World Bank Performance Community

My last posts have covered performance communities, one of the most powerful tools for change in any effort.  I explained the Three Forces for High-Performance Business Communities: business benefits, community concerns, and participant payoffs, and gave Three Examples of Performance Communities. Here I want to share an example from my work at the World Bank:

In 2002 I worked closely with President James Wolfensohn to build internal communities that would simultaneously help him accomplish strategic objectives and improve communications inside the organization.

The World Bank’s mission is to alleviate poverty. Wolfensohn spoke forcefully about the need to create partnerships with the poor to accomplish this. However, I observed that this seemed to lack the traction it deserved inside the organization.

I formed a group to help him address the issue. I didn’t have far to look. In the front window of the World Bank bookstore was, Voices of the Poor (Deepa Narayan, Oxford University Press, 2000). I contacted Deepa and within a few weeks we had arranged a coffee between Wolfensohn and about twenty staff members who had been studying the complex topic of working in partnership with the poor. Our community was beginning to form.

The first get together was abuzz with conversation and ideas. The business objectives were laid out:

  • Articulate a short explanation of what it meant to empower the poor and why this was so important. This would be a short paper and inform Wolfensohn’s conversations with world leaders
  • Provide the background information so Wolfensohn would have the latest and best thinking on the issue, including access to all relevant research.

There were a series of further coffees and soon Wolfensohn was incorporating ideas from this group in his conversations with heads of state. At the same time, news of the collaboration was spreading among those staff concerned with the issue, pulling more in to help.

This performance community lasted a few short months. Because its business objectives were clear from the beginning, it was easy to disband once they had been accomplished. The work this group did was significant.

Here are the business benefits, community concerns, and participant payoffs that made this group a success:

Business Benefits:

  • Strategy development on core objective: Empowering the Poor
  • Education and support documentation supplied to the president
  • Improved internal communications on the topic

Community Concerns:

  • Championing the cause of empowering the Poor
  • Recognition for the cause
  • Visibility and recognition among peers

Personal Payoffs:

  • Recognition for professional contribution
  • Proximity to power, audience with the president
  • Using professional expertise to make a difference in the world
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