Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/capelladesign/blogs.capella.edu/index.php:4) in /home/capelladesign/blogs.capella.edu/wp-content/themes/organizationalperspectives/header.php on line 2

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/capelladesign/blogs.capella.edu/index.php:4) in /home/capelladesign/blogs.capella.edu/wp-content/themes/organizationalperspectives/header.php on line 3
Organizational Perspectives » Feature Story

Capella University Organizational Perspectives - Human Capital Management Resources - Human Capital Research


What’s Your Perspective?

Welcome to Organizational Perspectives, a home for cross-disciplinary dialogue about human capital management. Improving an organization’s performance can be approached from a business, psychology, or education discipline. Read on »


More Current Topics



Follow our tweets at http://twitter.com/orgperspectives


Archive by Month
Archive by Author

Capella Connection

Organizational Perspectives is hosted by Capella University to enable scholars and practitioners to exchange and discuss ideas in human capital management.

Learn more about the degree programs at Capella University in the disciplines of business, education, or psychology, or call 1.866.933.5869 x2237, to speak with an enrollment counselor.

Capella University

Feature Story

Do You Have Personal Presence? By John Herr

Have you ever taken notice of how some people can simply walk into a room and everyone takes notice? They seem to ignite the energy in the room by their very presence. Many of us look at them with admiration. Some look upon them with envy. In either case most everyone says, “I wish I could do that!” They appear natural in their leadership and in their ability to influence and communicate. One way to view these individuals is through the lens of personal presence.

Those with a strong personal presence are said to be calm, centered, grounded and comfortable. They seem self-confident and authentic in all they do. When we first think about the word presence, we find it hard to define. In a way it seems supernatural. It’s almost like one of those things in the category: I know it when I see it. Understanding the elements of personal presence can aid in its use as a tool for development in areas of Leadership and Human Resource Management.

Personal presence is the confluence of several elements that when combined form a distinctive impression. Each can be viewed and examined independently however their integration together forms our individual presence.

  • Authenticity - At the core of authenticity is being fully aware and seen for who you are. Our self is appropriately transparent to others and there is comfort in presenting yourself in a genuine manner. This process of developing authenticity includes an awareness of our total self, the integration of mind, body, spirit and emotion.
  • Unique signature – Each of us has our own unique and distinctive style that clearly differentiates us from others. This uniqueness could be our dress, voice, posture, laugh, or perhaps a personal interest or hobby. Our unique style can evoke positive or negative reactions.
  • Fully engaged – We are engaged when we are fully connected at the boundary of the self, others and the environment. Perhaps the strongest illustration of this quality is empathy; the ability to sense and imagine other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. To have caring energy means to have compassion, love, understanding and a willingness to give freely without obligation.
  • Present centered – Present centered awareness is the act of being fully aware of and attending to experience, fully connected to the moment. The whole person is invested in the here and now, not holding back parts of the self. The self is fully available.
  • Expressive energy – Whether we know it or not, we communicate our personal presence to others. How we choose to present ourselves to the world is critical to how we lead. As the old saying goes: “we cannot, not communicate.” Communicating is about amplifying our thoughts and feelings in an articulate and congruent manner. Words, voice and body language match. Communication is the outer expression of our inner self.

Our personal presence and the way we communicate can be a factor in attracting or distancing others and a contributor to our success or failure as a leader. Our personal presence is a powerful tool in building relationships and in inspiring and influencing others. Personal presence at its very core is a way of being and doing.

Previous feature stories:


Leadership Development with a Measurable Impact on the Bottom Line – The Cheap and Cheerful Version. By April Boyington Wall

Do you know whether your training or leadership development program actually sticks? Can you measure the extent to which it has an impact on participant behavior back on the job or on the bottom line of the organization?

Leadership development programs are expensive propositions and comprehensively evaluating training outcomes is daunting–costly, time consuming and fraught with methodological pitfalls. This article explores an option for a leadership development program that is economical yet apparently measurably effective. In the article on electronic collaboration for Janet’s book that I co-authored with Beverly-Jean Daniel (Daniel & Wall, 2008), we discussed some of the challenges of working together to create a unique approach to a nine month long leadership development program. We explored the difficulties of holding the values that the program espoused while doing this—such as respect for diversity, using power collaboratively rather than hierarchically and using reflective techniques to build consciousness and enhance second loop learning (Bateson, 2000; Kegan, 1994; Senge,1990).

This is challenging to do while working on a project with a tight budget and crazy deadlines, especially in a situation where one member of the team is in a position of being able to hire or fire the other two. As the article pointed out, the limited face-to-face interaction while collaborating electronically exacerbated these challenges.

What the article mentioned only briefly, however, was the fact that despite these challenges around collaboration, the program itself showed some exciting results. The methodology for evaluating the program used a mixed methods approach, involving pre-and post testing on four dimensions related to developing cognitive capacity, shifting worldviews, developing management skills and building emotional intelligence (Boyington Wall, 2007 a & b; Wall & Roberts, 2007). Using Kirkpatrick’s (1994) four level evaluation model we were also able to assess the degree to which the program had met its stated objectives, as well as the degree to which participants had actually changed their behaviors in the workplace and whether this had resulted in bottom line improvements for the organization.

The results overall showed improvements on all the dimensions evaluated. And in terms of “bottom-line” results of the program, the evaluation found that program participants, all of whom were leaders in non-profit organizations, reported significant outcomes such as:

  • Improvements to funding–with a sense of better long-term financial stability;
  • Infrastructure improvements (such as systems for strategic planning and performance management);
  • A higher agency profile with funders and within the community and/or sector;
  • Improvements in union-management relationships within the workplace; and
  • Increased personal recognition for participants by their agency, board, and/or funders (Boyington Wall, 2007 b; Wall & Roberts, 2007).

The approach used to develop the program was based on a model developed from research into factors that create profound and lasting personal and organizational change (Wall, 2003). While the research on the project could have been strengthened by using an experimental design with a control group to really assess the impact of the program itself rather than other intervening variables, it was still evident that the approach used to design the program was sound. Program participants reported that they shifted how they thought of themselves as leaders and that they made changes that improved their organizations in a tangible way—and they credited the program with at least some of these shifts.

The next step would be to try to replicate the research—exploring the extent to which the approach used to design the program could show measurable results with another group of participants in a different setting. But what to do next?

The challenge in conducting research on training an leadership development is that it is so costly and time consuming that there is a dearth of evaluation on the effectiveness of these training programs in which so much is invested (e.g. Vance & Larson, 2002). The original research had been funded by a non-profit foundation, The Wellesley Institute. I wanted to take the research further, possibly even replicating the original approach, but in the current economic environment, how would I would find the funds to do the extensive pre and post testing involved? The possibility of using an experimental design was so cost prohibitive that that option seemed completely impractical.

Yet I wanted to evaluate the outcomes of my work – in a more concrete way, and to do so using an approach more comprehensive than simply collecting data from happy sheets at the end of a training program. I also wanted to see if I could achieve similar results using the principles of change in term of significant bottom line outcomes without such a large investment of time and money as was involved for the nine month leadership program.

I decided to try a much truncated version of the program with a small non-profit. We began with two one-day sessions of custom designed training (held two weeks apart) for the senior management team. The training was targeted at improving skills in specific areas that participants felt were most crucial to address in terms of improving their leadership and overall organizational performance. This was followed with individual coaching sessions for each senior manager held every six weeks or so, where program participants worked on goals established in the training sessions and explored ways to improve their own management. The final program element was a ½ day reunion session where participants shared accomplishments and ongoing challenges. The program extended over about nine months, and then I met briefly with the ED to further review program outcomes.

The results? The organization posted its largest surplus ever. Even in this economy! Some serious performance management issues have been addressed and systems are being developed to streamline overall efficiency and productivity as well as improve morale.

Were these changes the result of the program? Without a control group and some solid pre and post testing, we may probably never be able to know for sure. But the ED and the management team think there is a strong relationship between the two, and I have been retained to continue with coaching the senior management team and to expand the training sessions to include staff as well as senior managers. This means that we will still be using a mini budget of time and resources, but leveraging these to take change to the next level.

So what is the learning here?

For me, the results of this little experiment were significant. I have been doing training and leadership development for more time than I care to remember. This program, as well as one conducted earlier, have demonstrated more concrete results in terms of supporting profound personal and organizational change than any other technique or group of tools with which I’ve ever worked. The critical ingredient was using the model, which is based on some solid research, to refine and enhance the tried-and-true material that I have been developing over the years as a change professional.

Tentatively I am drawing the following conclusions:

  • Using the model to design the program is effective in two ways: first, it leverages the existing resources available so that results can be deepened and accelerated.
  • Second, it is possible to achieve Kirkpatrick’s level 4 outcomes if the approach used is designed using the principles inherent in the model—even on the tightest budgets of time and money.
  • While extensive level 4 training evaluation may be ideal, one can achieve some “good enough” evaluation by tracking organizational metrics and by incorporating participant feedback into the program design ongoingly for both formative and summative evaluation.

More later—I’ll be happy to share the model for change and how to use it in leadership development, training programs, group facilitation or any other change initiative.

For now though – I have some questions.

What is your experience with measuring outcomes of training and/or leadership development programs? How do you know that what you’re doing is making a difference?



Bateson, G. (2000). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology: University of Chicago Press.

Boyington Wall, A. (2007) Assessments of the Subject Object Interviews

for Participants of the Inaugural Wellesley Institute Executive Leadership Program:

A Report on Findings, unpublished report of findings of a research project in improving cognitive capacity as part of leadership development, The Wellesley Institute, Toronto Canada

Boyington Wall, A. (2007) The Inaugural Offering of the Wellesley Institute Executive Leadership Program: Program Evaluation, unpublished report of outcomes of a research project in developing leadership capacity, The Wellesley Institute, Toronto Canada
Boyington Wall A.& J. Roberts. (2007). Building leadership capacity – an approach to developing leadership training with proven outcomes! Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD) e-newsletter, December 2007.
Daniel, B.-J. & A. Boyington Wall (2008). Technology, Collaboration and Difference in Enhanced Leadership Development, in J. Salmons & L . Wilson(Ed.), Handbook of Research on Electronic Collaboration and Organizational Synergy . Hershey PA: IGA Global.

Previous feature stories:

New Year, New Decade: Looking Forward

At this time of the year, business pundits offer retrospectives and predictions. This year marks the entrance into a new decade of a new century — a time of great global economic and social change– and just about everyone has a top ten list of ideas.

The annual Harvard Business Review Breakthrough Ideas for 2010 offer some interesting contrasts to the 2009 list. For starters, in 2009 the Web version of the HBR presented breakthrough ideas using an interactive, non-linear graphic map. In 2010 they returned to a straightforward list.

In 2009, they observed the list to be more practical, “show[ing] a spirit focused on improvement” given the state of the economy last year (McCreary, 2009, p. 1). In 2010, editors are thinking big by offering “fresh solutions [they] believe will make the world better” and asking readers to buy-into their vision.

The list includes:

  • Motivating workers by encouraging a sense of progress towards goals
  • Federal funding for research and development on financial sector practices
  • Using bonds to fund green energy development and using videoconferencing, email and kiosks to improve doctor-patient communication, to name a few (Amabile et al., 2010).

Doctors and patients are not the only people who will interact using technology, according to the “10 Ways Social Media Will Change In 2010.” The central point is that social media will be impossible to separate from other online experiences. Drawing on research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project (http://www.pewinternet.org/), they point to the growing popularity of various options that can be used for communicating one’s current status and experience. These tools are used for social life and fun, but business is taking them seriously. “With a reported average of 25% increase in funds allocation toward social media activities, in 2010 we will see a surge in adoption of social media across product, services and solutions companies” (Lichtenberg, 2010, p.1). Lichtenberg points out that this level of investment is not being taken lightly: “the ability to demonstrate ROI in hard numbers — not in followers or fans — will become a baseline business requirement in 2010″ (p. 2).

Social media is also a theme in Entrepreneur Magazine writers’ ten resolutions.

Lena West suggests that entrepreneurs become comfortable with and learn more about social media and social networking, including use of blogs and webinars (West, 2009). Gail Goodman recommends melding email and social media for powerful marketing (Goodman, 2009). Since using new tools and strategies will require new skills, Scott Steinberg emphasizes the need for commitment to ongoing education (Steinberg, 2009).

The Society for Human Resource Management convened 12 panels to identify top trends for 2010 in a variety of areas, and produced a detailed brochure on the findings. They include some areas mentioned here, such as social media usage for business purposes, emphasis on motivation and performance, continuing education for new skills, as well as the need for measurement of ROI. Additional issues related to ethics, sustainability and diversity also made their priority list.

What about you? What resolutions, predictions and hopes do you have for your business, career or professional development? Post them below in the area titled, New You in a New Decade.


Amabile, T. M., Kramer, S. J., M.D., R. D., Candell, L. M., Bonabeau, E., Bingham, A., et al. (2010). The 2010 HBR list of breakthrough ideas. Harvard Business Review.

Goodman, G. (2009). Email marketing. Entrepreneur.

McCreary, L. (2009). The 2009 HBR list of breakthrough ideas. Harvard Business Review Retrieved January 14, 2010, from http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2009/01/the_2009_hbr_list_of_breakthro.html

Steinberg, S. (2009). Shiny objects. Entrepreneur.

West, L. (2009). Seriously Social. WomenEntrepreneur.



Previous feature stories:

Furloughs: Hard Choices in Tight Times

The term furlough used to refer to a leave of absence given to military personnel to recoup from the dangers and anxieties of a war zone. The term is gaining new currency in a time when the ups and downs of the economy may make the workplace feel like a kind of war zone. Furlough is now being used to describe an unpaid hiatus from work.Rather than lay people off, employers may choose to reduce employees’ hours by requiring them, or requesting them to take a certain number of unpaid furlough days. “A furlough differs from a normal layoff in that employees continue to work on a fairly regular basis, with employers scheduling them to have certain days off” (Hall & Lane, 2009). The July 2009 Employment Situation report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the number of people furloughed, or working part time for “slack work or business conditions,” rose to 6.5 million in June, up from 3.7 million in 2008 (Fox, 2009).

The furlough option is generally implemented for short-term cost-saving when the employer believes the need for the full work force will soon resume. As one HR director observed, “With layoffs, it’s hard to re-recruit people and to fill jobs quickly if you start growing again…With pay cuts, it’s hard for people to get back to what they were making. With (Fox, 2009, p. p.38). Furloughed employees expect employment to continue and are less likely to seek other positions, thus reducing the company’s need to incur costs involved in recruiting and training new talent when business resumes” (BLR, 2009).

While cost-cutting drives most furloughs and compensation in the form of wages may be saved, the expense of benefits may continue. Some kinds of benefits– especially retirement and profit-sharing plans — involve an employer match tied to compensation. If the employee is not being paid at full salary, employer matches may be lost. Overall, benefits and 401K administration may be thrown into disarray when furloughs are implemented — even the Internal Revenue Service calls it an “unsettled area” (“Economy-Driven furloughs,” 2009).

“A furlough is a cross between a vacation and getting fired. You have the day off, sure, but you aren’t getting paid — which tends to take the fun out of it” (Bartlett, 2009). For workers a furlough can be unsettling situation, one that is balanced by relief at still having a job and the hope for a return to full compensation. But for low wage earners the relief at keeping the job is coupled with stress since partial loss in wages may put home and family in financial peril, yet they are unable to apply for unemployment benefits. State unemployment policies are not set up to help in such temporary unemployment scenarios (Mattioli & Murray, 2009).

Employers must be careful when implementing a furlough, instead of layoffs, since the furlough implies a return to full work schedules. This expectation can create legal problems. For example, if an employer tells an employee that he is going to be recalled on a particular date, the employee might not look for or accept another job offer. If the employee is not recalled, that can lead to a “detrimental reliance” or “implied contract” claim in some states (BLR, 2009).

Disadvantages extend beyond legal implications; Heathfield’s list focuses on potential degradation in productivity and customer satisfaction (Heathfield, 2009):

  • The amount of work remains constant which makes returning workers feel overloaded and may affect the quality of their performance and products.
  • Customers may be unhappy talking to a variety of people rather than their usual contact, or because they are waiting longer for service.
  • The internal culture and relationships are often injured. Teamwork is affected by the loss of coworkers who are not at work. Projects take longer to move forward.
  • Employees experience stress from work expectations and fear that the furloughs will not solve the problems and that layoffs will come next. Gossip increases and work productivity decreases.

Furloughs represent the classic glass half-empty, glass half full situation. On one hand lagging sales and revenues may force undesirable actions, on the other hand improving trends mean employers want to resist the loss of skilled talent. Clearly furloughs are difficult and imperfect for both employer and employees.

Given the prevalence of this option in workplaces across sectors, what is your experience? Share your observations and recommendations in the discussion area below, under “Current Topics”.


Do We Have a Leadership Crisis: What Does it Mean for Business Education?

From an Interview with Shelley Robbins, PhD, Senior Core Faculty, Leadership and Organization Development, Capella School of Business and Technology.

A number of recent press stories have asked, given recent economic and ethical problems in business, whether the way business students are taught may have contributed to the crisis. An article in the NY Times asked “Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?” and NPR picked up the story and discussed it:“Business Schools Mull Over Blame In Financial Crisis.”

Holland pointed out:

Critics of business education have many complaints. Some say the schools have become too scientific, too detached from real-world issues. Others say students are taught to come up with hasty solutions to complicated problems. Another group contends that schools give students a limited and distorted view of their role — that they graduate with a focus on maximizing shareholder value and only a limited understanding of ethical and social considerations essential to business leadership (Holland, 2009).

Since Shelley Robbins worked on the Capella MS degree programs in Leadership launching October 2009 I was interested in her perspectives on some of the points made in these stories. I asked how she would respond to these critics, in particular the three complaints Holland mentioned. He said business education is too detached from real-world issues, with too much focus on hasty solutions and too little attention to ethical and social considerations. Dr. Robbins said the curricula in development address these issues by focusing on sustainability, innovation, change and collaboration. The new MS in Leadership has an emphasis on coaching to provide one-one guidance on application of these 21 century leadership skills in the learner’s own professional life.

Poor communication is another criticism being leveled at today’s leaders. Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Airlines, points a finger to business education. He believes they offer inadequate preparation for the communication demands of global business. In the article “He Wants Subjects, Verbs and Objects”Anderson discussed his priorities when hiring people for leadership positions. He said:

I think this communication point is getting more and more important. People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word. And when I say written word, I don’t mean PowerPoints. I don’t think PowerPoints help people think as clearly as they should because you don’t have to put a complete thought in place. You can just put a phrase with a bullet in front of it. And it doesn’t have a subject, a verb and an object, so you aren’t expressing complete thoughts (Bryant, 2009).

I asked Dr. Robbins whether she agrees with Anderson’s demand for greater emphasis on communication skills in business education. She observed that leaders increasingly communicate with their teams in much the same way as online instructors and students—that is, they communicate in writing, often online. While online communication occurs in every course, in “Communications in New Media” they will gain experience in creating effective messages and expressing “complete thoughts”.

While some ask whether leadership can be taught, others are looking for effective ways to use learners’ own experiences as part of the lesson. Innovative business educators are looking for ways to transform the classroom environment into what Sharon Parks calls a “‘studio-laboratory” for individual and group work on realistic workplace challenges (Parks, 2005).

What do you think about educating leaders?

Join the discussion!

Bryant, A. (2009). He Wants subjects, verbs and objects New York Times.

Holland, K. (2009, March 14). Is it time to retrain B-schools? . New York Times

Parks, S. D. (2005). Leadership can be taught. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.





Storytelling and Organizational Culture Change by Janet Salmons

Strategic use of storytelling can help change culture—and build trust. Trust is essential in today’s team-oriented organizations. Successful collaboration requires trust at many levels: trust among team or work group members, their trust in the organization’s process of recognizing and using collaborative work, and trust in a fair process for determining appropriate choices to use collaborative versus individual approaches for a given project. Successful collaboration may mean a change in organizational culture from a focus on “my work” to a shared sense of “our work.” Stephen Denning points out that in change-resistant organizations, an appropriate story can “spark thoughts among the managers and employees about a different kind of future both for the organization and themselves as individuals” (Denning, 2009).


Peter Bregman, in a recent Harvard Business blog, suggests that to start a culture change all we need to do is two simple things: first, do dramatic story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create, then, let other people tell stories about it. Second, find other people who do story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create, and tell stories about them (Bregman, 2009). Denning suggests that a powerful springboard story can generate not only more stories—but more positive actions. Like Bregman, Denning believes it is important to not only tell stories, but also to create an environment that invites others to tell their own.

How can you develop “dramatic” stories and how can you share them in a way that promotes trust and builds successful collaboration? As well, it is important to ask how to shift the organization’s narrative from the typical rehashing of problems to an inspiring, aspirational narrative representing the culture we want to create?

Denning points out that it is important to align narrative patterns to your purpose (Denning, 2004). Different kinds of starter questions can help generate narratives at various project stages and goals. For example if knowledge sharing is the goal, tell and invite “what do we need to know…” stories. Tell about successful projects from the past, about times you felt confident about your expertise, or stories about what you accomplished working together with others. To build relationships in a new team, tell and invite “what you don’t know about me…” stories about personal, academic or professional needs, dreams and aspirations, or special and unique skills and talents you bring to the collaboration.




Strategic storytelling can be used in a variety of ways and places in organizational life—bringing to life successes of the past and projecting new directions. Stories can enliven meetings to kick off or conclude a project. Using stories to imagine the future can bring new thinking to scenario building and strategic planning (Denning, 2009). For example, companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Intel, Nestle, Lufthansa, and Samsung are using storytelling for long range planning, marketing and product redesign. Storytelling can add depth and meaning to leadership development and training. For example, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health uses narrative in safety training or, in another example, the public sector uses storytelling to motivate leaders. For those of us who work and collaborate online, sharing stories may be more challenging—or easier. Digital storytelling can be a true art form—or an informal way to build exchange and trust. Stories may be told through text, image, sound, voice and moving images. Using new media, stories can become central to online communities of practice. For example, lawyers use online story exchange to build skills needed to tell a compelling story in the courtroom. (See also Community to Promote Real Collaboration.)




What kinds of stories do you tell—or hear—at work? What can you do to build positive narratives that promote collaboration, trusting and productive teamwork, and openess to change?

Bregman, P. (2009). A good way to change a corporate culture, Harvardbusiness.org Voices. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing.

Denning, S. (2004). Telling tales. Harvard Business Review, Reprint R0405H(May).

Denning, S. (2009). Organizational storytelling: the discipline of business narrative. Retrieved June 29, 2009

Community to Promote Real Collaboration by Janet Salmons

In 1993, Howard Rheingold coined the term virtual community when he described a “computerized counterculture” of meaningful relationships formed among people whose only or primary interaction was online. In his book The Virtual Community, he observed, “The fact that we need computer networks to recapture the sense of cooperative spirit that so many people seemed to lose when we gained all this technology is a painful irony” (Rheingold, 2000). Ironic or not, today technology-supported community and collaboration are increasingly used within organizations, and between organizations and their customers.

What does virtual community mean in an era of social networking? While each kind of social networking or online collaboration technology allows for a different style of individual or group interaction, file or information sharing and network-building, there are some common principles. Virtual Community is an online space that:

  1. Is interactive: Members can communicate with one another using synchronous or asynchronous technology.
  2. Is self-directed: Community members determine focus and scope of discussion– sometimes with the aid of a facilitator.
  3. Is dynamic The site engages and reflects the interests of the members, who contribute content to the community.
  4. Is purposeful: The online community fulfills a shared purpose, common interest or need among its members.

Online community can complement geographic community, or create a place where people from diverse geographic areas or offices can converse about a shared issue. In some communities the same members interact over time and develop working or social relationships, while others include people who interact to simply get an answer to a specific question or to respond to a time-limited issue. Some communities are open to anyone; others screen levels of access with password-protected areas, so confidential information is available only to those with access. Online communities can be:

  • Open to all: Anyone can log on and participate in a community that exists on the public web, and membership is usually open. These communities can operate as a marketing or promotional tool to extend information dissemination and exchange to include the broader public.
  • Open to people inside the organization: Intranets, internal social networks or communities are designed to facilitate knowledge sharing within an organization. For organizations that operate in multiple locations, this can amount to a virtual office where employees. These communities might provide opportunities to comment on current projects, or to participate in collaborative decision-making. They operate behind the company firewall– access is limited and the site is secure.
  • Open to people outside the organization: Extranet communities are designed to strengthen relationships with others including friends, partners, vendors, alumni or customers. Sometimes all access is limited to members who are registered and have a password. In other cases anyone can read materials but only people who merit a password can post and participate in discussions. Alternatively, different levels of access to information or participation may depend on the relationship to the organization.

When online consumers chat and post product reviews, their interaction is considered a form of virtual community. By creating an environment where customers can exchange ideas with one another, online retailers hope to increase loyalty– and loyal customers tell their friends and return to buy more products. The goals—and potential– are different when social networking tools are used within a company.

A recent study (2009) from the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that chat/IM and communities of practice were the most common tools with 54% of survey respondents. Over 30% also reported using blogs, wikis, or threaded discussions (Schweyer, 2009). Interestingly, when HCI surveyed people of different generations, they found that while some prefer one tool over another, very similar preferences were indicated by “Boomer” and “Millenial” workers. Over 70% in each group preferred to learn from others on the web instead of using other training methods, and about a third selected communities of practice as the way to do it. Perhaps not surprisingly then, companies in the study reported connecting and engaging employees, and faster and more effective knowledge transfer as the benefits identified by companies in the study. Given this level of popularity, it is important to note that “best practices in using these tools within organizations for business purposes have yet to be established. There is no generally accepted model for their implementation or standard set of metrics for measuring ROI. Nor is it clear who should oversee them within organizations” (Schweyer, 2009 p. 1). This lack of clear standards, expectations or oversight may be the reason why many in the study indicated that security and monitoring are their top concern.

One way to address the need for standards and expectations is to generate them from within the community. In their 2004 book Learning To Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading And Learning Organizations Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell suggest that communities of practice, draft a “charter” collectively. A charter may include the rationale and scope for the network, description of the key roles (facilitator, sponsor etc.), expectations in terms of people’s time commitment, a “code of conduct” or norms for how members will work together (Collison & Parcell, 2004).

Technologies keep changing and the devices we use to connect with them are increasingly varied and mobile. Behind each monitor, whether 2” or 20”, is a person with knowledge to share, decisions to make, and questions they hope to answer. In response, within and beyond organizations, virtual communities will continue change shape and evolve. Use the comment area to share your thoughts and experiences. How are you building cooperative ways to share, learn and interact with others in your company, or in your personal and social life?

Join in this discussion or check out the discussion on HRM the Journal.

Thinking about the intellectual property and privacy issues related to online exchange? See the book review: Untangling Intellectual Property Law for the Digital Age

Collison, C., & Parcell, G. (2004). Learning to fly: Practical knowledge management from leading and learning organizations (Second ed.). West Sussex: Wiley.
Rheingold, H. (2000). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier (Second ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press.
Schweyer, A. (2009). Leveraging social networking & Web 2.0 collaboration tools in enterprises. Washington, DC: Human Capital Institute.

ROI Institute

Money is tight, many jobs have been lost across all sectors of the economy, across the globe. Organizations must make difficult choices and show results on any investment– including investments in human capital. The ROI Institute, Inc., offers a methodology organizations can use to collect the data and make decisions. Dr. Patti P. Phillips, president and CEO of the ROI Institute, shares her experience and expertise with Organizational Perspectives in an interview and a webinar. Three of her books are also reviewed here.

What are your experiences? In these tough economic times, how is success determined by decision-makers in your organization? Post your comments!

More feature stories and book reviews are online–click the Current Topics page to read about:

Use RSS or bookmark us so you won’t miss coming feature stories, book reviews, and interviews.