Three words provided me with a wealth of painful, yet productive, progress towards the defining of a policy for sharing information on internal social networks. The three words were “This is fun!” Harmless and innocent phrase at first glance but when attributed to a leader about a certain situation I uncovered a treasure chest full of cultural and social norms that go unspoken within the organization.
I was alerted to the fact that this sharing, of what I intended to be the personality of our leader, was out of context and inappropriate. I immediately realized that this feedback did more in my eyes to legitimize the online community conversation to know that people cared what was going on there. The ability of anyone at any level to influence and steer conversation in many ways is probably a new organizational paradigm that all are not comfortable with.
The correction was gentle and caring. But it also stung. It was acknowledged that seemingly contradicting expectations were shared.
In my efforts to cultivate a community online I have sought occasion to speak about it’s potential and the current conversations happening there. Because of my participation in and passion for this community I was invited to facilitate a discussion around social media for a large group of folks from the Finance department. I tailored their experience by introducing the notion that these social networks represented a type of asset that has traditionally never been accounted for on the books. We shared ideas around social capital and how we might best be stewards of those more intangible assets in helping the organization succeed.
The comments from the event included indicators that this was a topic that had great interest among this group. The event was also rated by the participants. The fellow collecting the evaluation remarked that he had seen more 4s and 5s on our discussion than on precious events. And the interesting this was it counted towards continuing education credits.
From my observations people are looking for leadership in this arena. They want help in knowing how to leverage new tools. I feel a responsibility to be well informed and gain valuable experience to aid their efforts.
Many have looked to me for leadership inside this online social space. One individual goes so far as to pin the moniker of Chief Yammer Officer on me. The formal responsibility for ownership and exploration has fallen on the IT team. My opinion regarding complaints about Yammer has been sought out numerous times. In a most recent request I gathered together in one document the responses of those I have identified as early adopters.
Many of the affordances available in this tool are shifting thinking in radical and rapid ways. Yet, these new opportunities are perceived as threatening established norms and is counter to culture in so many ways. When a complaint about the value add of this tool I shared the opportunity to give feedback with the early adopters I had identified. Some quickly jumped in and augmented the business case for this tool. I long for these early adopters to understand more fully the opportunity before us.
It appears that some functionality has been restricted such as daily digests sent via email and desktop app updates. I assume these features were requested to be limited and that Yammer honored those requests. I plan on having more details today about the exact situation.
I have noticed that the participation of some fluctuates based on whether it will be personally advantageous to them. These inconsistencies from perceived leaders may cause others to wonder about the status of the tool.
In conversation i have noticed many questions about what is expected. I find this a disturbing evaluation. One specific request to know expected response times for interactions in the tool struck me as particularly interesting. My reply was simply that there is no expectation whatsoever. If the folks this individual collaborated with were not utilizing the tool there was no need to fret. If they enjoyed participating in the social space Yammer creates I encourage them to join the conversation.
A lesson I am slowly learning is that when I share other people’s information I tend to encounter more resistance or obstacles than anticipated. The perceived sensitivity is unknown to me until I post. I personally found it difficult to have opinions expressed opposing the open sharing of information. Yet, time was able to work it’s magic and afford me a greater ability to see the situation in a different light. I was not being corrected for my sharing of others’ information. I recognized that the community had a very healthy sensitivity to the nature and confidentiality of posts shared in the online space. Little did I know that my posting would prove and reveal this ideal quality of an online private internal community. I returned after the weekend and offered a sincere thank you. I felt it was deserved.
I have had many requests to think through social and community solutions to the challenges other departments are facing. In these efforts I have found myself immediately wanting to apply a single social tool when the community may need something very different. The process has taken a back seat to my efforts of evangelizing a single tool.
As the uncertainty of the network continues I have initiated open and sincere conversations with those I am acquainted with who most likely have greater influence in the situation than I have. My approach has been one of a very personal nature. I want to know these people individually and ask them the same questions I ask myself in my reflective action research.
On Friday I had a wonderful discussion with, who I only later came to know as the individual responsible for evaluating the Enterprise Social Network space and gathering an advisory committee to guide conversations and decisions. We spoke of our own lives, weekend plans, etc. I felt to commend this individual and did. I also thanked him publicly in Yammer for his time and attention. I feel confident that he knows me and values our relationship more than before. I struggle to deepen this commitment because we are working from disparate locations so face-to-face is not often available to us. It would undoubtedly be my first preference for interacting especially around this topic for which I have so much passion.
A new hire, an expert in SharePoint, will take the reigns
A colleague shared Simple English Wikipedia with me earlier this week and I thought it served well as a technology tool that assisted in differentiating the learning for a diverse audience. If we recognize that not all Internet surfers are native English speakers this resource suddenly shines greater value on the collective socially co-constructed knowledge that may be inaccessible or unintelligible to a majority of the world. Having spent a brief amount of time with Simple English it does not dumb down the information at all. Rather the word selection is much more conducive to those who may have a more limited exposure to the entire spectrum of vocabulary employed in the regular Wikipedia articles. I assume that, following the Wikipedia model, all the Simple English articles are crowdsourced.
More joy and exhilaration from a skinny blue box could not have been had yesterday! Every minute seemed to bring news of several additional colleagues joining the online Yammer community. I could hardly contain my excitement! I probably tried the patience of my team with intermittent exclamations of surprise, awe and wonder as the stream filled with folks joining from far flung areas of the world. Samoa, Hong Kong, Peru, Europe. And not only was this a global gathering it spanned the organizational hierarchy with Managing Directors to Physical Facilities folks, Directors, managers and others. As I watched the count rise to 400 I asked my team how long it might take for the next 100 members to join. In what I thought was fairly optimistic thinking I guessed another month. Surely this trend could not continue as it had and sustain a similar influx to the space. The total count of 500 came and went and by the end of the day the members on Yammer reached 619. I was astounded!
My team and I looked to the intranet for a potential explanation of the sudden and momentous rise in account activations. As Yammer is a third party external tool, I was extremely skeptical that it would have made it through the official communication channels of the conservative bureaucracy. No signs of any intranet posting regarding the availability and awareness of Yammer. I reached out to a woman in Hong Kong, welcomed her warmly and asked her how she received her invite. She shared with me that the invitation had been sent by Larry Richman, with whom she is not even remotely familiar, and in her estimation may have been a mistake. She, nonetheless, was curious and did not hesitate to jump in. She also invited many others in her office to join her on the tool. I thanked her for her perspective and encouraged her to see this as an opportunity for her to be inviting and friendly and make more connections and stimulate collaborative conversations.
The only conclusion I can come to is that someone clicked the Invite All button which potentially generated emails to approximately 3,000 individuals. An investigation for another time would be to understand how the email addresses of 3,000 individuals made their way into the Yammer invite utility. Did someone import their extensive rolodex? Some questions around this event might shed much needed light on the situation. What were the conditions that incited someone to push the Invite All button now rather than and time prior? What was the motivation for pushing the Invite All button? How many of those invited extended their own invitations to local colleagues? What was their motivation for reaching out to others?
Realizing that accounts activated is only a small fraction of the work needed to cultivate relationships, conversation and community, the gears shifted slightly in my mind. I am hopeful for the future but am concerned about people actually using the tool. I felt comfortable in a smaller sized base of colleagues. The environment was very familiar and open. I am not entirely sure how I might influence the environment for the hundreds of new joiners and still maintain the warm, inviting atmosphere the initial folks enjoyed. The idea of deputizing others to give attention to these matters is compelling but difficult to enact without establishing relationships. I anticipate that many will assume those types of roles themselves and lead out in cultivating the ideal conditions for their teams and communities to flourish but failing to have some mechanism / intervention to stimulate that thought and activity would be a haphazard approach to the situation.
A few salient nuggets of knowledge appear from this experience. The curiosity of those invited is more compelling than originally thought. I have been a strong proponent of relationships of trust as the catalytic force driving many of actions and decisions. Relationships apparently do NOT account for all of our motivations. I also see indicators that employees are eager for and anticipate greater connection to one another even in a corporate work setting. Signals such as very brief profiles and posts of confusion may reflect fatigue for technology or profile creation.
Much much more to know and understand about this phenomenon. Here’s to people connecting and conversing online!