Getting Leaders to Post in a Community

Originally posted Nov 25, 2016

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Q: I have started the first SharePoint Community of Practice (CoP) at my company consisting of 5 cross-functional groups. Leadership will forward information for me to share, but rarely posts themselves despite my pleading. What can I do?


1. From Stan Garfield


2. From Howie Cohen

Many people say that they believe in collaboration but refuse to practice. I partnered with corporate communications and other business leaders to discuss both the underlying and overall value to leadership. We took a multi-person and multi-pronged approach. If it weren’t for my communications support, I would have surely failed. I also set up standing meetings monthly with my global CIO to offer him feedback and reflection. I would provide him a few narratives and share the value add for his contributions in measures.

3. From Chuck Georgo

If you have good collaboration technology, you should be able to auto-forward his information/emails to the portal for posting. Despite what we want to believe, more senior leaders (>45–50) are still quite recalcitrant when it comes to using collaboration technologies; I would wager that this leader is not even on Facebook.

4. From Paul McDowall

Always look for the best way for leaders to participate and that means the best way they feel able and willing to participate. Senior leaders don’t generally want to get involved in detailed email conversations with staff. They will sometimes allow themselves to participate in other ways: short videos, proxy participation, review of content, rating of content, etc. You must find the way they feel most comfortable to participate. It won’t be sustainable otherwise.

5. From Nancy Dixon

Maybe the issue you are facing is larger than leadership not posting themselves. Perhaps the issue is about the purpose of the community. I have found it helpful, when setting up a community, to bring a group of the potential members together to talk through what kind of a community they want, it’s purpose, and its rules of engagement. That makes it their community, not yours and not leadership’s. But it also means you have to have an on-going core group that continues to help build and grow the community. So you become the facilitator and moderator of the community, but it belongs to the members. If that is the situation then the membership could decide whether they want it to be a place where they receive announcements from leadership periodically, or if they would prefer it just be an exchange between members.

I recognize that it might be harder to set up the purpose of the community retrospectively. So my belated advice may not be very useful — but hopefully it could help for future communities you set up.

6. From Kate Pugh

I agree with Nancy. I am part of four CoPs (I love them), and I coach CoP leaders, and “why a CoP?” is the first question. Larry Prusak and I studied dozens of CoPs in a grant for the Gates foundation, and we lay out the “whys” here. (I’m quoting the free article on Huffington Post Social Impact blog, but you should try to get Larry Prusak’s and my Sloan Management Review article.)

If the goal is “member/practitioner support” or “translation/local adaptation,” for example, leaders may see that they need each other’s insight, and that there is a practical return on investment from posting. Leaders rarely post when the goal is “learning/innovation” or “coordination.” They often see that as the tactical responsibility of more junior staff. I disagree with leaders on this point, and believe in my heart that a new generation of leaders will care enough to contribute. Most feel the tug of the quarterly profit-driven board and the optics of appearing all knowing.

(No matter what the goal, the design should follow. That was the headline in the research.)

7. From Murray Jennex

A couple thoughts come to mind:

  • Does this become a potential disclosure for which they become accountable?
  • Is the workload such that there is time to post?

Posting makes sense if it doesn’t take away from other tasks that are important. I spent 20 years in the nuclear industry and one requirement we had when we wanted to add a task to nuclear operators was that we had to take away a task as it was recognized there is only so much available time. I don’t know the situation but time is always an issue. The disclosure is more subtle but needs to be thought about so that leaders are not being asked to post anything that could be used against them.

8. From Tammy Bearden

Do you have a project sponsor you need to activate to bring leadership along? Do they understand the ease of posting or need an easier interface or quick training? Or do they not want their name attached, or is there another cultural barrier?

9. From Tom Short

There are a couple of observations and tactics from my experience helping companies establish corporate-wide communities.

Rolling out a new CoP is a bit of a chicken and egg thing — leaders (and most other folks) will not feel compelled to post things very frequently because they feel they won’t be reaching the majority of employees. And the majority of employees may be reticent to go look because there isn’t much there of general interest.

What to do:

  • intense promotion
  • find one or two leaders who are early adopters and assign someone to work closely with them on learning how the platform works and developing a comms/messaging plan for content to post.
  • when you start getting posts, promote the heck out of it via email teasers, intranet portal pointers, and mentions in staff meetings and conference calls.

Give leaders their own place in the community — “Leaders Corner” — and help them develop a messaging plan for posting to it. Chances are they are already using something to communicate to the troops, whether it’s a weekly or monthly email newsletter, or some sort of update posted to an intranet portal.

Work with comms leaders (if your company is large enough to have them) for each business unit or division to develop their own SP portal page. If there is already an existing intranet site for this, then your challenge is to determine whether SP is going to replace it, or augment it. Helping leaders and employees understand where one ends and the other picks up is key to helping everyone build the habits needed to ensure widespread attention and use.

You are naming your CoP, right? Right? Calling it SharePoint is not a good way to brand an internal community. If the goal is to simply have a cloud-based or server-based content repository, fine. Call it SharePoint. But if your goal is a true community of practice, you’ll definitely want to give it a name that in some way is reflective of your intention for the community, and ideally incorporates some aspect of your company’s values, mission, or purpose.

Anyway, lots of stuff here. You are not the first one to wrestle with this challenge. And while there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, there are now some well-understood good practices that you may want to pursue.

10. From Al Simard

From my experience, when a leader “launches” a collaboration tool but doesn’t participate in its use, the message received by managers is that it isn’t important. Consequently, they aren’t motivated to use it and this message trickles down to staff. My experience is that in such cases, no amount of effort by the KM person is likely to get beyond 25% participation by “keeners.”

If a leader considers social networking important, they will find a few minutes here and there to participate or they may assign someone to do it for them. Comments can also be vetted by communications staff, as long as what emerges doesn’t sound like the plain vanilla “approved” Pablum that they normally produce.

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager

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