“Digital is becoming the primary channel” – Interview with Rachel Happe

Rachel Community

From year 2009 to year 2012, I have been heavily involved in the Enterprise 2.0 community. We were consultants, managers, change agents or bloggers involved in promoting the use of social technologies and online communities to streamline work. The Enterprise 2.0 moniker was coined by MIT Principal Research Scientist Andrew McAfee. It later became “Social Business” and around 2013/2014 somehow morphed into “Digital Transformation”.

It is during that spell that I met Rachel Happe at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston in 2011. Rachel has been running The Community Roundtable for more than 10 years and you can hardly find someone with as much knowledge and worldwide companies data regarding online communities.

She was the perfect person to interview during these very strange times. Community driven, Rachel has offered one hour coaching slot during the week from 16th to 20th march. I was lucky enough to have one of those as I had questions on how to deal with this situation with my colleagues in a rather big company.

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Rachel thank you so much for having me. Could you please remind us what is the Community Roundtable and what problem does it solve ?

The Community Roundtable is a management research and training firm with its own online community for community and digital program leaders that helps companies thrive in the digital world. At The Community Roundtable, we take the idea of community to heart. We believe that the future of all management is community management, and while we may play different roles in our organizations, we are all community managers.

We also feel strongly that we need to model the behaviors and culture we hope to see adopted by our members and clients. In doing so, we have created a culture of trust, respect, and transparency that results in high performance without stress and anxiety.

We also feel strongly that we need to model the behaviors and culture we hope to see adopted by our members and clients. In doing so, we have created a culture of trust, respect, and transparency that results in high performance without stress and anxiety.

We do exclusive research, benchmarking, training and events and we organize and share resources. We aim at building online professional communities that are active, productive and who help at solving complex business problems.

Rachel these are very strange times indeed. How does it inspire you as an expert of online communities ?

Well, despite the transformation, digital has remained the secondary channel in most rachel happecompanies so far. Now it is becoming the primary channel. Companies really need to put in place validated practices. There has been a lot of focus on tool training but people have not really applied what they have learned to the way they work day-to-day. I am sure you can see many people sending email with documents attached rather than sharing them in a shared space.

I can see one opportunity and one challenge. The opportunity is that this crisis gives people a pass or excuse to experiment. People won’t say too much if you try something new and it doesn’t work so well because they know you are trying to adapt quickly.

Well, despite the transformation, digital has remained the secondary channel in most companies so far. Now it is becoming the primary channel. Companies really need to put in place validated practices.

The challenge is that, in times like these, people have to share knowledge in a very efficient and transparent way. And though the benefits seem obvious, since knowledge is power, people struggle to share because of a scarcity/competitive mindset that infers that to share their knowledge is to give up power. What I know is that the more you share that power, the more power there is in your ideas and perspectives, although you have to give up some control over them. Having observed a ton of companies, I have noticed that the more they value prestigious degrees, the more rigid people seem to be, and the more reluctant they are to share knowledge. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in our current episode.

Most companies now use co-design workshops to encourage collaboration and foster collective intelligence. It might get really challenging with remote work. What is your perspective on this and how do you tackle such collaborative workshops ?

In the community management space, there is data that shows a persistent correlation between how you welcome people and how engaged they are over time. This applies to meetings, workshops, and events too. The other thing we know is that people don’t learn or change when they are anxious or scared. So, the first thing is you need a fun introduction that both relaxes people, gets them engaged right away, and creates connection. You really want to engage people by sharing something related but not explicit to work. In physical spaces we are more likely to welcome people intuitively but online you need to be explicit and create more structure to ensure that happens, since people will not mingle in the hallway before the meeting.

In the community management space, there is data that shows a persistent correlation between how you welcome people and how engaged they are over time. This applies to meetings, workshops, and events too.

Second, use video. You need to encourage people to use video to get eye contact and get a better level of attention. It is so easy to disconnect in a remote workshop. Remind the people that it’s not about “Me” it’s about “people seeing me”. Everyone should have the video so that we all are equal. We can see who is talking. This implies that you have your tech in order. Having the camera on does not mean that you have the mike on all the time, especially if there are many people connected, it may pollute the sound of the ones who talk.

Third is online facilitation. Let the people know that you will call on them. It is very helpful to have a second person managing the chat, able to answer asynchronous chat questions and interrupt the speaker if necessary.

By helping reframe how people think about their challenges, communities can over time change people’s mindsets. This another dimension of the value of online communities.

Fourth is to make use of subgroups. It is just like when you run a workshop with everyone colocated. You have to split the groups in subgroups so they can work on one dedicated topic and then come back to present their work. Zoom is a great tool to handle subgroups but otherwise you can set up discrete team meetings for each. Then you have to be VERY clear on the timing : we let you work for 45 mns and then we all gather back in this session. You then need to go and sneak a peek in each sub-group to make sure they are productive and progress on their topic, just like you would in a regular co-located workshop.

Lastly, make sure you incorporate some fun and social opportunities. Create an exercise to have people laugh together so that they will remember the workshop. Not only for the work carried out or the collaborative dimension but also for the general atmosphere. What I like to do is ask everyone to think about an object (not work related). Then to write a problem they’re having – may be business related or not. Then you pair people on a random basis and ask the pair to use the object of the first one to solve the problem of the second one. It is simple, creative and very funny. By getting people laughing, they are more open to sharing what is on their minds, which makes for better collaboration.

How do you migrate work / business communities to online ones ? In our current circumstances we don’t have much time for strategic thinking and we need to act quickly. What would you recommend ?

I think the first thing is to make sure that the business / marketing are the enablers. This will give a strong sponsorship. Bear in mind that communities always start slowly. You have to follow closely the numbers to try and get some quick wins to engage people and make them feel confident in their ability to live with the community. I like to ensure that people get more value out than they contribute – ensuring they are more likely to come back.

(Rachel Keynoting at SocialMedia.org in 2016)

One of the ways I recommend people start online communities is have people review and analyse some of their email chains and identify those that might have value to a broader set of people. Post those to the community space as a way to jump start the conversations and model the types of information and questions that you hope they will share there. We still have today 75% of people sharing document as attached in mails, it is such a shame because that knowledge is limited to the people copied on the emails and it is often lost as time goes by.

One of the most powerful aspects of a community is that when anyone has a problem and they are struggling, other members can see the opportunity in that problem and help the person struggling to reframe and move past it. By helping reframe how people think about their challenges, communities can over time change people’s mindsets. This is another dimension of the value of online communities.

Thank you so much Rachel ! Take care of yourself and your family.

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