BHP Billiton axed their division called Operational Excellence last year. This was the group that, among other services, supported the organisations Knowledge Networks (also called communities of practice but language matters in this story). BHPB had developed the networks over the last 10 years but when the new CEO arrived he thought that if the business lines thought these networks were valuable then they should support them. Operational Excellence was a corporate service and while I don’t know the exact numbers there might have been 30 or more people supporting their knowledge networks program.
Knowledge networks in BHPB were formal affairs. There was a defined process for creating one. Senior sponsorship was required. There were funded extremely well. And each one had one or more support people helping to run the network. In the case of their Global Maintenance Network there were at least a handful of support people. At the same time groups of people could informally come together without corporate support and these groups were communities of practice. Ironically it’s a career limiting move at BHPB to mention knowledge networks because they connote corporate, bureaucratic and expensive. But calling gatherings of professionals ‘communities of practice’ is OK and perhaps even applauded. Language matters. History matters.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: