How to measure a community manager's performance

Measuring the performance of a community manager

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In an open organization, measuring performance for particular roles like community managers may not be straightforward, especially when comparing those roles to others with more defined success metrics, goals, and outcomes. In my experience over the past six years, I've worked closely with my manager to make sure that we are in sync with my objectives and what I need to do in order to maximize my impact in my role as a community manager.

In Managing Performance When It's Hard to Measure from Harvard Business Review, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst explains how to capture difficult-to-measure output and reward influence in an organization. The key points in the article resonated with me as I thought about my role with Opensource.com. I know not everyone has the same experience at Red Hat, but I'd like to take a look at how the work I do compares to Jim's assessment of how we measure performance in our organization.

Measuring the unmeasurable

First, Jim talks about measuring unpredictable output:

What about the kinds of jobs where measuring someone's "output" isn't about counting the number of widgets they produced, but rather it's about how they managed a team or influenced others or helped people collaborate better?

In my role as a community manager for Opensource.com, I don't directly manage people. I play an "influencer" role with both my internal team and our extended team of community moderators and contributors. I do not have the managerial power to give someone a direct order. However, my leadership style incorporates this knowledge and I will often suggest tasks and objectives that would benefit our community. I strive to explain the larger benefit and try to make the connection to what I'm asking and how it's part of our larger mission.

For example, we provide social media training to our community moderators. We fire up a video conference for an hour, share some of the best practices and techniques we're using, and teach our key contributors to maximize their social media impact. Those able to join have gained crucial experience learning how to use social media to further the website's mission. I can't demand that all of our community moderators participate, but those that do receive tremendous value from the session, where we shared knowledge and strategy honed over the past few years of running Opensource.com's various social media accounts.

How do you measure the impact of a training session like this? We don't have time to follow each of our moderators streams on various social media outlets and track what they do on a daily basis. Instead, we measure the number of attendees at the training and continue to monitor the overall social media numbers we already track (followers, engagement, mentions, incoming traffic). Anyone who works with social media knows that measuring its impact depends on what you're trying to achieve. Measuring a community manager's influence with social media is about as unpredictable as you can get.

The fact of the matter is, community managers do many little things beyond social media. They have so many interactions with their community members that can be difficult to track—which is why finding ways to measure our impact is really important. My manager and I both recognize that so many one-on-one interactions—emails, Tweets, and private messages—go uncaptured in the daily grind. This is why we focus on bigger objectives like recruiting new community moderators or bringing new authors into our community. It's my responsibility to map those smaller interactions to larger goals.

Staying in the same chapter

In his article, Jim also talks about how to stay in sync with your manager:

We've found that it's essential to make sure that associates and their managers are on the same page when it comes to the responsibilities and expectations for the role.

My manger and I use two mechanisms to accomplish this. First, we have a one-on-one meeting every week. In this meeting, I am free to raise questions, concerns, objectives, or bring forward new ideas. My manager also brings a list of things to check on. More importantly, we use this time to discuss any objectives that may be changing or need adjustment—which happens more often than you may think. Sometimes, it's more like making sure we're in the same chapter and then navigating to the same page.

The second mechanism is a weekly 30-60-90 meeting with the entire team. We use this time to check in on medium- and long-term objectives—things that we normally wouldn't be able to accomplish because of our daily grind. We set reasonable objectives that we want to accomplish, such as creating a new resource page (think, What is Linux?) and set a target date. We use our weekly meetings to check on our progress, share our results, and make adjustments.

A general example of being “in sync” may be trying to capture how I spend my time. I will often speak at various open source conferences or attend local meet-ups in the Raleigh-Durham area. My manager and I jokingly talk about giving me a GPS tracker—not to track where I am at each moment, but to try and capture all of things I do and places I go as a community manager that aren't easy to keep track of in an "normal way" for, say, performance reviews.

And when it comes time for performance reviews, the 30-60-90 goals are captured and documented throughout the year. Doing this makes it easy to go back and look at those medium- and long-term objectives to help tell the story of the bigger picture around performance.

Seizing the opportunity

The last thing I'll discuss is something for which I really respect my manager. Jim writes the following final point:

Managers focus on opportunities, not score-keeping.

This is very true in my role; however, I only recently recognized this was happening after being with my manager for several years.

After celebrating Opensource.com's fifth anniversary, I had a chance to reflect on some of our accomplishments and the various roles I've played over the years. What I realized is that my manager was always looking for the next opportunity and pushing me, in an encouraging way, to explore and execute.

A recent example is a project I've been working on for about a year. We've had many discussions about updating the main navigation for Opensource.com. The teams felt like the old menu had outlived the site's original mission to organize content around limit topic areas (business, education, government, health, law, and life). Since the launch of Opensource.com, we've expanded into many other topics such as open hardware, HFOSS, DevOps, and much more—and it wasn't easy to rip out the menu and drop in some new code. Change is hard, right?

We've been working on updating the site architecture and navigation for months, thinking about how we match the current content with future needs. I've had many discussions with my manager about changing this, and I was finally able to make the case about why this was important. I was able to bring this opportunity to my manager, who let me pursue the changes that needed to be made and work with my team to make the right decisions.

Jim talks about managers focusing on opportunities—and I know this is true in my situation. Over the years, I've learned that associates also need to have the confidence to present opportunities they see that warrant further exploration to their managers. Don't be afraid to share your thinking and ideas for constant improvement.

How do you measure the impact of a community manager?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring the impact of a community manager. And that's the point Jim is trying to make when he writes that "a traditional performance review rating could never capture the kind of influence [someone] has built inside our organization and the communities we participate in."

There is only one constant: change. If associates are aware of this and stay in sync with their managers, then performance reviews shouldn't be a surprise during the annual review process. Why? Because constant communication is key, and giving people like me freedom to make front-line decisions is what makes an open organization thrive. Those one-on-one meetings are a great time to check in to get direction, clarification, and even confidence.

When setting goals, don't stretch beyond what is achievable. Our 30-60-90 is flexible enough to capture bigger goals and allows us to adjust along the way. In making those adjustments, be willing to open up a discussion on what measurements make sense for performance reviews and team objectives. Flexibility, communication, and collaboration are essentials for thriving in an open organization.

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About the author

Jason Hibbets
Jason Hibbets - Jason Hibbets is a senior community architect at Red Hat which means he is a mash-up of a community manager and project manager for Opensource.com. He primarily works with the DevOps Team and Open Organization community. He is the author of The foundation for an open source city and has been with Red Hat since 2003. Follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets for a fun and shareable feed of his open source (and other)...