E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Enabling Early Adapters to Lead Your Change Initiatives

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Continuing further along with the series of articles around the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients, it’s now probably a good time to share some more details about the fourth pillar itself, out of the five of them, after having talked about ‘What’s your purpose?’, ‘Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them’ and ‘Building a solid library of use cases’. This particular item in the adaptation framework is all about enabling your early adapters to become the change (leading) agents within your organisation to help transform not only how your business operates through the extensive use of enterprise social networking tools, but also to inspire that personal transformation journey every single knowledge worker might need to embark on, once your firm decides to go social. My dear fellow BlueIQ Ambassadors? Are you all still out there?

Back in the day, about a decade ago, within each and every organisation there was always a chance to have the odd, strange team mate who would be just that, social. *The* weird one. Remember them? The one who was almost always on line on different social networking tools, exploring, playing, discovering new, perhaps, more effective ways of getting work done; yet, since they were just alone by themselves within each team, they didn’t manage to make much of an impact other than being the ones no-one would talk to, because, you know, they were social. Fast forward to 2016, do you still have some folks behaving that way within your teams or within your firm? Of course, I know you do! Great! You are now ready then to execute on enabling your early adapters to help you transform your business…

But before we go into that with a bit more detail, you may consider yourself lucky working on such Social Business transformation programme right from the start within your company. You may consider yourself lucky as well if you have a (small) team of rather talented colleagues working and executing with you on the various different change initiatives you may have going on, but the thing is that neither you, nor your rather talented and smart team, can scale over time, eventually, and that’s why you need to be prepared for whenever that happens, because, whether you like it or not, you will need some help at some point in time and the soonest you start mobilising it together, the better.

That’s why it’s going to be incredibly important for those of you out there working on Social Business Adaptation programmes to start building a strong sense of purpose for those (social) early adapters who, in its due time, will become your small army of volunteers, as they will be rather keen on going the extra mile to help you achieve your different goals. But it all starts with giving them a purpose. You can call them whatever you would want to: ambassadors, champions, advocates, evangelists, connectors, change agents, etc. etc. you name it. What’s really important about this exercise of giving them a reason-to-be is to essentially build a strong community of practice where they would feel and sense they are no longer the weird ones, but they will be on a new major, critical mission: transform the company they work at. That’s where it all begins…

That’s how IBM’s own BlueIQ Ambassadors got started back in 2007. We were a small global team of about 8 people who were working on IBM Software’s own Social Business Adaptation journey and right from the very beginning we realised that we weren’t going to scale in terms of how far we could reach out within the organisation, so within a few weeks from the programme launch we decided to put together a community of practice, BlueIQ Ambassadors, where we’d be talking to multiple teams, business units and divisions asking for volunteers who may be willing to help out spread the word around social and execute on a number of different initiatives. And within a couple of weeks we had a small community of 50 people (that grew, over the course of two years and across the board, to 2000 ambassadors in 50 countries). We had scaled. We could start!

Over the course of the last few years I have always said that online communities are perhaps the most significant and major driver of your own social business change and transformation efforts, so having an initial community of practice of social evangelists or champions that could act as a leading example of defining and creating new business practices that could then spread around in multiple ways, whether through word of mouth, virally, or through traditional communication channels, is probably as good as it gets. An open community of volunteers where not only social networking advocates are welcome to join in but also everyone else for that matter who may be interested in this new way of working. The purpose of the community is that one of connecting, learning, collaborating and sharing with others what they are working on. That way there is always a huge amount of collateral materials AND conversations that will be created and sparked to then be reused accordingly in a number of different contexts and scenarios.

Right from the beginning we knew that, when putting together such community of practice, we would have to come up with a set of criteria to join the community to get things going, so we decided to keep things relatively simple and put in place two specific items for other fellow social networking advocates to come and join us:

  • A social networking ambassador should be a rather passionate advocate for all things social and should want to help enable others in their terms at their own pace, because, after all, they are all volunteers.
  • A social networking ambassador should be willing to want to learn more about social networks and social software, in general, in order to stay ahead of curve at all times as a lifelong learning experience.

And that’s it! That’s as simple as it can get when you build such community of advocates, because what you would want to focus on is not necessarily on a specific skills set, because they can always acquire them over time, but more the right mindset and behaviours. From there onwards you can model together how you would want to operate as a community of evangelists wanting to spread the message around about what your social business transformation efforts may well be about and how other people can get involved. And, right there, right then, your collective Social Business Journey begins …

As a community facilitator of such community of practice, and any other online community, for that matter, there are a number of different tasks and activities that you would need to act upon in order to engage its members, but perhaps the most critical one is to eventually ensure you can answer, for each and every member of the community, the most important question of them all: What’s in it for me, if I join the community? Some folks may join the community because they want to be in the know; or they may want to learn more; they may have decided to help out with the enablement efforts of not just their own close teams, but also the different communities they are already part of; or they may want to be part of the different mentoring, coaching, or facilitating initiatives put in place so far; they may want to co-create relevant content together; or they may want to learn more through general education sessions (even perhaps with external guest speakers) about a particular (niche) topic; they may want to have open access to executives, so they start their own personal journey to become the new leaders of tomorrow; or they may decide to reach out to you, as the community facilitator, and ask you the question you have been anticipating all along: how can I help you advance our collective efforts in transforming the company we work for? 

Putting together a community of practice is not an easy task, as I’m pretty sure all of you know by now already. There are a number of different phases you would need to go through in order to arrive at the critical one of community launch before you are ready to go, but from there onwards, perhaps the most important, critical task you would have is how you plan to make the community grow into a more mature and sustainable state where it becomes self-serving and self-regulatory to the point where you no longer (almost) exist, at least, your presence. You are just one other member of the community, just like the rest of us, contributing and participating in the conversations as you may see fit adding value where you can, just like everyone else is.

Now, I am certain you may be wondering by now about what tasks, activities, and initiatives this community of practice of social business ambassadors could be focusing on, while helping you and your team execute on the different change plans and transformation efforts you may be responsible for. Well, I will be sharing plenty more in detail on an upcoming blog post about this particular topic, when I will talk about the fifth pillar of the Social Business Adaptation Framework I have been referencing so far. But for now, though, and to act as a bit of a teaser, I am going to take the liberty of embedding over here a presentation I did over 4 years ago about ’The Secret Art of Cultivating Online Communities’ where, over the course of a bit over 30 minutes, I shared plenty of the community building techniques I have used as a community facilitator of the BlueIQ Ambassadors community itself, as well as plenty other online communities I have been stewarding over the course of the last 20 years and still going strong. Have a look into it and see what you would think and how far you could relate to it as well:


Becoming a Jedi Master. The secret art of cultivating online communities – Luis Suarez

Finally, I should add that when thinking about enabling your early adapters, and build a community of practice around them, to lead your change initiatives, there is something that always gets either ignored or rather neglected and that has perhaps remained one of my favourite everlasting key takeaways from community building done right: it’s never been about you, the community facilitator, but about the community itself you are cultivating, and that means every single day you would need to go the extra mile for your community members, think about their needs, not necessarily just your own, and question yourself how you can best serve them accordingly, because the moment you fail to do so by focusing on just your own needs, that’s the moment when your community will become dormant, if not extinct, over the course of time, and that’s the last thing you would want to see happening, because when taking into account your social business journey you need to focus on the long term and having such an active and thriving community of practice will help ensure not only the success you are aiming for, but also an everlasting flair around it that will be pervasive enough on its own way beyond your own digital transformation initiative as well as the community of practice itself. And that’s just as good as it gets and what you should be looking for all along right from the start!

My dear fellow BlueIQ AmbassadorsWhere Art Thou? 😀🙋🏻‍

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