The power of saying “thanks”

How does it make you feel when one of your colleagues publicly recognises your good work, or thanks you for helping them out?

Chances are, it makes you feel pretty good.

And when your boss reads how you’ve been contributing, and gives you a public pat on the back, it probably makes you feel pretty great. Then when your CEO reacts to your contribution and chimes in with thanks, well, surely you’re smiling by now.

It’s this simple act of publicly thanking colleagues for their good work that kick-started a New South Wales state government department’s Yammer network in November 2018.

The NSW Department of Finance, Services & Innovation, which has recently been integrated and renamed NSW Department of Customer Service, launched its Yammer network just weeks before Christmas and the traditional summer holiday period in Australia, when most people are focused on finishing up the year’s work and looking forward to Christmas festivities and their summer break.

Nick White, Senior Communications Advisor at NSW Department of Customer Service, speaking at SWOOP Chat Sydney.

How do you get people engaged on a new enterprise social network when most are counting down to the end of the year? Nick White, Senior Communications Advisor at NSW Department of Customer Service, developed an idea to use Yammer to recognise good work.

“We launched Yammer last November (2018), which was a challenging time because we knew that in the last two weeks of the year, and really the first month of the following year, most employees would be away on holiday,” Nick said.

“So, we thought, we have 4-6 weeks left of the year to get people to play with Yammer, to get them comfortable with it. Once we reach next year, that’s when we’ll really start building on the purpose of this tool, what we’ll use it for, and the value it will offer our people.

“But, for now, it’s just pressing buttons without fear, connecting with each other, and ensuring people get comfortable.”

Data from SWOOP Analytics showed a spike in activity on Yammer at the initial launch in November, which soon dropped off and left executives asking why.

“We pondered how we’d deliver a campaign that would engage our very new audience, people who are not comfortable in this type of environment yet,” Nick said.

“What we came up with was something simple. Recognition, because everyone loves recognition.”

Saying #Thanks

The Internal Communications team crafted a campaign using digital screens in offices, e-newsletters, the intranet, and face-to-face communications all encouraging staff to come to Yammer and publicly say #thanks, @ mentioning a colleague and recognising the good work they had done.

“We started our approach with leaders,” Nick said.

“We started from the top down with our Secretary, a position equivalent to the CEO in private organisations. We asked him to be involved and he was very happy to oblige, kicking off a ‘Thanks for a great year’ message.”

Martin Hoffman, former Secretary of NSW Department of Finance, Services & Innovation.

Martin Hoffman, former Secretary of NSW Department of Finance, Services & Innovation, @ mentioned several people in his post and shared examples of key achievements he was proud of throughout the year.

The Internal Communications team then approached other leaders to do the same, with the validation that the Secretary was behind the campaign.

“We asked each of them to get involved in a similar way, by either sharing (and building upon) Martin’s post in their respective divisional group, or kicking off their own #thanks post independently.”

The leaders were encouraged to @ mention the people they were recognising.

“We were hoping it would take off, like paying it forward. When an employee gets thanked, they’ll receive an email prompting them to sign into Yammer because someone has thanked them,” Nick said.

“They’re signed in now, they’re there. It’s not hard to then pay it forward by posting to a #thanks message to someone else.”

It worked.

“It took off like a wave,” Nick said.

“We had people thanking individuals, thanking teams, thanking project groups, thanking colleagues, thanking them for personal things, thanking them for work things, thanking them for everything.”

Measuring the #Thanks campaign with SWOOP

Each day Nick and his team would log into SWOOP to track the progress of the #thanks campaign.

“Where we strategically used SWOOP was looking at each of our business units to identify where engagement was slowing, where it was starting to weaken a little bit,” he said.

SWOOP would identify where engagement was weakening and the Internal Communications team knew exactly who to nudge.

“We were then able to tap relevant people on the shoulder and say; ‘The Secretary has said thank you, and your Divisional Deputy Secretary has said thank you, but you haven’t yet managed to thank your team. Do you think you might want to do that?’,” Nick said.

“We were able to target the right people and the right areas with the information we had from SWOOP.”

Image blurred for privacy.

At the end of the year, SWOOP showed there were more than 1,300 #thanks messages – representing around a quarter of the department’s workforce at the time. There were more than 5,000 likes too.

“Bear in mind, we were only three or four weeks into having Yammer when we managed to get a quarter of our workforce not just to sign in and visit, but we’d actually managed to get a quarter of our people to publicly say something,” Nick said.

“It was simple, it was nice, and it helped build a sense comfort and confidence, getting employees acquainted with Yammer and having a really nice way of closing out the year.”

Image blurred for privacy.

Nick said the #thanks campaign has now become part of the department’s culture, or everyday values.

With SWOOP you can assess which values are resonating and which need help.

“You’re able to use SWOOP to see which values are really taking off, which values employees are aligning with, and which values are struggling to gain traction and might need to be reassessed,” Nick said.

Changing the culture

Without any help from the Internal Communications team, an ‘Appreciation Station’ has grown organically on Yammer and is now a self-sustaining way of recognising others. It began as a simple concept where employees would post something they appreciated about a colleague.

“Any team member, leadership or non-leadership, will jump on and if it’s been a successful week they might say a quick ‘thank you’ for something,” Nick said.

“Maybe it’s been a hard week and they want to share a bit of love or consolation. They kick off an Appreciation Station post and they thank a few people.”

It’s an example of how Yammer has become a part of the department’s culture, where staff turn independently to Yammer.

“We are at the point now where we (Internal Communications) can step back on recognition and know that our people will carry it forward. Employees want to share recognition and now they know how to use Yammer for this purpose,” Nick said.

“We try to keep it as community-driven and organic as possible.”

Nick said another extension of the #thanks campaign was its effect offline. He said people who would otherwise never have heard about something you had done at work might now pull you aside in the kitchen to talk about it.

“Leaders got to see things that their people were doing and those leaders got to jump into the conversation and say; ‘that’s great!’,” Nick said.

“Direct contact between Executive Directors and employees four or five levels lower was not so common before Yammer, but with #thanks, those connections now exist.

“That is the power of Yammer.”

To hear more from Nick, please see his presentation at SWOOP Chat Sydney.

Following a state government election in NSW, Australia’s most populous state, in March 2019, NSW Department of Finance, Services & Innovation was restructured to be part of Australia’s first Department of Customer Service, which now includes agencies such as Revenue NSW, Service NSW, Fair Trading, Liquor & Gaming, Registry of Births and Deaths and Marriages and more.

Read more about the positive effect of recognition and appreciation at work.

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