A View from the Top – David Thodey Interview Part 2 – Reflections on experiences “in use”

In Part 1 of this interview series with David Thodey, the former CEO of Telstra and strong Enterprise Social Networking advocate, we covered his reflections on current frustrations with communications experienced by CEOs and the discovery of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) and Yammer. In this part we continue the journey of how he personally made use of the platform.

One of the impacts of “going formal” with Yammer is that we will invariably see the corporate governance engine kick in. Legal will be concerned about ill-considered written statements leaking outside the organisation and the potential trouble it might cause. IT security would of course want to give the software a thorough going over. Thodey experienced all of these reactions, but was forthright enough to state that the benefits far outweighed the risks involved and so the implementation, enterprise wide, went full steam ahead. It helps when you are the CEO!  Without wanting to denigrate the good work that these people do, the risk/reward equation is not always as apparent to those tasked with ‘protecting the cathedral’. The importance of having a very senior sponsor for an ESN deployment cannot be overstated.

Thodey’s early impressions were encouraging. A complete and pleasant surprise was how self-regulating the network was. Peer level staff, more often than not, dealt with inappropriate postings, without the need for formal line management intervention. He saw elements of thought leadership arising from areas in the company that he was completely unaware of. He became aware that Telstra staff were the harshest critics of Telstra’s products. When he saw interchanges like these he made a point of using the platform to ‘notify’ the relevant product manager of the discussion that was going on. More often than not, the product manager was unaware of the sentiment that was being expressed about their product.

Another response that his hands-on approach provokes is “where did he get the time as a busy CEO?”. Well Thodey did admit to “cheating a little bit”. He did have staff who were monitoring the conversation activity to alert him to conversations they thought he would be interested in. But he was adamant that all messages from him had to be authentic, which is why he wrote every post and reply himself.

There were also some amusing side stories when the CEO decides to sidestep the hierarchy and engage directly with staff.  In Thodey’s words: I used it to break down stereotype views of management. Someone wrote about a topic being discussed “Management will never approve of this”, and I commented “Hey – I am management, and I like it! It helped us change peoples’ perspective of management.”

Thodey’s insistence that outcomes be prioritised over hierarchy and process led to his most famous post: “What processes and technologies should we eliminate?”. It received over 700 responses and clearly signaled the internal frustrations staff were experiencing. Thodey had also instigated a single customer KPI for the whole company and here he reached out directly for help to reach their collective target. The back story, as Thodey tells it, is that for the first two years they achieved the single customer KPI and everyone was happy and content. However on the third year the target was missed along with the bonuses attached to it. Yammer lit up with different areas complaining about how their area had met their local target and the unfairness of how they should miss out because of the poor performance of others. He had to get online to emphasise to the staff that they had all signed up for the single customer KPI and this was a one-company initiative.  The sobering thought here is that the ESN can do a lot to facilitate collaboration, co-operation and the much sought after “one-company” vision. But people are still people, conditioned to industrial ways of working, especially in large established enterprises like Telstra. Change will happen but not overnight.

Another area that Thodey found that the ESN facilitated well was policy development. Traditionally, the development of policies is the responsibility of senior management and perhaps a closed suite of focus groups. Using Yammer, the executive was able to release “policies in progress” to all staff for comment, and indeed direct input into workable policies. This led to new policies being effective from day 1. Thodey candidly suggests that senior executives do not know everything and freely admitted to a few poor policy instigations of his own; some of which took years to unwind.

As with many Yammer adopters, Telstra’s initial introduction was bottom up use of the free offering. We have now analysed data from many Yammer users and found that this early adoption phase can last as long as 4 to 5 years. However, real enterprise wide adoption only ever starts to happen when the ESN is formally endorsed from the top.

In the next and final part we bring together the reflections, ongoing challenges and lessons that can be learnt from David Thodey’s “View from the Top”.


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