What impact do leaders have on collaboration? Show me the numbers!

One of our most enduring observations from organisations successfully using Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) platforms is the important role the CEO and executive leaders have played in the network’s success. Our extensive case study library is replete with stories of CEOs revoking email in favour of the ESN for ‘all staff’ communications; reaching out to staff for feedback; and even providing personal responses to staff postings in open forums.

Despite the overwhelming qualitative evidence available, we were recently asked whether we could quantify the ‘CEO & Executives Effect’. While aimed at addressing the cynics, there is a quite reasonable need to understand just how big an impact a CEO and their executive could expect from the investment of their precious time? Many SWOOP clients regularly benchmark their leader groups over selected time windows. However, the current analytics cannot easily identify the impact that leader activity has on the organisation at large. In this article we report on a study we conducted on a single organisation who we believe exhibited ‘world’s best practice’ on executive engagement on Yammer. 

Our Study Sample 

We took advantage of some archival Yammer data we had used to deliver, amongst other things, an assessment on their leaders’ performance on Yammer. The CEO at the time had been recognised by the international technical press as one of the few CEOs of a significant organisation leading by example on their Yammer platform. At the time, the organisation of more than 46,000 staff had 47% interactive users (means they must have at least pushed the ‘like’ button) on Yammer (comfortably above our most recent Yammer %participation benchmarking average of 38%). 

CEO Yammer Statistics 

The period analysed was 19 weeks, or 133 days. During this time the CEO made 348 individual replies, 30 posts, 294 mentions, 82 notifications and 25 likes; or 403 distinct interactions (replies and posts can include mentions and notifications). This works out to be just over four interactions each working day.  

We suspect many CEOs might be scared by the potential time commitment for this level of activity. We were advised however that the CEO cleverly made use of his ‘communications group’ to triage the Yammer feeds, identifying the Yammer discussions they thought he might be most interested in. Freed of the need to personally monitor the Yammer feeds, the bulk of his activity falls into the Reply/Mention/Notify category, which we suspect 5 – 10 minutes per day may have been sufficient for this level of activity. The 30 posts (about 2 every 3 weeks) perhaps might take a little extra effort. 

Measuring CEO Impact 

We took a very simple approach for assessing the impact of a direct CEO interaction on Yammer. We recorded the date and time that an individual was first ‘recognised’ by a CEO reply/like/mention/notification during the 19 week period. We then measured:

  • The number of staff ‘recognised’ by a direct interaction by the CEO: 330 people
  • The change in staff interaction activity after ‘recognition’ date: +28%
  • The change in number of new connections made by these staff members after ‘recognition’ date: +60% 

As these numbers suggest, the impact of the CEO are like a ripple effect, and energizes not just the immediate recipients, but motivates these to become even more active.

Measuring the Executive Leadership Team Impact 

Next we applied the same measurements to the Executive Leadership team of 25 members (includes CEO), with the following results: 

  • Number of staff recognised by the Executive with a direct interaction: 1,354 
  • Increase in the median daily activity post-recognition: +56% 
  • Increase in the number of new connections/day made post-recognition: +146% 

As we can see, the full executive leadership team has collectively an even larger impact on staff posting and connecting on Yammer. 

Relative impact of Leader Groups 

The individual impact of the CEO and Executive Leadership are dominant as we can see by the following chart of connections/person for the CEO, the Executive leadership team, the extended leadership team (LT) and the remainder of the organisation (Non-Leaders): 

While it’s important for all formal leaders to be interactive on an ESN, there is an outsized potential impact available to the CEO and executive team. 

The Echo Chamber Effect 

While we have now been able to provide measurable evidence of the direct impact an executive leadership team can have on staff, even this very active executive leadership team could only interact directly with 1,354 staff (3% of all staff). The second order effect of new connections made by these selected few grows that number to 3,436 (7.4% of all staff), but still, on the surface, looks like a relatively small impact.  

To put this performance in perspective, we need to compare this with other social / digital media engagement performances. Early Internet experiences led to the observed 90-9-1 principle where only 1% of the population creates content; 9% contribute in some way and 90% are ‘lurkers’ i.e. unidentified readers only or lessAn Enterprise Social Network operates primarily inside the enterprise. This change of context has led to many debates about the validity of this rule for these networksSome analysts have found however, that from their experience the 90-9-1 rule is actually optimistic, with only a fraction of 1% contributing.  

For this organisation, 12,199 individuals (26% of all staff) had made a post on Yammer. A further 9,598 (21% of all staff) contributed in the form of replies, likes, mentions and notifies, leaving 53% inactive. Therefore their 26-21-53 performance far exceeds the 90-9-1 rule. 

The Enterprise context differs from the external Internet in that the ‘echo chamber’ is contained within the walls of the enterprise. Whereas the 90% Internet lurkers might only generate a whisper in offline conversations amongst themselves, the contained Yammer audience is potentially a cacophony, especially when it comes to direct CEO interactions with frontline staff.  

A friend of ours working for this organisation at the time recounted a problem he had with an internal system when he had just arrived back from holidays. Not a regular user of Yammer at the time, he thought he would give it a try by posting up his problem. He was more than surprised when he gained an empathetic direct response from the CEO, who subtlety notified the responsible parties of this conversation he was having here that might be of interest to them! We suspect the echo chamber was rife with like experiences and no doubt contributed to the results reported here; all facilitated by the CEO and the Executives’ use of Yammer to engage directly with employees at all levels. 

The Take-Away 

The numbers are in. If your CEO and Executives can each spend 5 to 10 minutes a day directly engaging with staff at all levels on Yammer, you can expect more than 50% increase in activity by those directly engaged, along with a more than 100% increase in new connections for this group. You can also anticipate that the echo chamber will deliver an employee engagement with the executive management much changed, and welcomed, to the one you are likely experiencing today. 

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