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  • Writer's pictureNicole Papaioannou Lugara

What to Consider About Culture When Implementing Community-Driven Talent Development

Just about every business we've spoken to in the last 7 years has told us they want a culture of continuous learning and improvement.


And community-driven learning can be a huge asset when it comes to supporting that kind of culture. In fact, I'd argue community building is the ONLY way to have effective continous learning and improvement in an organization.


The challenge is that many organizations have this idealized vision of a culture of continuous learning and improvement without the structures in place to support it.


Or they have the right culture, but they lack the strategic planning that enables to adopt community-driven talent development opportunities.


So let's talk about what you need to consider when it comes to culture as your determine whether and how to implement community-driven talent development.


yetis working in a startup


What It Takes to Build Community


Before we get into the impact of culture, you need to understand what it takes to build community.


First, what is a community?


There are so many defining characteristics that can make up communities. The only thing that remains constant: people in communities have something in common.


It can be as silly as "people named Ryan" or as serious as "Mothers Against Drunk Driving."


As you build community, you need to focus on helping people recognize and want to connect as a result of these commonalities.


What does it take to make a community successful?


It varies, but if we're talking communities for talent development, these 11 elements are essential:


  1. Clear Purpose and Goals: Define the community's mission and objectives. Ensure that members understand and align with these goals. At work, most people are wondering, "Why am I here? What is the value of the time I'm spending on this task?" Make sure you can answer it.

  2. Inclusive Culture: Cultivate an environment where all members feel valued and included, regardless of their background or perspectives. While there may be some exclusivity attached to be part of a special team or community (hey, not everyone can be a NY Giants fan), there shouldn't be exclusion within the group. You also want to consider if exclusivity is a requirement. For example, do you really need to make leadership development opportunities only available to leaders and/or "high potential" people? We'd argue, in most cases, no. Anyone at any rank can be a leader, even if they're not an executive leader by title.

  3. Effective Communication: Establish robust channels for communication to ensure information is shared transparently and efficiently. Your people need ways to communicate and ways to stay clued into happenings and opportunities.

  4. Engagement Strategies: Implement activities and initiatives that encourage active participation and engagement from members. Sometimes grassroots interest groups pop at work-- and that's great! But if you're trying to leverage community-driven talent development for the first time, you're going to have to be intentional about how you bring people in and keep them there.

  5. Networking and Relationship Building: Facilitate opportunities for members to build relationships and network with each other, enhancing the community's cohesion and collaborative potential.

  6. Leadership and Governance: Develop a leadership structure that is accessible and responsive to the community's needs. Good governance practices keep everyone aligned and support appropriate behavior.

  7. Trust: Foster a sense of trust within the community by promoting honesty, integrity, and transparency. You can have a community without trust, but it won't be a successful one. If you want your community to thrive, members need to trust each other and the community leaders.

  8. Resource Availability: Provide resources and support that enable members to contribute effectively and benefit from the community. In evolutionary terms, community is essential to survival, and part of that is because successful communities make resources available to members that would not be available to them as individuals.

  9. Feedback, Active Listening, and Adaptation: Regularly collect feedback from members and be willing to adapt strategies and approaches based on this input. A community is an ecosystem. It changes in response to its members' experiences, to events, and to changes to its structure (e.g., the online platform). And to maintain an active, successful community, you need to make sure it always serves the needs of the members.

  10. Recognition and Reward: Acknowledge and celebrate the contributions and achievements of community members to encourage continued participation and commitment. Not only will doing this make people feel good and want to stick around, it makes desired behavior visible to the rest of the members, increasing the likelihood that others will adopt those behaviors.


How does community work at work?


Community-driven learning for talent development can show up in many formats. Here a few popular ones:


  • Employee resource groups (ERG)

  • Peer-to-peer troubleshooting groups

  • Communities of practice

  • Purpose-focused chat channels

  • Online learning communities

  • Interest groups with regular meet-ups (e.g., people who meet after work to play pickleball)


The Culture Checklist


When community is embedded into work, it comes up against organizational, departmental, and team culture and cultural norms.


The Big 4


There are four questions that need to be addressed before you do anything else:


  • Is there a significant level of trust between potential community members?

  • Have effective are the potential community members at collaboration?

  • Have the potential community members been involved with successful communities previously?

  • Does leadership model and support talent development?

What we learn from asking these questions:


  • Does an environment for community building exist?

  • How skilled are community members at being community members?

  • How skilled are leaders at building and maintaining communities?


If the answer to any of the big 4 questions is "no," then it may indicate that the organization isn't ready for community-driven talent development. At least not the kind of open-format community many think of when when we say community-driven learning.


These aren't indiciations community is never going to work. It may mean that more scaffolding is required.


Scaffolding Community


In learning, we talk about scaffolding. In community building for talent development, scaffolding happens too.


Participation

If you're bringing together a group of people who have never done any kind of community-based learning for talent development purposes, you may have to provide more guidelines and structures for participation. If you've ever seen a weekly engagement prompt in a Facebook group-- like #MotivationMondy-- then you've seen this kind of scaffolding at play.


Vulnerability

You may also have to consider how you scaffold vulnerability, especially if the culture at your organization is one that lacks trust. You might start of with low stakes questions and opportunities for sharing before asking them to share more personal details. You probably won't get much of a response to "What's one mistake you've made at work this month?" on day 1. You're going to have to demonstrate trustworthiness with less risky information first.


Collaboration

It's good if people get involved, but more than just a space to connect, you want to motivate people to work together to ideate and build. If your community members don't know how to do that, then you'll need to embed these skills into the experience. You can use tools to model it. You might also leverage structured learning to drive community building. For example, your people might not jump in on an open online community, but they might start to work together if they have group projects in a cohort.


The bottom line: Be honest with yourself.

Before using community as a tool to support talent development efforts, be honest in your assessment of your work culture. If you've got an environment in which community-driven talent development can be successful, then you have a much wider range of community-driven talent development options.


If your work culture needs some work, you'll need to start small, provide a ton of structure, and recognize that your community leaders will need to embody the desired culture and respond to challenges with grace.


If you ignore the culture of your organization, community will fall flat. Even worse, community could become a damaging tool that further enforces undesirable aspects of the work culture.


 

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Check out I Can Ducking Write: Unblock Clarity & Creativity for Better ID Writing.


We can't emphasize enough just how important writing well is to community building.




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