Technology enables change in organizations. This is a watchword of innovation. But we, as managers of corporate systems, need to keep in mind that technology on its own cannot generate change. The users themselves have to understand and be willing to embrace the change.
A case in point is Yammer, the leading enterprise social network. It blends the freewheeling, granular communications of Twitter with the business controls of a formal content management system. Implemented properly across an organization, Yammer can help reduce operational inefficiencies, support geographically dispersed workgroups, and engage employees across silos. That is why 100,000 organizations use Yammer.
But driving those delicious capabilities through an organization can be anything but automatic. In fact, it can be quite challenging. Agility doesn't come without heavy lifting.
The key element in easing the pain -- the element that often gets overlooked in bringing new technology into corporations -- is people.
Take Phoebe Venkat at Tyco International, which is about a traditional an organization as you could imagine. It produces fire protection and security products and services. Venkat, part of the marketing communications organization within Tyco's fire protection business, was brought in to help the sprawling 100,000-employee organization figure out how to communicate more effectively internally.
"Rather than creating a bunch of Twitter accounts that might not mean that much -- we are a B-to-B company -- we decided to invest first in on our own employees and the value social networking could bring them," Venkat says. "Our employees were asking for better ways to communicate and collaborate. They were eager for this."
To answer that demand, she and her team turned to Yammer, which already had a small presence in the company. Venkat's manager began testing the "freemium" version of Yammer back in 2009, because his vision was to connect a disparate workforce using social technology. After Venkat joined Tyco in 2010, she was given a mission: Launch and drive Yammer adoption to accomplish that goal.
From day one, the software worked well, in theory. It was the organization itself that had the challenges. As her Yammer network's community manager, Venkat faced all types of reactions to the tool -- resistance due to loss of control, distrust of social technologies, you name it. Instead of focusing on those who remained steadfastly on the sidelines, she relied -- and still relies -- on positive reinforcement from the community's superusers and thought leaders.
"Part of my role is to keep an eye out for employees who share my passion for driving positive change," she says. "I even have a group of 'Yambassadors' that is made up of employees from across the business units. These people are the beacons for our growing population."
To get the Yammer network off the ground, Venkat became a ferocious advocate. She would yam about it (of course), talk about it, email about it, hold meetings, approach folks in elevators -- whatever it took to spread the word. Some ignored her. Others thought Yammer was a passing fad. But slowly and surely, folks here and there around Tyco began trying the network, and they liked what they saw.
To nurture the network, Venkat studies user interactions and looks for those who use Yammer in a way that reinforces Tyco's business values. "I 'bump' up questions, ideas, and feedback by replying to or liking a yam. If I don't understand the subject, I'll ask. A community manager has to be inquisitive by nature."
One challenge has been getting Tyco management to understand that chat at work about nonbusiness topics is a positive thing, not a waste of time. "If one employee is telling another about a great purse she bought, that isn't frivolous chitchat. It's two employees working to establish a relationship, get to know one another, set up the foundation -- the glue -- that helps them work together better."
The unremitting application of people power -- and enthusiastic buy-in from the fire protection line's president -- has generated substantial success. Over six months, Yammer users have risen to 15,000 across the corporation, and management is starting to come on board -- positively influenced by the employees.
"You have to find a way to bring in a new social technology like Yammer in a way that fits your corporation's goals and your culture," according to Venkat. "You need to gauge what management can withstand. Not all managers understand social, so they need to be brought along to see the value."
Regardless of whether the managers understand it, "corporations have been social since they were first created," she says. "It is just that now there is software that can amplify what is already happening among people and channel it in ways that can have new value for the organization."