Customer Service Press.


Will this be the Year of SharePoint?

January 12, 2011

Most of my blog posts avoid discussing products and technology, and while I hasten to add that I really do love the techie side, the point is that while the technology is really cool and makes a significant contribution, it has a very short shelf-life and is never going to account for more than 30% of the success factors.
Technology comes and goes and mostly needs massive hype and spin to make it crack open the budgets and get the dollars rolling out, which inevitably leaves a lot of people embarrassed or frustrated, and disillusioned by the whole Knowledge Management idea because they equated it with a specific brand or technology .

So I tend to focus on the other 70% more or less stable side of the equation, which includes human behavior, organizational structure, and all those other bits that make up the socio-behavioral complex.

However, something is going on in techieland that is worth talking about – According to Global360, the adoption of Microsoft’s Sharepoint will hit 97% this year and has already reached a user-count of 130,000,000.
Of course they are very bullish on the topic because they sell Sharepoint stuff for a living, but still, even in the 90’s when Knowledge Management was something many software vendors and gurus were proclaiming as the next big thing, nobody ever thought that all the products put together would get near 97%, and 130 million licenses is a big number in any language.

Towards the end of 2010 I briefly flirted with a company that pretty much only does Sharepoint add-on’s and seemed to be doing just fine, although I thought they were way too focused on plumbing and pipes i.e. the software and technology, and far too little on the human side – which is where the action really is and why this time Knowledge Management may be rising as never before.

During 2010 I actually tried to stamp out SharePoint at a previous employer, but failed, and now I am a strong advocate of Sharepoint adoption (yes Christy, I am).
So what led to this Damascus Road change of heart?


At the start of 2009/2010 SharePoint was just another (yet another) file-sharing toy that users had discovered and had started to put things into – just like the wikis, Lotus Notes groups and folders, fileshares, portals, and all the other bits and pieces that proliferated over the years and slowly gathered dust under layers of corporate accretion. We already had an order of magnitude too many file-sharing/storage methods, most of which were hidden and not spidered by the corporate search engine, and some of which were backed up onto expensive RAID while other repositories should have been but weren’t.
There was also already a huge investment of time and money in Alfresco, and I didn’t want to simply attenuate focus on another contender.

However, as the year drew on, and just before I left, I had changed my mind and was actively pushing for adoption.
Why did I change my mind? – It was simply that there was a strong user desire that was capable of pushing through the resistance.
My view is that when users put that much effort into something, then that enthusiasm should be supported and guided where possible and not left to rust out in the cold.
A KM solution is less than 20% technology, and over 70% culturally determined in my view, so where you find a high degree of engagement and desire from users, especially where it will help to form Communities of Practice, then this is worth supporting.

… and it seemed that SharePoint wasn’t going to go away anytime soon.

What can SharePoint do for YOU?

Well, it’s a bunch of code that costs money, so it can eat some of your budget and keep the IT guys out of mischief for a while.
It can also be a reasonably good document repository with passable workflow for approval and control and reasonable version-control, which means with a modicum of effort you can shift files that were lying in a nice orderly canonical structure on a server into another nice pile in SharePoint. Naturally you can start corralling all those stray files and index them, but of course that was possible with canonical file-shares too.
SharePoint also allows searchable Knowledge Bases to be built, but before you get too excited about that remember that retrieving hundreds of hits that are infojunk is no better than not getting any at all.

What it adds that canonical file taxonomies can’t however, is folksonomies via tagging that give multiple taxonomical hooks to a single file, and it can provide a far more social environment for people to access than regular traditional fileshares could – and this is where SharePoint can bring you real value.
By bringing information closer to people in a more natural ecology than before, SharePoint can make a real contribution to your operation.
It also allows add-on products that build out the social side, and can bring learning, socializing, chatting, and people’s biographical pages to cohabit in an informational ecosystem that plays far more naturally to our inbuilt preferences.

One thing that you can use it for that probably dwarfs everything else if you have an organization with more than 150 staff, is to make people searchable in terms of their skills, training, and experience by adding them as knowledge artifacts. Why this isn’t done more completely baffles me, because a “facebase” was something we were experimenting with long before Bill Gates brought out Windows.
Using technology like integrated search and content management to help find people should be a no-brainer.
The point is to give people a page that can be modified to suit their tastes but that contains scrapable information that says what they are good at, trained in, and willing to help with, along with their availability and rules of engagement – how to contact them, when, for what, etc. If you tie this in to the more modern B&N/Amazon idea of “what I am reading”, and also to what articles they have authored you can do some magic that goes far beyond a semantic web will ever get.

Allowing the thought leaders to emerge, and to allow people to see what informational sources they are producing is probably worth the investment, but add to that the ability to see what informational sources they use and how they rate them, and you will have as close to a miracle as ICT can deliver.

Life After SharePoint

Not that I go in for predictions much, but until exobiology produces something better, humans are always going to be way faster at finding semantic information than machines. Long after Microsoft is just an historical footnote, people will still be the fastest way to get meaning out of information, and that’s what knowledge is all about.

This is SharePoint’s year, and with it an opportunity to use technology to support and sustain very ancient and effective human abilities to share and create meaning – we should not let it slip by.


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.

Knowledge Management Climate Survey – Consulting Packages Available

December 27, 2010

Provision of Services

Organizations that wish to contract the services of the author to perform customization, deployment, and analysis of the Climate Survey can do so by contacting Matthew Loxton directly or via eLance.

Two standard work packages are available, as well as customized or bespoke projects

  • Basic Deployment Service ($1,200 USD)
    Benefits: Low-cost DIY approach for the budget-conscious but which provides a solid and tested instrument for measuring a baseline plus providing norm-based evidence that can be used to initiate and focus intervention measures. 

    Includes set-up of up to four groups or categories and delivers raw un-analyzed data in spread-sheet format as well as:

    • Design & Setup of categories
    • Design & Setup of collectors
    • Collection & Packaging of respondent data
  • Standard Analysis Package ($4,800 USD)
    Benefits: Provides an expert analysis ready for action that identifies specific action items and provides a skeleton action-plan for immediate use that includes both a Executive Overview and Management Plan that can be used as the basis for a budget request or business plan.
    Includes all of the above plus Deployment and Analysis given below. 

    • Deployment
      • Information session with Managers
      • eMail campaign to participating managers and staff
      • Qualitative interviews (5)
    • Analysis
      • Executive overview including highlight risk and opportunity areas
      • Analysis for Operational Managers
      • Operational analysis and recommendations
      • Action Plan

Bespoke or tailored packages can be built on request.

Concept Map



The questionnaire instrument is designed around a six-level KM Maturity Model that I built out from the basic CMMI model, and it highlights the climate in terms of internal drivers, environmental factors, and external contact.

The basic model looks like this:

  • Level 0 – Learned Incompetence
  • Level 1 – Awareness of Process
  • Level 2 – Repeatable Process
  • Level 3 – Defined Process
  • Level 4 – Managed Process
  • Level 5 – Optimized Process
  • Level 6 – Double-Loop Learning Process

As results are gathered across many organizations, the instrument will be refined – questions will be dropped if they seem to duplicate others in construct or show poor variance, and even though the average respondent took around ten minutes, we should try to reduce the number of items needed to get validity. I may also do a split-form version if some questions mirror each other closely.

The beta test was completed via Survey Monkey, and a 2nd Release Candidate is currently open for people to try out

This questionnaire also needs to be correlated against business and performance measures – the basic assumptions are:

  1. The BFI portion will show specific profile regularities over large numbers of respondents
  2. Organisations that score highly on learning and sharing measures will have lower turnover and higher profit per headcount than equitable organizations who score lower
  3. High measures on the trust and sharing items should predict both higher job satisfaction and performance
  4. High measures on external awareness and learning should predict higher CoP maturity
  5. High efficacy measures should also predict both higher job satisfaction and performance

Another basic premise is the same as I articulated in a Knowledge Management blog post some time ago – we already “Do KM”, the question is whether the way we do it enables us to achieve organizational goals or reduces our ability to achieve them. This questionnaire measures to a large extent, whether our KM behaviors and beliefs are congruent with positive outcomes.


The outcome of a survey with this tool will probably include various obvious gaps and inconsistencies, but we also need to offer a normative model of what the preferred profile would be.
Two possibilities:

  • A general or universal norm profile that matches all situations
  • Some kind of context-sensitive tool that builds the norm along the lines that the Sebenza tool by PIA did job profiles, or perhaps a manual hand-crafted norm profile

Suggested manual norms are provided for each item.

If you wish to participate in the testing, please just go to the RC-2 survey link, and if you would like to put a little budget into using this tool to help your organization put its knowledge assets to work, please contact me.


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.

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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