Very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, about communities of practices at Schlumberger (52.000 employees over 80 countries). The institution of such communities is a success and the company now counts more than 20 ones (and 140 subgroups) involving more thant 10 000 people.
What’s interesting is that Schlumberger is going very far in this reasoning since each community is self managed and elects its leader once a year.
A management issue
According to Schlumberger, the deal wasn’t about creating one more website or KM tool but bringing people to collaborate and share information. People were very easy with individual projects but it was hard to make them get involved in anything collective. As it was strategic to improve involvement and motivation, management considered that if they couldn’t manage these people (mainly experts and knowledgeworkers), they’ll have to let them manage themselves.
Another purpose was to increase the influence of those experts on top management priorities and forge links between communities.
It seems they’ve reached their goal.
Because they was no similar project they could refer to, Schlumberger’s management asked people who wanted to sign in one community, without any control or criteria on competencies. Then, since they considered CVs were locked away by HR and nobody didnt’ know anything about anybody, they offered people to make online CVs. Thats was a great success for one reason: it was the first time people could say “that’what I am”.
After six month people were asked to elect their communities leaders. Although internal election used have a 20% participation, this rate raised to 60%!
According to Schlumberger’s CEO, self management and regulation is key when you have to deal with people who care mainly about their peer esteem. And as a conclusion “The best guys to decide who leads them are the guys who really work together.”
What to think?
I think Schlumberger is going very far in this approach. Aknowledging experts must be managed by esteem and by themselves in communities, that they are the best to decide who’s best to lead them and that no other solution works is very surprising when it comes from top management.
While a lot of organization still have a management model based on the authority given by the position, here comes the authority given by your peers according to leadership and expertise.
I still have two questions:
– how did they make the management understand their new role. Weren’t they affraid of being bypassed?
– they surely had to set up tools to make communities live online. Which tools? Did they focus on extracting competencies or dit they also stimulate online exchanges?