Connection In Isolation

Down in Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand and one of the most isolated in the world, there are three employees running a busy car rental branch.

Rarely do they work together as a team. Mostly it’s a passing update and a quick “hello” during a shift changeover.

Yet, these three workers are some of the best-connected employees in their multi-national company of thousands.

Each day, the team at Thrifty Car Rental in Invercargill stay connected with what’s happening at every other Thrifty branch across NZ through their Enterprise Social Network (ESN).

If there’s a new Thrifty employee up in Tauranga City on the North Island, they’ll know about it, see photos and have the chance to welcome them on board.

If Lindis Pass, the spectacular and popular route between Christchurch and the adventure hotspot Queenstown is closed due to the snow, the three in Invercargill will know about it first.

“It’s great from a business point of view,” said Thrifty’s Invercargill Branch Manager Ritchie Dodd.

“We can let customers know straight away if roads are closed, if there’s snow on the road and if they need chains.

“Recently there was flooding in Dunedin, but we had clear weather here, so we could let customers know not to drive to Dunedin because Shaun in our Dunedin branch had posted it on Yammer, along with photos of the flooding car park.”

This group of 128 Thrifty NZ employees is NRMA’s best ESN user group. The Thrifty business is owned by NRMA, a leading motoring and travel organisation, most famous for roadside assistance, with about 2000 employees across Australia and NZ.

NRMA has been gradually rolling out Microsoft’s ESN Yammer over the past seven years. It implemented Yammer with the goal of better connecting employees, improving internal communication and collaboration, providing a better platform to share knowledge and solve real business challenges facing teams today.

But is it working? Are employees better connected? Are they collaborating?

To answer those questions, NRMA’s Group Intranet and Collaboration Manager Holly Payne turned to SWOOP Analytics for help.

SWOOP Platform Social Network Analysis for Enterprise

SWOOP shows every employee in the business how they are connecting and collaborating, who is talking with whom, what are the hot topics. It shows managers their best performing groups, identifies influential people and can even track sentiment on posts across a network.

“That’s how we discovered Thrifty New Zealand was our best group,” said Ms Payne.

“I can look at the SWOOP dashboard and see who is collaborating and which teams need some help.”

Dig a little further and you can see why Thrifty NZ ranks as NRMA’s best performer.

“For a lot of our communication we don’t use email anymore,” said Lesley Miles, who oversees the Yammer group at Thrifty New Zealand.

“We put big announcements on Yammer. That way we don’t clog up people’s emails and everyone can see what’s going on.”

Ms Miles told of a major power outage in Christchurch earlier this year, when head office lost electricity for a few hours and had to rely on a generator to keep the phones and computers connected.

“So that the rest of the locations understood we were compromised for a short time, we sent a message out on Yammer saying head office has lost its power but still has phones and computers and we’ve got our generators going,” Ms Miles said.

“We just wanted to set their minds at rest that we were fine, we were still operating, we still had generator power, we could still answer phone calls, we could still make bookings.”

She said Thrifty regularly uses Yammer on mobile phones to communicate across branches when power is down or landline phones are out.

“That way we’ve always got some contact with them. Any alerts like that is what we use it for. It’s become part of our emergency plan,” she said.

Back in Invercargill, Mr Dodd also sees the benefit of using an ESN on a personal level.

He said for his team, they’ve built and maintained relationships purely on Yammer, despite their geographical isolation.

“On Monday, a colleague in Dunedin posted a photo from an old magazine with a story on our branch from seven years ago,” Ritchie said.

“He threw that on Yammer and there’s a picture of me! I posted something back to him about it being a blast from the past. Maybe you haven’t talked for a few days and then you have interactions on Yammer. It keeps us connected.

“You’re not disjointed, I suppose that’s the word. Because New Zealand, with the two islands, you can feel a bit isolated being at the bottom of the world, at the bottom of New Zealand.

“We do tend to get overlooked a bit. And that’s where Yammer keeps us connected.

“A simple post or comment, that can build on your day.”

It’s building the personal relationships that makes the Thrifty ESN model so successful because it’s the foundation of a strong network, according to SWOOP Chief Scientist Laurence Lock Lee.

That eventually leads to a greater return on investment for businesses and happier employees.

Dr Lock Lee has authored the world’s largest benchmarking report on ESNs, a study of 57 organisations worldwide, which examined more than 250,000 employees and almost six million digital interactions.

A key finding of the report was the need to build two-way relationships – the sort Ritchie and Shaun have at Thrifty.

Once those two-way relationships are achieved and maintained across an organisation using ESNs, there is greater knowledge sharing, problem solving and innovation.

This leads to a greater return on investment, and on a personal level, greater job fulfilment.

In Thrifty’s case, if Mr Dodd finds out from his colleagues there is snow on the roads and chains are required, he can upsell chains to his customers, bringing an immediate financial benefit to Thrifty.

More importantly, he is keeping his customers safe and as a result, happy and satisfied, which is likely to lead to return business.

“It’s all about collaboration,” Dr Lock Lee says.

“There’s no point using ESNs to blast a message. Business needs to use enterprise social networks to connect, to respond, to collaborate. Knowledge is shared across a business, problems are solved which all leads to innovation.

“How employees respond to each other leads to success within an organisation.”

But without an analytics tool like SWOOP, few can know if their ESN has matured beyond a social media network into an indispensable networking platform at the heart of a thriving business.

SWOOP enables the entire organisation to measure engagement and collaboration, at an individual level, team and group level, and as an enterprise.

“Organisations invest heavily in employee engagement and collaboration initiatives to drive organisational performance,” SWOOP Analytics Chief Executive Cai Kjaer said.

“But is it working? We want organisations to form connections, not collections. Merely consuming and sharing content isn’t enough, it won’t transform a business.”

SWOOP’s focus is on relationships and how that drives performance in an organisation.

“If you know what outcomes you want for your business, SWOOP can tell you what to look at to get it right and help you move along the different stages of the maturity model,” Mr Kjaer said.

SWOOP enables every employee in an organisation to see their own online persona, identify influencers and assess the levels of engagement between executives and frontline staff.

At a glance, anyone in an organisation can see which departments are well networked and identify the strategically most important groups.

To ensure every individual can understand their own collaborative behaviour, SWOOP has identified five personas that characterise interaction behaviours on ESNs.

  • Engagers – Engagers are the engine room for collaboration networks. They connect and sustain relationships. The higher the number of engagers in your organisation the better.
  • Catalysts – Catalysts energise the network by attracting responses. They seed lots of conversations that lead to a lot of replies and likes.
  • Responders – Responders prefer to react to conversation rather than initiating them. They will often reply or ‘like’.
  • Broadcaster – The ‘Broadcaster’ persona is self evident, as someone who sends messages but does not engage much with the groups and communities.
  • Observer – The ‘Observer’ is someone who consumes some of the content from the system but as they do not actively participate in the interactions they are unlikely to be creating organisational value.

Dr Lock Lee says Thrifty NZ is a great example of a mature ESN.

They adopted the ESN, started using it, began connections and sharing ideas, and then moved to the critical areas of solving and innovating.

Once Thrifty NZ made the decision to adopt Yammer, Ms Miles said the senior leadership team led by example and started engaging employees by posting on Yammer.

“That’s what people crave for. Being inspired and engaged by leadership,” Dr Lock Lee said.

“It’s why celebrities like to use Twitter. You can connect straight to your fans and that’s why it’s so important for leadership to get involved to ensure a successful ESN.”

However, Ms Payne confessed there are varying degrees of ESN maturity across groups in NRMA, and Thrifty NZ is a great use case to learn from.

“We can see on SWOOP there is more opportunity to grow our network,” she said.

“Being a diverse organisation, there is no one size fits all. Thrifty NZ is a great example of how each part of the business needs to understand how a tool like Yammer can help them solve their unique business challenges and achieve their specific goals.

“We can all learn from them.”

Perhaps Ms Miles in Christchurch best sums up the importance of connection and collaboration.

“Our branches are all across New Zealand and they can get very isolated from the rest of us,” she said.

“But by having Yammer it just brings everybody in together as a company. It means that you’re not leaving anybody out or they’re not being lost down in Invercargill or up in Whangarei.

“We’re all part of one team.”

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