Western Sydney University

Disrupting the status quo

When Western Sydney University faced the monumental task of building a new high-rise campus in a busy central business district and relocating thousands of staff and students, it used Microsoft’s Enterprise Social Network Yammer to share operational information quickly and at scale. SWOOP provided analytical data during the whole process.

The decision to distribute information in a public social forum like Yammer, rather than traditional forms of communication like email and committees, was to test the hypothesis that empowering front-line staff with information would provide opportunities for the change management process.

When Western Sydney University (Western) built its most recent high-rise campus, the Ngara Ngura building, it was relocating staff and students from sprawling suburban campuses boasting playing fields, sporting facilities, car parks and offices to a busy central business district in Liverpool, in south-western Sydney.

Western Sydney University’s
Senior Strategy Advisor & Project
Manager, Christine Croser.

Senior Strategy Advisor and Project Manager, Christine Croser, said Western is overhauling systems, processes and products at breakneck speeds and says it’s vital to openly share information.

“Our projects aren’t linear anymore, they can’t be. Every decision is connected to at least 10 other activities across the university,” she said.

“And not everyone in those projects knows the value of the information they hold to someone else and so don’t take steps to disseminate it – whereas by using Yammer, that knowledge is shared and accessible.”

Sharing information – opportunity rather than risk

In the past, the university had employed change management consultancies to help with similar campus moves.

Outdoor space at Western Sydney
University’s new Ngara Ngura building.

But with a workforce spread across 11 campuses, the workshops and committees had proved less effective than hoped in both attendance, information dissemination and ability to leverage off other projects in the university.

Ms Croser made the decision to use Yammer, backed by analytics from SWOOP, as the platform to distribute information to empower staff to make decisions in a way that felt easy and not an additional burden.

University Librarian at the time, Michael Gonzalez, was tasked with relocating library staff and a vast library collection.

“It had to be open communication, open discourse, answer once, being able to distribute information in the same way to everyone so nothing was misunderstood. To her credit, she (Ms Croser) chose Yammer as her platform to do that,” he said.

Western Sydney University’s
former Librarian,
Michael Gonzalez.

How did the Yammer and SWOOP-supported move compare with previous relocations using more traditional methods like change management consultants and workshops?

“It was much better,” said Acting University Librarian Lisa Tyson.

“Having a central point to ask questions and get answers, is actually more efficient than revisiting the same questions and the same answers and the same information in change management groups.”

Ms Tyson said using Yammer was a different type of change management.

Western Sydney University’s
Acting University Librarian,
Lisa Tyson,

“It was charging the areas to run their own change, rather than someone outside trying to impose the change on the area,” she said.

And it was the autonomy that Mr Gonzalez and Ms Tyson appreciated the most.

“A lot of trust was put into the library,” said Ms Tyson, who ran a closed Yammer group for all 140 library staff, specifically about the move.

She said her staff, which run and manage libraries across all 11 campuses, are good at change and Yammer allowed that knowledge and experience to be tapped into.

Through Yammer, library staff were able to have a say in the design and fit out of the new library and ensure there were adequate study spaces and appropriate spaces for students to meet with advisors.

Staff could even give their feedback on furniture. The result, in one instance, was the library saving more than $40,000 because staff were able to collaboratively discuss and provide critical feedback on a design choice in Yammer.

“It helped managers and advisers tap into knowledge that would have otherwise been forgotten,” Mr Gonzalez said.

“Staff had a voice in the environment they had to work in. Where there was feedback sought, it was genuinely incorporated. It did allow us as managers to really manage.” 

The power of SWOOP

Ms Croser said piloting a new, less traditional form of change management was made less risky when combined with SWOOP Analytics.

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.

To ensure every individual can understand their own online collaborative behaviour, SWOOP has identified five personas – the Observer (non-active), Broadcaster (someone who sends messages but does not engage), the Responder (prefers to react to conversation rather than initiate it), Catalyst (seeds conversation) and the most aspirational persona, the Engager (connects and sustain relationships).

Ms Croser used SWOOP to formally report into the University Governance about staff engagement with the content on Yammer, examples of the collaboration and who was connecting with whom.

A post from Ms Croser encouraging staff to log onto SWOOP.

Because all staff with a Yammer account could access SWOOP on their own, Ms Croser encouraged them to log onto SWOOP to see their own online behaviours and improve their engagement.

Mr Gonzalez and Ms Tyson said once they started using SWOOP, the library department’s 140 Yammer users became very competitive about being an Engager and making it onto the list of the most influential people.

“We get quite competitive about who’s an influencer and who’s an engager,” Ms Tyson said.

“I used it for my channel to see how people were engaging and to see where I sat, because I’m competitive,” Mr Gonzalez said.

“It became a bit of a thing with me. You had the five personas. I was really trying to be at the top to get the engager persona. I worked actively at this.”

The screenshot above of the SWOOP dashboard shows, on the left-hand side, the most influential people on the entire university’s network and, on the right, those in the library’s closed group.

Anna Wallace is a library staff member who surprised her bosses, Mr Gonzalez and Ms Tyson, by being amongst the university’s top 10 most influential people.

“She would post interesting things to Yammer and contribute and when you looked at the SWOOP Analytics we were surprised that she was one of the biggest influencers in the university because she was actually quite a quiet person,” Mr Gonzalez said.

He said Ms Wallace was involved in many different groups and posted interesting and relevant articles that initiated conversation between professional and academic staff.

The relationships Ms Wallace was creating through collaborating and sharing information with other areas in the university was of huge benefit to the library but had it not been for SWOOP, Mr Gonzalez said he would not have known she was undertaking this activity on top of her workload.

Executive engagement

Western Sydney University’s
Vice-Chancellor and President,
Barney Glover.

The most influential person on the entire network is Barney Glover, the University’s Vice-Chancellor and President.

Ms Croser said sponsorship of Yammer came from Professor Glover’s commitment to creating open lines of communication with his 4,000 staff.

Ms Tyson said because Professor Glover engages authentically on Yammer, staff can have a genuine conversation with their boss and feel empowered with knowledge.

“It breaks down that silo and gains that understanding that we’re part of a broader, complex organisation,” she said.

Mr Gonzalez said it also broke down silos with his own staff because, despite being on different campuses, they felt they knew him from his Yammer posts and it always gave them something to talk to him about.

Western Sydney University Liverpool Campus
– Level 9 balcony

Ms Tyson said using Yammer and SWOOP, and combining them with other digital technology, had resulted in better business outcomes, for example, saving hours in the working day by not travelling to other campuses as regularly for meetings. All of this has resulted in a change in culture.

“The culture has achieved that really interesting balance between efficiency and effectiveness,” she said.

With the new Ngara Ngura building now open, Ms Croser said Yammer and SWOOP Analytics would be vital tools in the next construction project, where they would encourage staff to come up with “dangerous ideas” for how changes in culture, processes and technology can make work better.

We look forward to following the results.

Open Day at Western Sydney University’s new Ngara Ngura building.

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