Same-sex marriage – what’s it got to do with work?

The single most discussed topic on one of the largest private Yammer networks in the Asia Pacific region is same-sex marriage.

Data from SWOOP Analytics shows debate on Australian telecommunications company Telstra’s Yammer network around Australia’s same-sex marriage vote received the most engagement in Telstra’s nine-year history with Yammer.

A Telstra phone booth and Wi-Fi hot spot.

It begs the question; what’s it got to do with work? What benefit is it to a telco to have thousands of staff spending their time discussing their personal views on marriage equality?

According to Telstra’s leadership, it’s got everything to do with making employees feel respected, heard, valued, safe and connected.

Yammer is where Telstra has built its “cultural home”, says Gary McGibbon, Senior Social Media Strategist on the Telstra Employee Social Engagement team, in an interview with Microsoft.

“Yammer flattens hierarchies and democratises communications; anyone can jump in and participate,” he said.

“Yammer is not just a place for issuing corporate communications – it’s a cultural home for us.”

In 2017 Australia held a national postal vote on same-sex marriage. At times, it became a bitter and divisive two-month campaign marred by harsh rhetoric and wild allegations of the consequences of a “yes” vote.

Telstra Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Andrew Penn.

Telstra publicly declared its strong support for marriage equality. CEO Andrew Penn said for Telstra it was about celebrating equality in all of its forms so its people feel safe, comfortable, and proud to love and marry their chosen partner.

Discussion about same-sex marriage and the vote was passionate at Telstra. Yammer was where employees could have their say.

Group Executive, Human Resources, Alex Badenoch, said through employee networks like Yammer Telstra was providing open channels and opportunities for advice, support, information and engagement for LGBT+ inclusion.

“It’s around these issues that ignite personal passion in our people that our internal social network Yammer really comes to life,” she said in a Telstra blog post.

Telstra staff supporting Wear it Purple Day, an annual LGBTIQA+ awareness day. Supporters wear purple to celebrate diversity and young people from the LGBTIQA+ community.

“With one of the largest Yammer workforces using Yammer in the Asia Pacific region, the topic of marriage equality is the single most discussed topic across our nine- year history using this social platform.

“Yammer is the voice of our people and as a company, we are committed to fostering open conversations in a way that ensures everyone can have their say, and be heard respectfully.”

More than 12.7 million people across Australia, or 79.5 per cent of the population, took part in the survey with every state and territory returning a majority “yes.” Australia’s parliament passed the same-sex marriage law in December 2017.

Supported by colleagues on Yammer

It was a huge moment for many, including Nick Collins, Telstra’s Director of Global Customer and Sales Operations, who said the frequent messages of support from Mr Penn and Telstra’s senior leadership team on Yammer encouraged open and honest discussion and brought to life Telstra’s values.

Telstra leaders involved in Wear It Purple Day in support of LGBTIQA+ awareness.

“Personally, I was really buoyed by the support I had from my colleagues and the level of interest they had in the survey,” he said on Telstra Exchange.

“It was terrific to see the conversations on Yammer and the availability of support via work/life coaching for our people that may have needed to talk to someone. I am proud to work for a company that not just talks but acts on a higher-purpose to create a better society.”

While the same-sex marriage debate may not obviously seem to have a direct impact on every day work at Telstra, it was as issue of passion affecting many. By providing a safe forum on Yammer, employees were able to feel supported by, and connected to, their executives and given the opportunity to be heard with respect.  

A world leader in Yammer performance

Telstra has been recognised by SWOOP as a world leader in Yammer performance. In the world’s largest analysis of Yammer networks, where SWOOP reviewed data from 74 organisations worldwide representing more than 1.4 million users and 12 million interactions, Telstra was ranked among the top two performers for large companies.

“We have observed from our benchmarking studies that mature Yammer users like Telstra have moved well and truly beyond seeing Yammer as just another publishing channel,” said SWOOP Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, Dr Laurence Lock Lee.

“Our benchmarked leaders are moving towards using their internal social channels to directly impact their organisational culture and stated values; something we see in evidence here.”

Telstra’s journey with Yammer and SWOOP

Telstra is Australia’s largest telecommunications company worth $US29 billion. It offers a full range of communications services around the world, including voice, mobile, internet access, pay television and other services. In Australia, it provides 17.6 million retail mobile services, 5.1 million retail fixed voice services, and 3.5 million retail fixed broadband services.

Telstra CEO Andrew Penn and former CEO David Thodey.

Telstra had been dabbling with Yammer since 2008 but it was in 2012 when former CEO David Thodey made a company-wide push to use Yammer to address what he called “ineffective communications” and to change the organisation’s email-only culture.

It now has more than 55,000 Yammer users across 20 countries – Telstra employees as well as contractors and partners. It is one of the largest Yammer networks in the Asia Pacific region. Telstra has been using SWOOP since 2014 and was SWOOP’s second-ever customer.

In Microsoft’s case study on Telstra, it says Telstra uses Yammer to foster social interactions among like-minded employees and to monitor the corporate pulse on big company-wide initiatives – like the launch of a new corporate strategy.

“Yammer keeps conversations going as long as employees want to keep talking,” Mr McGibbon said.

Keeping conversations alive on Yammer

Mr McGibbon’s team refreshes the company intranet with new stories daily. When a story is bumped off the intranet, it rolls to a Yammer group called Telstra News where it, and employee conversations about it, can live longer.

A Telstra employee on Wear It Purple Day.

“We work hard to inform and engage employees, and Yammer helps us coordinate an omnichannel approach to employee communications,” McGibbon said.

“People go to a range of places to get information, and conversations are happening in the kitchens and hallways, in intranet comment fields and emails. Yammer gives Telstra’s employee communications team a way to be a part of those conversations and promote unified messaging.”

Telstra also uses Yammer as a channel for employees to ask questions during live-stream events, giving everyone the opportunity to participate in discussions no matter where in the world they’re located. Similarly, YamJams are popular, a live Q&A event where employees can ask panellists questions and receive real-time responses via Yammer.

Mr McGibbon says Yammer is also good for helping employees find support, often using it to resolve problems.

“On Yammer, you can either find an answer that someone else has posted or quickly get an answer from an expert,” he said.

“Even conversations that start off as complaints quickly evolve into more of a support community, with people pitching in ideas to help.”

Connecting in a meaningful way

Jason Laird, Telstra’s former Executive Director Communications, said with active senior leadership supporting Yammer they had been able to break down silos, cut through hierarchy and share people’s knowledge more easily.

In-store Telstra staff supporting Wear It Purple Day.

“It’s common for anyone in the organisation to have a Yammer conversation with the CEO and be seen, shared and commented on by the entire employee base,” Mr Laird wrote in a blog post.

“It feels like Yammer has made Telstra more innovative, flexible and responsive. It’s connected our people across every level, giving us a platform to collaborate in an open, friendly environment, regardless of position, location or business unit. It has become our daily pulse.”

SWOOP – an integral part of Telstra’s Yammer community

Former Internal Communications Manager Liz Green said SWOOP had become an integral part of coaching Telstra’s senior leadership team by showing them their online behaviours through personas, their personal network map and the list of most influential people.

SWOOP provides real-time data, shows online behaviours, identifies influencers, assesses the levels of engagement between executives and frontline staff and tracks sentiment in the network.

SWOOP tells you when people are posting, finds the hot topics, shows the health of the network, the most engaging posts and gives every employee tips on how to improve their online collaboration.

Ms Green said sitting down with senior leaders and showing them their personal SWOOP dashboard was a powerful way of explaining what was working and where they could improve, with the data telling the story.

“Ultimately it comes down to relationships and increasingly it’s about the value of relationships that individuals have, particularly that leaders have, and how those relationships can help them be better at what they do and achieve what needs to get done,” she said.

Read more about David Thodey’s experience implementing Yammer and SWOOP at Telstra.

Telstra staff supporting Wear It Purple Day.