A few years back, Matt Dodd received the phone call every communications manager dreads – the company website was down.
Matt, who headed the team tasked with running the wesbite, social media and intranet, was off site at a conference and he knew some key colleagues were working from home and were not in the office to fix the problem.
He jumped onto Microsoft’s Yammer, his team’s Enterprise Social Network (ESN), and asked what was going on.
Straight away his team chipped in with answers, telling him what was being done to resolve the problem. They worked together – regardless of whether they were at the conference, working from home or in the office – posting questions and updates on Yammer to keep everyone in the loop.
To Matt’s relief, the website was soon back up and running.
“It was just this natural conversation that solved this problem,” Matt told Microsoft’s Ignite conference.
“I thought; ‘Wow, this is going to change how we can really work together’. Ever since then I’ve been a huge advocate of using enterprise social networks because I think the way they are able to connect and really foster that group conversation is something really powerful.”
His faith was put to the test when he moved to one of the most isolated cities in the world, Perth in Western Australia, to head up digital channels for the state’s 120-year-old bank – Bankwest.
Fast forward a few years and Bankwest boasts a Yammer network that is an establised part of the company’s culture, a place where employees go to collaborate, share and problem solve.
It wasn’t always that way.
Initally set up as an experiment within the IT division, for a long time Yammer was seen as irrelevant to many of the company’s 4500 employees. With some careful community management more and more people began to join the network.
Then, following a visit from Guide Dogs WA to head office and sharing some photos of the visit on the Yammer network, the “Pets of Bankwest” group was born. It rapidly became popular with people regularly posting pictures of their pets, from dogs and cats, to lizards and guinea pigs.
The “Pets of Bankwest” group continues to be one of the most engaging on the company’s Yammer network, according to data from SWOOP Analytics, as colleagues upload photos of their furry – and sometimes not so furry – friends.
Each month, there’s a competition for the “Pet of the Month”. The winner’s pet is honoured with profile picture rights for the group that month. As word of the group spread, more people wanted to join in.
“Straight away people put all sorts of different pictures in,” Matt said.
“That obviously raised all these questions with the execs. What is going on? When are people doing work? What’s the value of this? Isn’t this a waste of time?”
Matt was asked by the executive management of Bankwest to explain.
He used that meeting to challenge their perspective on the “pets” group and point out the huge benefits of having so many people connected (as well as reminding them that nine of the company’s top 10 performing groups were, in fact, business based groups).
What Matt and the executive team realised was the “Pets of Bankwest” group was a safe, low risk place where every employee felt comfortable to practise the skills they needed to use on the network.
And employees were engaging, they were building connections, making contact with people in the business they otherwise may never come across.
“People could see that behaviour and it really started to build that capability around using the system,” Matt said.
“The other thing it did was give people a real reason to return.
“I can’t stress this enough with social groups, they’re actually really powerful and they give people a reason to come into the network in the first place.
“As they do that, they see the feeds, they see the other stuff that’s going on, they see that other activity. They start to get this rich experience about what’s happening in the organisation.
“But they need that little push to go; ‘Oh, it’s Pet of the Month time, I’m going back on because I want to get my pet of the month there, I’m going to go and post my dog picture’.”
Matt used another example of an employee who had moved to Perth, which is thousands of kilometres from the next nearest state capital. This new employee didn’t yet have friends, connections or local knowledge about Perth.
He discovered a vegan group on Bankwest’s Yammer network. Fellow vegans used it to mostly recommend local restaurants. He told Matt how valuable this connection was to him on a personal level, making him feel included and recognised.
“Building these connections is really important because what we understand is when we put posts out, from a corporate point of view, we want them to filter through the network,” Matt said.
“And without those connections, that doesn’t happen. They end up as dead silence.
“It really creates these strong ties between people.”
It also creates weak ties. A colleague in Sydney may have never had a business interaction with someone in Perth but remembers the dog picture they posted on Yammer.
“It really fosters this reciprocation, this idea that these things are two ways,” Matt said.
“That whole thing about it being a conversation really lives in these social groups for us and really sets that benchmark.”
What Matt is explaining is the first four steps in SWOOP Analytics’ maturity model, which is based on Simon Terry’s original ESN model:
- Adoption of the enterprise social network
- Engagement – getting employees engaged by sharing their pet pictures
- Connecting – especially new, online connections that would otherwise have not been made
- Sharing – photos, stories, videos, files, anecdotes.
“This pet group was actually nailing these four things – adoption, people connecting, sharing, making these great inroads into where we were on this maturity model,” Matt said.
“By sharing pet photos, it made Yammer the; ‘normal place to do things’.”
A model for trust
Matt said the “Pets of Bankwest” group had been powerful in breaking down traditional silos.
“You’re connecting with people you don’t normally connect with,” he said.
“It’s a model for trust in the workplace.”
Before the Yammer network, there were really two options for engaging large numbers of people at Bankwest – an event, which can get too big and be too impracticle, or email – a closed network totally reliant upon who you already know.
Now there was Yammer, a place where everyone has the same access. But was it working?
Bankwest turned to SWOOP Analytics for a transparent view of exactly what was happening on the Yammer network.
SWOOP shows who is connecting with whom, which teams and departments are collaborating, it shows every employee’s online behaviour, identifies influencers, assesses the levels of engagement between executives and frontline staff.
SWOOP will track sentiment in the network, tell you when people are posting, find the hot topics, show the health of the network, the most engaging posts and give every employee tips on how to improve their online collaboration.
What was working best at Bankwest were the posts displaying authentic leadership.
Matt said the key was to; “Let the MD be who he wants to be.”
Encouraging the managing director and senior leadership to be themselves, show a little of what they’re like as a person, not just a boss, post some photos or videos and share some ideas – that made employees feel connected to their leaders because it was genuine.
“That was the key for us. If you show nothing of your actual self, you’ve got your work persona on all the time, people will think it’s the comms team writing it for you,” Matt said.
And yes, senior leaders do post in “Pets of Bankwest”, occassionally.
In the end, Matt says Yammer isn’t a numbers game of gaining the most likes.
“Ultimately, it’s about people connecting with people. That’s where they get the real value from this,” he said.
“It’s that whole thing about shifting leadership from spans of control in that old style of working to spans of influence and actually recognising that.
“Yammer is a great place for building your span of influence, whether you’re a senior leader or whether you’re working on the front line. It makes no difference.”
For Bankwest, Yammer is about changing culture and ensuring the culture is one of connecting, sharing and working together.
They call it being “Brilliant Orange”.
“I’d really urge you to try and make Yammer as normal as possible in your organisation, even though it can be painful, it might take some time to get some traction, the more normal you can make, the more you’ll adopt it,” Matt said.
But to get business value from Yammer, or any ESN, you must give personal value.
“You’ve got to get people on the network, that’s the only way you’re going to get that stage of getting business value,” Matt said.
“Embrace that personal value. Don’t shut it out, don’t push people so the only thing they can post about is work. The network dies.
“Really help people to build that trust. If people feel safe, if they can bring their whole self to work, then they’ll bring that into the network and they’ll bring that into Yammer because it is just an extension of their workplace.”