How Syngenta’s leaders became some of the world’s best at engaging staff

When one of the world’s largest agriculture companies, Syngenta, held its global leadership conference in 2017, leaders were presented with a table showing their own personal level of interaction on the company’s Microsoft Yammer network compared with their peers’.

Each leader was ranked in order, with those regularly engaging with their team at the top of the list.

They were looking at a benchmarking report from SWOOP Analytics, where all senior leaders’ online behaviour on Yammer had been benchmarked against each other.

One of the Leader Boards shown at Syngenta’s global leadership conference.
Names have been blanked for privacy.

Seeing the data of who was best engaging with their staff had a big impact on Syngenta’s leaders.

“Leaders came to us saying, ‘How do I get to be a top user and a top engager?” said Syngenta’s Communications Manager, Global Engagement Programs, Melinda Schaller.

Syngenta’s internal communication team knew the best way to get staff collaborating and communicating on Yammer was to first get leaders on board.

“The No.1 way to get more people on board is by saying; ‘Your leader is there, or your CEO is there, why aren’t you?’,” Melinda said.

The first step was convincing the leaders to use Yammer instead of email or teleconferences.

Syngenta’s Communications
Manager & Yammer Channel Manager,
Global Engagement Programs,
Melinda Schaller.

“As soon as we had SWOOP we were able to benchmark all the leaders against each other,” Melinda said.

“At our leadership conference we were able to show hard data about where successes were and so put the argument to them; ‘This is why you should be talking to your teams on Yammer’.”

The leaders who were using Yammer had far superior engagement with their teams than those leaders who were not using it.

Melinda said the leaders not using Yammer found it much more difficult to communicate with their entire workforce effectively because email or telecons don’t allow for personal connections the way Yammer does.

“You see personality come through on Yammer, you don’t see that in email,” she said.

The graphic of the SWOOP leader board shown to executives at the annual conference had a big impact.

“We also showed them the top performing leaders on Yammer and this ignited their competitive streak, which really made them think about how they too could be using Yammer in their day-to-day jobs to be better connected and work smarter,” Melinda said.

One of the slides shown at Syngenta’s Global Leadership Conference highlighting how some leaders were using Yammer.

When these leaders came to Syngenta’s internal comms team asking for help, the team was able to show leaders their SWOOP Personas and coach them on how to improve their online engagement.

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).

“We really used those personas to try and motivate leaders and that worked really well. Many leaders wanted to become better and it resulted in our CEO doing a YamJam as well,” said Melinda.

A YamJam is a live Q&A held on Yammer where anyone can ask questions and the panellist answers and discusses users’ questions for a set period of time.

Syngenta CEO, Erik Fyrwald. (Courtesy of Syngenta.)

With so many leaders now active on Yammer, many more employees followed and engagement on Yammer began to soar.

“That was the aim all along – to get leaders on board so employees could hear from them and connect with them,” Melinda said.

She said initially leaders were hesitant to use Yammer because they didn’t see the benefits and therefore didn’t encourage their teams to join. But once leaders could clearly see the business benefits of sharing on Yammer, they began using it and so too did their teams.

“As soon as we had the leaders on board, everything else became a lot easier,” Melinda said.

Before the internal communications team showed the SWOOP benchmarking at the leadership conference, there were 12,836 users on Syngenta’s Yammer network, but only eight per cent were interactive.

Six months after the launch of the campaign to get leaders on board, the number of users rose to 16,777 and the percentage of interactive users soared to 23 per cent.

In early 2019, there are 18,900 users and an impressive 34 per cent interactive users.

Syngenta’s Head of Global Engagement Programs & Internal Communications Switzerland, Sven Fritzsche, said the power of YamJams is the ability to keep learning and asking questions long after the session is over. It becomes a resource of information anyone can refer to and learn from, no matter where in the world they are situated and whether or not they were working at the time of the YamJam.

A slide shown at Syngenta’s Global Leadership Conference
showing the SWOOP Personas.

Based in Basel, Switzerland, Syngenta has offices in 90 countries with 28,000 employees around the world. One of Forbes’ top 10 multinational performers, the company has 16,000 Yammer users with an impressive interactive user rate of 30 per cent, according to SWOOP. It also has external Yammer networks with partners, suppliers and agents, with about another 3,500 users.

Yammer was introduced in October 2015 to better connect employees scattered across the globe.

They had just three months to get Yammer up and running to meet a deadline for an internal campaign. There were plenty of challenges during that start-up period but they succeeded by working closely with the IT department.

In fact, Melinda was surprised it was only three years since Yammer was introduced.

“It feels like a lot longer because Yammer is so embedded here,” she said.

Melinda said the key argument for using Yammer across the organisation was to show how it would better connect everyone and establish improved ways of working with each other.

“We don’t have to rely on email and worry about time zones when communicating on Yammer, messaging is instant,” she said.

“Our story to position Yammer within the organisation once we had launched was that this is going to make us better connected as an organisation, across borders, across function and across time zones.

“Furthermore, you don’t know what you don’t know, so if you needed to contact somebody in another country but you didn’t know their name, you can’t find them in the email directory.

“Whereas, if you go to Yammer, it’s easy to be able to type in; ‘I’m looking for someone who has this kind of expertise’, and you can search by location or other key words. SWOOP made that even easier because you can search by location when looking at the data.”

Kicking off Yammer

In the early days of Yammer, Syngenta’s internal communications team conducted step-by-step training about how to use the network, and ran campaigns led by employees.

These campaigns featured staff explaining how they use Yammer to make their job easier and more productive.

But the whole network really gained momentum when the then head of Production and Supply (P&S) began doing regular YamJams.

A poster displayed at the Global Leadership Conference to encourage others
to join Yammer.

Sven said the head of P&S was a strong communicator and he did YamJams in his Yammer group, which had about 1,000 members. For every YamJam he initiated, there were hundreds of comments and likes.

“He really started a trend with that,” Sven said.

“People started following those YamJams and people started talking about him on Yammer, or just in general, and word got to the other leaders about how great this leader was because of what he was doing and how much better connected he was to employees all over the world. Other leaders took note and thought, ‘Maybe I should do that’.”

Syngenta’s Jon Parr, President Global Crop Protection, EAME, LATAM & APAC,
speaking at the Global Leadership Conference.

Jump ahead to 2018, and Syngenta was recognised as one of the world’s top three Yammer users for an organisation with more than 5,000 employees in SWOOP’s benchmarking of Yammer networks, the world’s largest-ever analysis of Microsoft Yammer networks.

Sven and Melinda’s No.1 tip for a healthy Yammer network is to get leaders involved. Sven recommends identifying five strong leaders to start with and working with them. They initially worked one-on-one with leaders to help then navigate Yammer.

Melinda said many leaders will now communicate only on Yammer, instead of emails or via articles, forcing their staff to join Yammer to hear from them.

Collaboration culture

“Another reason why Yammer works so well now that we have so many people on the network is the culture here is very much helping each other out,” Melinda said.

“People do want to answer you. You see it a lot on Yammer, people say; ‘I don’t know the answer but this person might,’ and they’ll cc that person in.

“People want to help you and that’s why it works so well for us.”

Learn how easy it is to benchmark your leaders with SWOOP in this short video.

If you would like help with your Yammer network, contact SWOOP Analytics for a free trial.

Main image: Syngenta’s head of HR Global, Laure Roberts, speaking with leaders at Syngenta’s Global Leadership Conference.

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