Brewing giant goes social – interview with Miguel Zlot

Miguel_Zlot introduced Yammer in Molson Coors -

Miguel Zlot is a former Solution Architect and Enterprise Social Networking Evangelist at the brewing giant Molson Coors (since the interview he’s moved on and now works as a social collaboration architect at Accenture). In August 2013 I did a Skype interview with Miguel for my book Internal Social Networks The Smart Way (the text below has been transcribed from the interview).

Align with the big goals (but also know when to push the boundaries)

Virpi Oinonen from Businessgoessocial.netWhat is interesting about Molson Coors and their enterprise social network is the fact that the success of the network was partly fueled by an internal change management initiative (“Our Brew”). The goals of the initiative aligned nicely with the benefits of an enterprise social network (for example: open and honest communication), which helped Miguel sell the network to senior management. At the same time, Miguel also followed the classic “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach which is very common among internal social network champions. With this approach you ignore some of the hierarchical processes that you know would add a layer of unnecessary management and just get started with the network.

I’m beginning to think that in many cases the ideal way to introduce an enterprise social network is to combine this type of “intrapreneurial” initiative with alignment with bigger organisational goals.

A bit of background:

In August 2013 Molson Coors has approximately 4000 Members on their internal social network (Yammer). According to Zlot, 1,500 are engaged users, while the remaining 3,500 generally read feeds and status updates of other users. Molson Coors have 12 000 -13 000 employees.

THE INTERVIEW: Launch and adoption

“Beer is social – why didn’t we create Facebook?”

Virpi: What are the main challenges for introducing Yammer at Molson Coors? How did you/your team address them?  

Miguel: I didn’t ask, I just did, I really subscribe to “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission”. Just work with your executive and legal teams to make sure that they really understand what it is. That was my biggest challenge.

Changing the way people do things was another big challenge. Yammer allows people at all levels to openly communicate – that was another big shift.

“Unless you have a culture in your company that matches, or is moving towards matching, a social enterprise, then it won’t work”.

Tools and platforms will change over time. Unless you have a culture in your company that matches, or is moving towards matching, a social enterprise, then it won’t work, or it will be more difficult. We were lucky in that we had just launched a whole new way of unifying our company, known as “Our Brew”, which defined how we would operate, how we would do things. Sort of a culture changing document that everybody adheres to.

One of the key tenets of  “Our Brew” was open and honest two-way communications between the workforce and the senior leadership, and Yammer spoke directly to that.

We are still fighting to keep Yammer in the picture. You can’t give up the fight.

You are an international company. Are you trying to use Yammer across borders?

It’s definitely coming along. Now that the language barrier has been broken down by the new Yammer Translate feature, we see people posting in China and Japan and lots of activity in our European sites. The UK is perhaps surprisingly our most social bunch – they have the biggest groups and some of the largest user bases. We’re seeing the breakdown of geographical barriers between staff performing the same function in different parts of the world – like HR will share stuff across the HR groups, for example. We are running several ‘One Way’ programmes right now (as in one way of working regardless of where you are in the world) and Yammer feeds directly into these – so we have an HR ‘One Way’, a supply chain ‘One Way’, an IT ‘One Way’ etc – all using Yammer to enable the different countries to share ideas and collaborate on their work practices.

Each One Way has a Program Manager and a Comms person who work with me to best use Yammer. We’re big on  standardisation and re-usability, so once we have one workable template we can apply it to the other One Way groups.

Have you tried to engage with shop floor staff/staff with no regular access to computers?

We’ve added Yammer to our Sharepoint website which anyone can access. It’s configured in such a way that you can see the posts but you don’t necessarily need an account on Yammer to interact with it, so people can see it and lurk. We have unionised labour and invite them to opt in if they want to. All our employees have company email addresses, so they can join if they wish. It’s not generally used by the shop floor yet, but their managers tend to log-in and post problems they’ve got, share videos and photos of how they’ve modified equipment, or suggest further improvements. Because much of this equipment is standard across our breweries we’re seeing useful modifications rapidly and widely adopted.

Did you do a Yammer launch? If so, what did you do and did it work?

We started with Yammer when it was 1.0 – we are life-long members of the Yammer club, so to speak. Back then it wasn’t what it is today, it didn’t have the CSM model. So it was virally launched – a lot of groundswell, people inviting other people to join etc.  We send out one small communication to staff to say “Hey, we’re kicking the tyres on this thing”. Basically a lot of work my me and my Yammer champions trying to get the word out – a lot of encouraging our executives and any department that would listen to me on how to use it. People started coming to me asking what to do with it – we attached it to big projects like “One Way” and it gathered momentum. Now it’s pretty much become a “first thought” for many people, they don’t need me pushing them to use it. I’m more of an expert helping them to get the best out of its features.

“I really subscribe to ‘it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission’ “. 

We used the “It’s better to ask for forgiveness that beg for permission” approach. I worked with our executives and the legal and security teams to make sure they understood what it is we were trying to do.. Although it did help to sell Yammer to senior managers because of the “Our Brew” project – it aligned nicely with the our brew ideas (increasing communication between top and bottom etc).

It’s taken nearly four years but now it’s become almost like a language weaved into our entire company.

Do you give new (and existing) staff official training?

We do induction for users and there is a small Yammer section in our onboarding training (in terms of what it is and how to join etc). We are now investigating all the great use-cases out there and actually leveraging Yammer into our onboarding process. When an employee joins we’re looking to create an external network to “pre-board” them before they get a Molson Coors email address and access to our networks.

Do you have any persistently “Yammer resistant” groups at Molson Coors? Have you tried to get them on board and if so, how?

Being a beer company may give us slight advantages. Our Canadian CEO once said to me “Beer is social – why didn’t we create Facebook?” We are already a social company and many of our staff are joiners. For me the challenge was identifying them and encouraging them to share that feeling among their own peers.

“If I was to pick one problem demographic at our company it would be the middle management. A lot of them felt it would be a waste of time.”

If I was to pick one problem demographic at our company it would be the middle management. A lot of them felt it would be a waste of time, which meant that some of their staff felt “If my manager’s not going to support me, I’m not going to do it.” Might be a generational thing and partly a role thing. So I focused at the top – getting our executives on-line and onboard, posting stuff and doing YamJams* and all sorts of different things. When the middle management saw them using it and that it was okay, they started to join in. Really the middle is the toughest sell – maybe because they’ve been at the company longer and are more set in their ways, and also they are not exposed to all these executive initiatives on “how to better engage employees”, so that’s where I found most resistance. Basically top and bottom are easier to get on board.

(*The Molson YamJam is a one hour online engagement with a senior executive answering employees questions on a particular topic. Employees simply join the Jam and ask their question. The company currently does one a month with a different topic and different executive each time.)

Do you have any words of advice for people who are struggling to engage key staff on Yammer? (senior managers, frontline employees etc)

Unless you have a culture in your company that matches, or is moving towards a social enterprise, then it won’t work. We were lucky in that Coors had just re-evaluated its internal culture and adopted ‘Our Brew’, a guide to how the company should act and how we would do things. One of it’s key tenets was ‘open and honest two-way communications with executives’ which fit perfectly with the Yammer model, so senior management couldn’t deny its relevance.

For senior managers, you should explain that they can watch what people are posting and it helps them “take the pulse” of the company, plus they get regular reports and analytics. Lower level employees like it because now they have a voice, right?

Are there processes that are particularly easy to bring to Yammer? Can you give any examples? (People often say that projects are the easiest way to make Yammer part of the day to day work flow)

Projects are definitely an easy target. A place to put status updates, meeting notes, schedules, all those kinds of things – Yammer’s a great use-case for that. Two others that definitely work are Sales and Marketing. A lot of waste happens in a company which is spread across multiple regional zones that sell fundamentally the same product. Around the world we have several different agency partners doing fundamentally the same thing – sell cold refreshing beer.

So being able to post advertisements and sales/marketing materials for other colleagues to enjoy and start breeding their own ideas can lead to big time and cost savings. For instance, if we create an ad that works in one country maybe we can recreate a version of it somewhere else. Someone will see it and say, “Hey that’s neat, How did you do that? Where can I get the creative for that?” They can just slap on some new words and get it approved by the relevant agencies in that country and put it out. That can cut out a lot of duplicity of effort.

Sales is another big area. For example, we launched Molson Canadian in Ireland and we’ve been able to watch how that launch had gone and how they’ve branded on and off premises with Molson Canadian – through the eyes of a sales rep. So the entire company’s gotten to do that; what that does internally is to breed competition between sales reps to outdo each other, so you end up with bigger, better and more bold displays. We’ve never been able to let our salesforce share imagery so easily before. Now our sales and marketing teams all post pictures from events in bars and pubs, which has been amazing to watch.

“That’s got to be one of the biggest effects that Yammer has had on our company – the ability for people to ask questions of senior management.”

And of course, the big one that every company should do is executive leadership. YamJams enable your leaders to appear everywhere at once within a small period of time and without having to travel. That’s got to be one of the biggest effects that Yammer has had on our company – the ability for people to ask questions of senior management.

Is phasing out email or other communication tools and practices a necessity in order to make an enterprise social network a truly universal tool within an organisation? (I phased out our internal newsletter over a period of two years)

There’s definitely been a shift in the way companies communicate with their employees now that there are multiple channels. Gone are the days of the corporate memo sitting on your desk when you get to work – now you’re getting emails. But to me emailing things like weekly meeting minute notes should be gone, they clog your inbox so post them to the relevant Yammer group instead. If it needs to be mobile it needs to be in there. In fact almost everything is better communicated via your enterprise social network – the information is more accessible and more useful to the company.

Do you face a lot of resistance for holding that view?

Oh yes. I still do. I still have to preach it, but more people are believing. Those big “One Way” projects I spoke of earlier – they’re not doing newsletters, using way less email. They’re reporting, discussing and doing things like “Team member spotlight videos” on Yammer. The Yammer group is the only place where you can get the full picture of what’s going on in the project, but it’s also the place where people see and comment on funny videos of their colleagues, as well as serious work issues. And anybody on the project can issue a Yammer status update about some aspect of what’s going on.

“The one thing about enterprise social is that we’re at the beginning, we’re just grazing the surface right now, and we still have to fight to get it accepted.”

The one thing about enterprise social is that we’re at the beginning, we’re just grazing the surface right now, and we still have to fight to get it accepted. You can’t give up on it or it will go away and you lose the benefits. Not everyone will join in, but people are seeing the wider and more social aspects of the company on Yammer than they are through email, and more of them are switching to it.

Checking our engagement stats (number of users, posts, likes etc) for Yammer versus our Sharepoint site, the trend is towards people wanting to be on Yammer.

Yammer champions

Do you have Yammer champions/ambassadors (change agents)? If so, how did you recruit them?

What I do is I use social graphs and work clouds combined with Yammer analytics and the Leaderboards app, which helped me to figure out who some of our most engaged users were. Anytime I meet a colleague who’s shown interest in Yammer I thank them and ask for their continued support. You also meet people along the way who want to know more about the platform and how they can help spread the word. I’ve talked to hundreds of people like this, probably more – you have to infect others with your passion, and that’s what I ask other engaged Yammer users to do. Say it in your meetings, bring it up in your email – you need constant persistence and the message is “this is how we will all be working in the near future – get onboard!”

Information silos

Yammer and other enterprise network tools are said to break down silos and hierarchies. But in my experience you can also create new silos on Yammer with Yammer groups. How do you solve the problem of “Yammer silos”?

I´m not a big fan of groups, although I do recognise the need to filter conversations to specific topics, but I don’t think the Topics app can do that. I want to know everything, and show people why knowing everything is beneficial. I train and teach people how to use the share button but I don’t tell them to share every post with five other groups, for example – I usually say “If you think more than one person could benefit from this information, then post it in the ‘All Company’ feed. If it’s very specific then post it to the relevant group, and what I’ve found is that if other people find it interesting they will share it themselves.

I tend to approach training a bit differently. I’ll point out the groups that everybody should be in – train and encourage my champions and show them where they need to be, and why, then let them decide.

“You may have colleagues with useful additional skills which are wasted, because no-one else knows about them.” 

To me the more inter-weaved and interconnected your network is, the better it is. I can see that in a network of 100,000 people or more my approach might become impossible to keep up with, but in a mid-range network like ours (4,000-6,000 people) the more you know, and the more your people know, the better your company’s going to be. None of our previous systems showed us not only what our employees do, but what they are interested in, and what other areas of expertise they may have. You may have colleagues with useful additional skills which are wasted, because no one else knows about them. So what I try to encourage is people to engage and interact so that we can draw out that expertise that we don’t even know is there.

You can follow Miguel on Twitter: @sociallube and read his blog at

Do you have experience of piggybacking on a change management initiative when introducing an enterprise social network? Or have you used the “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach? Let me know how it went in the comments or by emailing me at virpi(at)!

– Virpi


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