Unlocking Value with Yammer – A Leaders Perspective

July 16, 2019

The original article is published on the Microsoft Tech Community Yammer Blog.

In my recent blog post about how we got experimental and reinvigorated our Yammer network at The NRMA I shared how focusing on employee experience was key to delivering value with Yammer. Our Yammer-powered experiment was recently recognised on the global stage, ‘Small Idea Big Impact' Award at the 2019 Gartner Communications Awards

Yammer enabled us to drive rapid and sustained behavioural change in both our frontline and our leadership teams, a critical factor in the award win. My previous post detailed the approach we took and the impact on our frontline.

And now I want to focus on the leadership perspective. I sat down with our Chief Customer Officer, Emma Harrington, and asked how being more intentional with yammer has impacted her, both as a leader and as a human at work.

Have you asked your leaders similar questions? You could even use these questions as a template for your own leadership teams. After reading this go and ask your leaders these questions and share their responses in the comments! 

Emma Harrington and Pete Johns of NRMA.pngEmma Harrington, Chief Customer Officer, and Pete Johns, Digital Employee Experience Manager, in the NRMA Office at Sydney Olympic Park, AustraliaPete Johns: Had you used an Enterprise Social Network before we ran the Yammer experiment in the Group Customer Division?

Emma Harrington: Not really. I knew Yammer existed at NRMA but hadn’t really used it. At previous workplaces I’d only used email and instant messenger tools, very much one-to-one or ‘closed loop’ tools.

Did you have any preconceptions about Yammer?

Yes, I had preconceptions and to be honest I’d heard negative sentiment from colleagues. People were saying things like “it’s just social media” and “it’s just another channel for people to make noise through” so I was skeptical about how Yammer might make a difference.

So what motivated you to give Yammer a go?

The message coming out of our engagement surveys was my key motivator. There was a consistent message from frontline colleagues that they wanted more frequent communication. They wanted more access to me and the leadership team. They wanted to be more informed – with more info, more often – and they wanted to have a voice.

I’d struggled to find a way that I could meaningfully do that at scale offline or through email, so I was ready to give something different a try. The fact it didn’t involve any spend was appealing of course, but I also liked the fact that we could genuinely test it. We could measure success in clear ways and prove or disprove the value. If we proved it could help, great. If we proved it didn’t, then we could put it to bed.

How were you feeling when you first started using Yammer?

Honestly? I was uncomfortable. Outside of work I’m quite a private social media user and at work I'm much more comfortable on a one-to-one basis, so getting into a one-to-many environment was out of my comfort zone. On a very human level, I was nervous about people judging me or thinking less of me if I said the wrong thing, or did the wrong thing as a result of not having the skill level around key tasks like posting updates, sharing photos or playing a strong GIF game!

How have you found the journey from novice to now?

At the beginning it was as uncomfortable as I expected! But after a month or so of seeing how quickly people engaged, all that fear and anxiety dropped away as it became very rewarding very quickly. I was having real conversations and we were starting to share more, solve problems and see value every day. One of the keys to success was having support on hand to coach me through those early stages. A friendly guide to say it’s okay if it’s not perfect; it’s okay if you don’t get any responses immediately. Simple tips helped enormously, such as the advice to get the app on my phone and check it while in the coffee line.

Now it feels totally normal. I actually enjoy using Yammer and that’s something I’d never say about email! When you write an email, you often stress about typos, structure etc. whereas in Yammer you can just have an honest rapid exchange – it's liberating.

Can you give an example of how yammer has helped improve connection, communication and collaboration for you?

One example that springs to mind is the #WearItRainbow event our LGBTIQ committee put on to mark this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras. Yammer enabled the community to drive a dialogue across locations and to celebrate each other by broadcasting what we were doing in a non-corporate way. It was very much driven by the people, rather than a corporate happening and Yammer helps to tell that story in an authentic way. I loved how it united people across different teams and locations in a really inclusive way.

Is there a particular moment, post or Yammer conversation that sticks in your mind? An ‘a-ha' moment?

Probably when the sales team felt comfortable saying “I don’t know who to ask this of but here's a problem, can someone help me?” and I was able to actually jump in and help. I didn’t know the answer but looped in people who might. I tagged a few people and the problem was solved within a day. We started seeing problems that might previously have taken months of laborious process to solve being solved in a day or two without any complex ticketing systems or long-winded bureaucracy. Amazing.

What has surprised you most about being more intentional with Yammer use?

The positive impact it has had on employee morale and engagement. Particularly for our frontline staff. You can actually see that they are feeling more listened to. They are openly telling me they feel more connected to the leadership team and they can see that we care because we can now pay attention to the little things as well as the big ticket items.

Our frontline people are absolute champions of the customer, so they are loving Yammer as a way to surface and solve problems faster. It’s been amazing to see how yammer use is fostering a culture of learning, sharing and collaborating. The storytelling that’s happening organically seems to be igniting a pride in the company too. You just can't do these kind of things through any other channels.

What do you feel has been the biggest benefit to you as a leader?

I feel more authentic now. Seems really strange to think that a tool has allowed me to be more myself but it’s true. Connecting with people digitally means we have much more authentic connection when face-to-face. I wasn’t expecting that but it’s been hugely beneficial and personally rewarding.

What advice would you give to other executives considering being more intentional with their use of Yammer?

I would say DO IT! That’s the most important tip I can give but I’d also say:

  • Recognise you may need a guiding hand in those early stages – in the same way you long ago needed a guiding hand to use Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
  • Be purposeful and consistent – don’t stress if you don’t get lots of likes and comments straight away, keep at it, consistency and commitment will pay off.
  • You can’t have someone ghost-write for you – you have to invest a little bit of time to get big rewards, and you need to be yourself as people will see through any façade you try and put up
  • Build it into your day-to-day – get the mobile app and get on yammer in the coffee line, in the back of a cab on the way to meetings, or in the lounge when you’re waiting for a flight.

The benefits will surprise you in ways you couldn’t imagine.

If you need help getting your leader started with Yammer, check out the Use Case Deep Dive for Leaders on the Yammer Adoption Resource Center. 

To read more from leaders, check out  @Jason Soo  blog post where he interviews two leaders who also share their personal experience with Yammer. 

And if your leaders are already on Yammer, ask them reflect on their Yammer journey to encourage other leaders to get started!

Pete Johns Profile Pic.jpg

I'm Pete Johns, the Digital Employee Experience Manager at The NRMA. I'm an organisational culture and employee experience geek, fascinated by how teams can leverage digital thinking to work together more effectively and get great work done thanks to more purposeful collaboration. Above all else, even though digital is my jam, I'm here to help organisations put people, not technology, at the heart of everything they do.

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