Social communication has become a way of life for many people. Enterprise businesses are increasingly realising social media-style communications is an effective way of communicating inside an organisation. SMEs, though, don’t necessarily see the value in this type of system, or don’t have the resources to research and plan an implementation adequately.
Total Synergy implemented an internal social network in June 2015. At the time, we were a business of only 18 employees, so here’s the thinking around why we did it, how we implemented it, and what we learned along the way.
Social technologies have literally changed how hundreds of millions of people live. Facebook alone has 1.6 billion monthly active users (“active” means they’ve logged in to Facebook during the last 30 days), and almost one in five online hours is spent on social networks.
This way of communicating and interacting is sweeping into enterprises and businesses and, sooner or later, you need to consider this as a way of communicating in your business. In a 2013 study, McKinsey Global Institute found that “social technologies, when used within and across enterprises, have the potential to raise productivity of the high-skill knowledge workers… by 20 to 25 percent”.
The McKinsey research looked at four industries (consumer packaged goods, consumer financial services, professional services, and advanced manufacturing) and proposed that the “annual value creation potential” of using social technologies in enterprise (which translates as external communication, engagement and listening, to internal communications and project collaboration) is $900 billion to $1.3 trillion.
So you have to think that there’s a small slice of that benefit to be had in the AEC industry, don’t you?
So that all sounds very large and impressive, but what does that actually mean when looked at from the point of view of smaller built environment design businesses and professionals? To answer that, let’s start with what an enterprise social network (ESN) actually is.
An ESN can come across as various things, but often it’s viewed sceptically by business owners and managers as Facebook for work. “Why would I want people sharing cat pictures around the office? That’s the last thing we need!”
If you dig into the few (but rapidly accumulating) journal research papers, enterprise social has four key facets:
- It allows workers to communicate messages with specific teammates or broadcast messages to everyone in the organisation
- Connect or reveal particular teammates as communication partners
- Post, edit, and sort text and files linked to themselves or others
- View the messages, connections, text, and files communicated, posted, edited and sorted by anyone else in the organisation at any time (Leonardi, et al. 2013)
A separate McKinsey article in 2013 raises the concern that one in three teammates are disengaged from their work, and by 2018, 40 percent of employees will work remotely in some way.
The challenges here are two-fold: how to engage employees so they don’t become disaffected, and how to empower your team to work like a network. These are questions of how you communicate internally.
Internal communications is not simply one way — from company (organisation and management) to employees — it’s about communicating effectively with one of the most important stakeholder groups – your people. Employees embody and project the corporate personality and are linchpins to customer loyalty and corporate reputation. Disaffected employees means disaffected customers and that will impact your bottom line.
Fred Reichheld, best known for creating the Net Promoter Score, has done a lot of work on the importance of loyalty among employees. He said “employee retention is key to customer retention… It is with employees that the customer builds a bind of trust… when those people leave, the bond is broken.” In short, look after your people and they’ll look after your customers. Communication is key to that.
Internal communications is also about cultivating culture and listening by creating an audible ‘grapevine’ across the organisation. An ESN creates parallel communications throughout the organisation where messages, context, collaboration, content, outcomes and more are shared by the whole team, not just need-to-know from the top down. It supports the key pillars of structured internal communications in being efficient, accurate and targeted with no duplication of effort; in creating shared meaning and clarity of message so the team is aligned to the same objectives; in connecting teammates to each other, creating a sense of unity and making it easier to understand the nature of the audience (your people); and in nurturing satisfaction through opportunities to get involved.
Overall, engaging with the team helps them feel they have opportunities, worth and value within the company and creates the likelihood of employee advocacy. It’s also a golden opportunity for managers to become good communicators (to become leaders).
Our experience with Yammer
The theory, reasoning and benefits go on, but for the sake of getting down to some practical stuff, let’s assume you’re all on board and implementing an ESN is the right thing to do.
The first key reason for implementing an ESN at Total Synergy was being able to transfer culture, and individual voices and personalities, to future overseas offices. We also see a huge benefit in being able to identify core knowledge and share it across the organisation no matter where the teams are based.
Our immediate practical goals were to reduce internal emails and meetings. Then we also came up with supporting team-based collaboration, strengthening social connections, fostering situation awareness, and spreading our values and culture.
We did a little research into the various applications on the market and refined it to two — Slack (the one getting all the press at the time) and Yammer (bought by Microsoft back in 2012 for $1.2b). There are many, many others. We ended up choosing Yammer as it’s part of the Office 365 ecosystem that we use extensively and it seemed to meet our needs well. It also has a large community of users on external networks where, with a Yammer account, you can go to listen and learn about all things Office 365.
After analysing the what and why of implementing an ESN, we created a change plan to ensure we implemented it properly and targeted adoption and engagement. There are a number of change models you can use. We chose a well known eight step process developed by John Kotter back in the 90s. It works well when implementing change across the whole of the organisation.
The first part of this was to create a sense of urgency. The above analysis of the rise of enterprise social networks is part of that. Like cloud technology, the likelihood of businesses not using cloud or enterprise social in a few years will be like a business today not using the internet.
Secondly you need complete buy-in from a “powerful coalition”. This means senior management and team leaders who believe in the necessity of the change, and the authority to get it done. This needs to be supported by the boss/CEO. It’s this team that will communicate the vision and reasoning across the company and encourage buy-in from everyone else.
Not everyone in the team will believe this is the way forward, of course. Some people just don’t like change. We’ve all heard the cry: “that’s not the way we do things round here.”
The people who do act as obstacles to adoption need to be won over. Sometimes this seems impossible, but the trick is to demonstrate value in the system. Go out of your way to ensure you create wins for these people that are specific to their own objectives and, gradually, you might just win them over.
After that, it’s about celebrating small wins (adoption, milestones, volume of activity), building on what you learn and making more from it, and embedding the style of communications in your everyday culture.
It’s a process that could easily take up to two years to be totally embedded, so be patient!
To get started we had a few people (the marketing team) start using Yammer to see how it worked and try to make it into a habit. Initially that mostly meant sharing articles we found interesting. We learned that it’s best to create groups around specific topics and teams and also to leave the “All Company” group clear for important company messages. All Company is the only group that we’ve made mandatory to receive email notifications from. We created a specific group for random chatter (like the funny emails people send around that the keen people hit reply all to!). That group is not mandatory.
Once we had a handle on how Yammer worked we brought the whole company together for a training session. This session was introduced by the CEO as a core plan for the improvement of company communications. This was specifically to reinforce that it’s a strategic implementation, not just a pet project by the marketing team.
We assigned system-wide admin rights to all team leaders, created a rough usage guide (not a policy) and then identified some core users to drive adoption by creating content to draw other people into threads to get them going.
Six months later we had posted around 2500 messages across 16 groups and had around 90 percent engagement. That’s 16 active users. We’ll call that a win!
So have we reduced emails and meetings? There are one or two obvious cases where we have, but we can definitely focus at doing better with those two objectives.
We’ve highlighted lots of useful information about our areas of interest, our clients, and created central sources of useful processes and procedure. We’ve also had a few projects on the go where it’s easy to keep track of ideas and thinking in threaded conversations.
Mobility has been a key benefit as the network allows and encourages people to stay in the loop when they’re not in the office to hear what’s happening first hand, like consultants on the road or part-timers on their days off. The fact that you can access Yammer on your smartphone using the app has also proved very useful for catching up while commuting or on-site.
Using the network internally has definitely had the effect of spreading the ‘grapevine’ (or watercooler) further across the organisation, plus it has revealed a lot about the people we work with, which has been engaging and fun.
Overall we can call it a success. The next test will be in how it works when we open our first overseas office and on-board our first international teammates. [UPDATE: it went well!]