Try the community-driven approach for lasting change management

- Change Management

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by Shahin Sheidaei

Change is only constant in the world we live in, and you are a part of it! In fact, you are in the business of Change.

You may be influencing the change of people’s behavior and/or their processes. You might be directing a change, focusing on the process versus people aspect of one, or many other approaches you may be taking to introduce change. You have many tools in your toolbelt to introduce change, to make people aware of the change, to help them through change, to let them experiment with change, and even to empower them to be the change themselves.

You are knowledgeable about different strategies, including — but not limited to — the McKinsey 7-S Framework, Kotter’s eight-step process, Prosci ADKAR® Model, the Deming Cycle (PDCA), and even the Lean Change Management Cycle. In some circumstances, applying these change management strategies has worked really well, while sometimes they didn’t bear the result you intended.

I don’t want to debate over which strategy is better or give you hints on when to use which. (Even if I wanted to, I  don’t consider myself qualified and knowledgeable enough to do so.) Instead, I want to introduce you to a concept that can greatly improve your ability to influence, drive and make change happen. It’s the one and only Community!

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Let me ask you a question. How many times have you considered yourself part of a community? How many times have you felt the need for a community?

How many communities have you been part of? How many have you actively looked for to become a part of (and satisfy a need of yours)? Were there any communities that you initiated? If you are answering No to all of these questions, I want to ask you to think harder. You cannot be a human being and not be part of a community. I bet there were even times you were part of a community and didn’t even realize it right away.

The root cause of anyone being part of a community is a need to be satisfied. People become part of communities to learn, to share experiences, to network, and to connect with more people. They even form communities around different processes. For example all the database admins in a large organization can get together monthly to exchange information and ideas. Communities at work can be used for re-alignment, to get motivated, to find empathy, and so much more.

As humans, throughout the history, we have relied on and continue to rely on communities for many reasons. It might have been satisfy our basic needs or because we share an inherent desire to help each other. These communities are often built around a shared interest. As the world moves more connected online, more and more these communities are even virtual. No matter what format and shape a community takes, it is a very powerful social tool to rely on.

So why are we not relying on them even more? What is keeping us from thinking of them when it comes to managing change? Why are communities not our go-to solutions?

What’s holding you back from building a community

You might think there might be consequences. There aren’t! There is no real harm in building and flourishing communities. A community will self-correct (evolve) itself or even die out naturally if the need is satisfied. You don’t need to worry about it a bit. You just need to let go. It is not hard to build a community. It only takes someone to initiate it (i.e. a community initiator) and someone to follow that person (i.e. community member) around a similar need, which they want to be satisfied. For such a cheap investment, why are we not building them more often?

You might think a successful community is a community with lots of people involved. I wouldn’t agree with that. A successful community is a community. Communities are successful if we (i.e. people in and around the communities) don’t tamper with their natural lifecycle.

Communities are the essence of change management: in constant motion

We need to build communities more and more often than ever. What I would like to propose to you is a challenge. Whatever change you are working about in your role, I want you to think of a community-based solution as your go-to solution. I want you to think of solutions that have communities built into them. It might not be easy to initiate a community, start it, support and nurture it, and even let it evolve. That’s why it’s a challenge. For doing so, let me introduce you to the definition and lifecycle of a community.

I like to use Wikipedia’s definition of community:

A community is a social unit that comes together through self-selection, and self-organize to satisfy shared needs

Community Lifecycle

The figure below illustrates the lifecycle of a community:

I do not want to go into all the details of this illustration. I just want to talk about what I think is the most important point in the lifecycle of a community, the Evolution Stage. As you can see, there are many directions that a community can take from the Evolution stage. And that’s the main challenge working with communities. As a person with an interest in a community, you want to shape the community in a way to have the shortest loop possible after the Evolution phase. You want the community to be in the loop of “Motion-Evolution”, rather than “Evolution-Start” or “Evolution-Initiation”.

The challenge here is not really how to start or build a community. The main challenge is when the community is in Motion, how to understand its needs, how to support it, and how to nurture it. How can you make the shorter loop exist? The shorter the loop, the less community members you lose, the more momentum you have, and the more people’s needs are being satisfied.

Communities are very fragile. They need the correct type of support. Many people, in and out of the community, can affect the community in positive and negative ways. It doesn’t take that much to see a community fade away. Without the right structure in place that let the community to go through its natural lifecycle, you won’t be having a community at all. You might have a group that you are calling it a community.

Remember, the best type of support you can provide for a community is to take part in it, to coach people of that community, and to facilitate sessions for the community.

I would love to hear your thoughts on communities. Even better, if you have tried to build one, tell us below what you’ve learned from it. After all, we are all part of the community that helps each other learn more about communities.

For more information on business guilds and communities of practice:

For more on tackling the evolving world of change management:

One thought on "Try the community-driven approach for lasting change management"

  • Jason Schreuder says:

    Great article, Shahin! An awesome reminder of the importance of forming communities with any initiative, and working collaboratively toward a common purpose.

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