Drop a public relations mindset – enterprise social tips from an executive

simon terry illustration / BusinessGoesSocial.net

I’ve interviewed quite a few people for my book Internal Social Networks The Smart Way. At the time of writing (almost a year ago) the most common complaint I was hearing from my peers (who were mainly people working in internal communications or IT) was that senior leaders don’t “get” social.  So when I came across Simon, who was a senior leader AND had embraced the collaborative revolution, I immediately knew I had to interview him.

Here’s one part of the interview I did with Simon a while back when he was still working as the CEO of HICAPS (insurance business which is part of National Australia Bank). He’s current role is CEO and founder of 7CS Enterprises. He’s also a change agent at Change Agents Worldwide. Both roles are focused on leadership, disruptive change and the future of work.

How do you use your enterprise social network in your role as a CEO and what benefits do you (personally) get from it?

I run a small health insurance payments business that is part of a large Australian bank. I use Yammer to remain connected with the rest of the organisation, to engage my business with partners and opportunities in the broader business and also to play a leadership role as a senior leader in the change agenda of our broader organisation. An example of use in my business is that when my business had an incident impacting customers, I was able to ensure all of the people across our broader organisation knew what was going on and how to help customers.  They knew exactly how to get my attention when needed. In the broader organisational context we have used yammer to foster strong communities of employees interested in driving the customer experience, leadership and innovation agendas in the organisation.  I can sponsor and engage with this activity using Yammer as I do my job.

When you talk to other CEOs about Yammer what is the most common objection you hear and what is your response?

Usually it is something along the lines of “where do you find the time?” My response is that Yammer is a massive time saver and an activity that enables a wide impact from limited engagement with the community.  For the 5 minutes, you would otherwise spend waiting, you can share messages, encourage others and endorse the work of change agents in your organisation. When most CEO’s think about their biggest priorities like ensuring strategic clarity, driving employee engagement and streamlining execution, they quickly discover being able to interact efficiently on those topics across their whole organisation is a huge time saver.

What is the biggest benefit the social networking platform has brought your organisation? 

Yammer has created a forum for user-led innovation. Our story began with the benefits of just connecting our 50,000 employees for the first time and letting them find each other and understand expertise.  Over time that grew into collaborative problem solving.  The most powerful use case so far came when employees realised that they could use yammer to work together to innovate and change their work and the organisation without external encouragement.  25% of the conversations in our yammer network are about innovation or change improvements.  That’s a lot of enablement.

 “25% of the conversations in our yammer network are about innovation or change improvements. That’s a lot of enablement”.

How can CEOs and senior managers encourage staff to give honest feedback and not be afraid to challenge or suggest new solutions? 

The answer really comes down to the culture that you create in the organisation. If people have never seen public feedback to a senior leader, they won’t choose to be first. Make sure you welcome feedback. Challenge polite answers and demand a few more details.  Asking why can reveal a whole lot of important information. We have a culture that continuous improvement and leadership is everyone’s responsibility.  That helps.

“If people have never seen public feedback to a senior leader, they won’t choose to be first.”

What kind of leader thrives in a social enterprise? What kind of leader is likely to struggle?

All real leaders will thrive in social enterprise. If you have a clear purpose, focus on others, know how to communicate to inspire and are genuinely interested in helping others succeed you will prosper incredibly well.  If you think leadership means power, control and hierarchical authority and won’t accept anything else, then a social enterprise will be more challenging.  However, I don’t think that’s leadership.

How can internal communications officers/other relevant staff members support CEOs and senior managers to make most of Yammer?

Drop a public relations mindset.  Accept that there is risk and a little message chaos.  Help leaders to understand that effective communication is about a rich and personal understanding of the audience. Learn the tools of effective social communication and teach leaders to be more concise, impactful and responsive.

“Drop a public relations mindset.  Accept that there is risk and a little message chaos.”

How do you motivate your managers to use Yammer? Any tips and tricks you can share?

Start by engaging them in conversations and showing them value relevant to their businesses and needs.  Mentioning them often also helps.  Recognition can be a powerful tool to engage people initially.

What do your Yammer champions do in practice?

Our Yammer champions run our whole network.  We have no real formal governance and limited resources to manage the network.  Champions have driven the entire network over time.  They even wrote the business case with the help of the community.

How do you keep your champions motivated (do they have their own Yammer group, do they meet each other regularly etc)?

We rely on natural advocates and people’s intrinsic motivations.  Our Yammer champions recruit themselves by their actions and then get asked to groups where they get help and additional information.

What is the most Yammer resistant group in your organisation and what do you think would help them get onboard?

I don’t think we have Yammer resistance.  We do have teams that we need to encourage to find more valuable use cases that the community can drive for them.  That value drives use.  We are not about mandating use for use’s sake.  That’s wasteful and against the spirit of an engaging community.

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 haven’t encountered it as a problem.  We are so much more connected than before.  Your purpose matters. I don’t see the goal as requiring the connection of everyone with everyone and every piece of information.  What matters is that people are more connected and getting value from that connection. It is one of the reasons our network growth is 100% organic. If there’s value, the silos fall quickly.

You can follow Simon on Twitter and LinkedIn. He blogs at http://simonterry.tumblr.com/.

– Virpi

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