How to Build Transformative Centers of Excellence

January 18, 2016 Jiordan Castle

center of excellence

In any company, groups of people come together to discuss large-scale concepts, granular ideas, and new tools. In some companies, these groups are called Centers of Excellence (CoE) — “excellence” being the operative word. A CoE’s mission is to create, develop, and promote proven practices, ideas, and tools that support their roles (e.g., a CoE for business analysts, or a CRM CoE). Appirio’s own BA (business analyst) CoE has had a particularly great year. Here are some of their stats:

  • There are 163 members in the BA CoE Chatter group.
  • In 2015, they reviewed 27 projects and had 22 unique project speakers.
  • Their Chatter group had 169 posts and 725 comments/likes this year alone.

The following are 9 lessons they’ve learned that apply to any burgeoning groups, teams, or CoE in your organization.

  1. Brand perception matters.

The brand of your CoE is 100 percent audience perception. Though your audience is internal (unlike your company’s brand), if you want to reinvigorate or build your CoE, it’s still important to establish its brand — a unique purpose, a target audience, and a powerful place for knowledge sharing.

  1. Promote meetings.

No one wants to attend a meeting with topics that aren’t relevant to them. Similarly, it’s painful to be unprepared to contribute to a meeting with relevant topics. Both can be easily avoided by sharing the meeting agenda well in advance of the meeting, whether it’s communicated via Chatter post or email.

  1. Engage across multiple channels.

If you build it, they will come… to your CoE. Members of Appirio’s BA CoE group each communicate in their own way, using their preferred channel. Some people want to receive a bi-weekly email; others want a bi-weekly video chat. The fact is that most people communicate across a variety of channels every day. Your job is to identify which channels your people prefer and use them to maintain a dialogue.

  1. Find a balance between structure and flexibility.

Regularly scheduled meetings, standardized meeting formats, recurring sessions, and formal pre- and post-meeting communications help people know what to expect and when to expect it. But it’s equally important to enable variety. Appirios’ BA CoE changed dates/times of meetings to boost attendance when necessary, altered content for specific channels, and even partnered with other groups across Appirio to spice things up and encourage growth.

A CoE exists for the purposes of knowledge sharing and inclusion. Routinely delegating tasks and involving others in the planning process allows leaders to leverage the skills and viewpoints of the broader group — all for the good of the broader group.

  1. Measure performance.

You can’t improve your CoE without first understanding what works and what doesn’t. Appirio’s BA CoE measured channel engagement, meeting attendance, and individual participation (by method), and sent post-meeting surveys. They analyzed the data and used it to continuously improve engagement going forward.

  1. Keep learning, keep adapting.

Just as it’s important to have the right people in a CoE, it’s important to have the right approach. If something isn’t working, change it. Great leaders need to remain open to learning and trying new things in order to meet the needs of the group.

  1. Have fun!

A CoE is intended to facilitate innovation, create a meaningful impact, and actually be fun for members. Appirio’s BA CoE found that if certain topics weren’t particularly powerful, the group wasn’t talkative, or attendance was low, it was helpful to host themed meetings and celebrate individual achievements. Remember: people are more likely to participate in groups they enjoy.

  1. Foster discussion.

The secret ingredients in any successful CoE are these: insights, war stories, failures, tips, and healthy debates. Most importantly, they all hinge on 3 things: building a community of passionate people, providing them a forum for open communication, and then, well, getting out of their way.

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