This post is in response to a request following a light hearted tweet about unlikely papers.

In common with many people in larger corporates, I work in what could loosely be called Professional Services(PS). My knowledge, skills, and experience can be used in internal projects or more enjoyably with opportunities within external companies.

Like many companies, mine organises into groups of professional communities. We arrange people into these by areas of expertise. In our implementation of these, we have two key areas of focus which are skill development and the adoption of appropriate professional methodologies.

The leadership team of each community define the development paths that individuals need to follow within their profession.

This means that, even when moving from assignment to assignment, everyone will have:

  • a clearly visible way of progressing his or her career (while the business gets clear visibility of what skills gaps it has for the future and can take action to address them).
  • a solid base where they can share knowledge, learning and take ownership for their own development.
  • an infrastructure with knowledge sharing, support structure and development pathways that create a true community of expertise.

So far, so good. I’m active in, and have enjoyed my time in Professional Communities. I wonder if it is the same everywhere?

Now, to produce these cohesive communities I’d suggest a key requirement is a willingness to share at least explicit knowledge, if not tacit. The community can then assess the level and experience of its members.

Performance Management
This is key to succesful growth of a community. How do we do this?

Forced ranking/Vitality Curve?
This is a very competitive model, which works against the idea of knowledge sharing – why should I, a B-ranked individual, help you a C-ranked individual. I *need* to look better than you. Rather than spending time sharing my knowledge, or increasing my skills, it might pay me better to game the system. Plenty of office politics, and subtle sledging of my peers.

In a knowledge based organisation, perhaps a System of Profound Knowledge might work better. That, of course is a reference to W.Edwards Deming who highlighted “Seven Deadly Diseases”.

Number 3 was “Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance“.

If you’re in a professional services organisation set up in communities with forced ranking – ask how does this help the community work together?

Difficult to know what to say about this group as they don’t know what to call themselves – but since they are managing the takeon and servicing of the key asset of a PS organisation – the people themselves – they must be key.

To enable a successful Professional Community, there must be really close links with the HR function, with an intimate understanding of the requirements of the community. The procedures followed must be transparent to avoid accusations of favouritism.

HR should provide clear guidance to Professional Communities on strategic issues like knowledge management, retention, professional development.

Does your HR service give clear advice on how to develop your community members – perhaps sticking them in a development bench area? If that’s what they are suggesting, an interesting article by a performance management company suggests that might not be such a good idea, saying keeping people on a bench can *lose* you people.

Do they give clear unequivocal guidance as to how much time should be spent on developing the skills within a community? If not, why not? Google give their engineers “20% time” to work on other projects…

…would 10% time be better for you?


No? So, how do you think this community is going to work.

3 thoughts on “Building strong professional communities through Performance Mgt & HR initiatives

  1. I’m in one of the so called leadership teams in one of these “we’ll tell you who your friends are” communities.

    HR and (ahem) learning partners do not easily recognise that talent and skills are different. If someone isn’t up to scratch, can they be trained? Certainly the very best, in my experience, shun formal learning.

    The HR view is supported by a certain amount of budget allocated to “up-skill” people. I guess this helps with ISO certification and whatnot.

    I wrote this in an email to someone who was interested in joining the community I’m part of today, dunno if it resonates…

    “We expect software engineers who work for our company to constantly keep their skill sets up to date, and to be at the top of their game. Developers in this modern world are often expected to learn a new language, or a new framework, in very short order indeed, and then share their learnings with others. This is not to say there isn’t space for specialists, but, in general, flexibility, adaptability, and a passion for self-learning are core to the craft.

    My personal opinion is that while courses have their place, the very best, those we want to hire, are often self-taught; it is the drive and thirst for knowledge which makes them valuable. There is nothing like deciding to build a hobby project in an unfamiliar language to bring you up to speed, and show you what you don’t know, and this is a behaviour I strongly encourage (and adhere to myself)”

    Good people will share their knowledge, and their reward is part smugness, and part philanthropic pleasure.

    I have maintained for many years that I always aim to hire people who are better than me. If I hire them and deploy them well, then I look good, have less to do myself, and I may learn a thing or two off them. Sure, they may get promoted past me, but I like to see that, it means I’m helping the company; which in turn, DOES help me. Plus I get owed a few wee drams here and there.


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