Image [cc] s_falkow

While reading Businessweek’s article called Yammer, Chatter, Hot Water, there was a part of the article that really grabbed my attention. We’ve discussed getting away from using email as an internal communications tool before, but according to Yammer’s CEO and a Deloitte Digital research study, the benefits don’t just stop at an uncluttered email inbox, they go straight to the moral of the employees that use the products:

“E-mail requires an active response,” says David Sacks, chief executive officer of Yammer, a three-year-old startup in San Francisco that says it provides social-networking software to 100,000 companies. When using Yammer or its rivals, “you don’t have to wait for someone to send you something. You can find it on your own.” Sacks touts the applications as a way to foster camaraderie and loyalty, citing research by tech consultancy Deloitte Digital that showed almost no turnover among its employees who use Yammer frequently. [emphasis added] 

These types of internal social networks are becoming the equivalent of “engineers’ notebooks” where employees “discuss new ideas and then track how they become actual products, producing a stream of information the company could use to claim ownership of an invention.”

Of course, the article itself goes on to discuss the risks of these internal social networks, and how the ‘informal’ nature of these networks might cause employees to act inappropriately (as in, discussing ideas that break laws or regulations.) However, with most processes that have high returns, there involves an amount of risk as well. The good news is that there are companies, like Belkin, that are willing to take those risks in order to create an environment that encourages collaboration, idea sharing, and the serendipity moments that arise from a free flow of communications. Companies are balancing the informal communications platform by also reminding and advising their employees to not to write things that violate laws, regulations or other company policies. Belkin’s CIO, Deanna Johnston understands that the risks of encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit will eventually cause a problem, and they’ll adjust their policies as needed. Johnston sums it up nicely by saying, “You have to get on the train… It is not going away.”

Image [cc] David Armano

An article on SearchCIO-Midmarket caught my attention yesterday that discussed the problems of simply throwing in a Social Media platform on the Enterprise System, and expecting the employees to simply adapt it as they have in their personal lives. Author Karen Goulart specifically calls out Pollyannish CIO’s who seem to think that implementing social media resources for their employees is twice as successful (CIO’s at 47%) than the employees (27%) actually think it is. Goulart points out that the idea of Enterprise Social Media is a fundamental shift in the way employees work and this creates a Change Management issue. Unfortunately, CIO’s seem to be happy to create the “change” but leave out the “management” part of the process. The lack of management was summed up best by Forrester Research analyst, TJ Keitt:

You assume that your employees deeply want it because you observe some behavior in someone’s personal life and you take the leap of faith saying, ‘Well maybe this will work, maybe it won’t and we’ll go from there.’… Anyone expecting a technology in and of itself to create anything doesn’t really understand technology. People change their culture, executives set the agenda, and middle managers execute and create the incentives to change behavior.

 The tricky part of this quote is that this type of change has to create a shift in everyone’s attitude on how we communicate in the Social Media era. On top of that, the change doesn’t seem to be either a “top-down” or a “bottom-up” scenario. Instead, it is that ever allusive “middle-down-bottom-up with top buy-in” model. In other words, the CIO not only has to buy-in that this type of communication will work, but they have to trust in their middle-management to find ways to motivate and train staff in order to produce the momentum necessary for this type of behavior shift. Different employees have different motivations when it comes to changing the way they communicate, and finding that motivation is key to a successful change management process.

I also wanted to point out an assumption that Goulart made in her first paragraph of the article:

Today, one would be hard-pressed to find a business not providing a social networking platform, be it Yammer, Jive, offerings from Microsoft or IBM, or some type of homespun intranet.

There is a running joke in the law firm technology world that we are usually five years behind corporations when it comes to technology. The same joke seems to apply to most law firms when it comes to social media in the Enterprise. I’m not sure that firms will break this trend on this issue either. In fact, my prediction is that enterprise-style social media will creep into the law firm environment through one of two ways. First, small groups within the firm will just go out and find a way to do it and just do an end-run around IT and the CIO. Or, second, since Microsoft now owns Yammer, it is possible that they will work Yammer into Outlook at some point. This would create what some would consider the best of both worlds (email and social media on the same platform), and others would call the worst of both worlds (email and social media on the same platform.)

My assumption is that, one way or another, employees will start using social media tools to communicate internally and externally whether the CIO and IT want them to or not. The key to this fundamental change process isn’t about how do you create the change, but rather, how do we manage this change in a way that benefits both the employee and the firm as a whole.

[Ed. Note: Last week, I wrote a post about a company that banned internal email and brought in Yammer as the replacement platform for internal communications. One of my hopes was that I’d get Rob Corrao to follow up and tell us more about how his idea of streamlining communications at LAC-Group became a reality. Rob did not disappoint and has written a nice synopsis of his experience, and gives us a little teaser that there will be more details coming out soon on his own blog, Everything Information. I’d like to personally thank Rob for doing this and I look forward to hearing more. -GL]

We decided to make the bold move to eliminate internal email about June 2011.  Over the course of a year we tested 4 different products, finally settling on Yammer.  I’m happy to discuss specifics if anyone is interested, and will be posting the entire process on my blog (Everything Information – in the next month or so….over several posts.)

We set out to resolve four key issues:

  1. How do we preserve contributions after an employee has left?  Preserve our corporate knowledge?
  2. How do we protect internal material from being emailed to the wrong party? Or being forwarded by mistake outside the org (we have all had this happen to someone we know…if not ourselves…and know that hitting the “Recall” in outlook only makes the person actually read what you are trying to recall.
  3. How do we cut down on task duplication/trip/quad/etc… what happens when you need something done right away and email 4 people…and they ALL do it.
  4. How do we bring together a team spread across 7 offices and two continents?

Top 5 reasons our staff has found that internal messages on Yammer are better than email:

  1. Yammer is a completely searchable tool that outlives any individual employee (eDiscovery compliant/accessible as well) – preserving content even post departure, rather than ending up in an archived email folder sitting on a DVD on someones shelf. It is a central repository for all messages, which enables continual growth of knowledge vs starting over/mining data (which we all know rarely happens due to time and expense).
  2. Yammer helps organize a conversation to keep track of input and eliminates the need for multiple people to have to do the research/fact finding, etc. Increasing organizational productivity.  Employees are working together to get tasks completed.  While email has tried to address “conversations” it’s simply a roll-up based on subject…and we’ve all lost a message or two that happened to have the same subject.
  3. Yammer can be as easy to use as email…or easier.  And can be faster as well!
  4. Yammer can be private – not everything has to be “public” – having a discussion that should only be amongst certain individuals – using private messages you can limit to one or several people.
  5. Yammer builds a corporate repository that allows us to search to see if we have ever had a discussion on a particular topic, client, situation, employee, etc.

BONUS: Yammer enables a concept I call working publicly.  So many times we want to know what’s going on (as managers) and rather than have to stop an employees productivity to prepare an email (ugh) to update us – we are always updated.  It’s a similar effect to what TR did with their cubicles… brought the height down – working publicly increases collaboration, cooperation, organizational awareness/knowledge and most importantly productivity.

Now to how we did it (short version).  We first ran a very tight test group, making sure that the technology worked, testing the concepts put forward by Yammer’s implementation team, etc.  We decided that we would design specific groups and not allow random group creation.  One of the groups is called “Water Cooler” and has strict instructions…no business discussed here…keep it fun – bring people together…a place to blow off (of course we also have word monitoring set in the system to prevent too much creative license with words…we still have to keep it clean).

We also put out a corporate mandate that we were transitioning internal communications and assigned our Yammer champions to re-direct to Yammer.  So when people slip, and they do, and send emails, these champions will forward the email to a group on Yammer (each group can receive posts via email as well)…and then respond within Yammer.

We officially launched Yammer June 1st.  Many of those on LAC Group’s Yammer had not actually met each other…so we made photos a must.  Each person was also required to fill out their profile (completely) so that people could get to know one another (and their skills, areas of expertise, etc).  Then it was off to the races.  Within the first few days, one of our staff members in DC asked a question that would have taken them 5-6 hours to research…a staff member in NY (who had never met the person in the DC office…or even knew they existed) answered the question in 3 minutes (had done the same search the week prior).  While this happened by chance, creating/manufacturing a similar exercise during roll out would be advised, as adoption immediately soared.

When we signed up for yammer, the sales staff told us of their most successful clients where internal email was down by 40-50% – our current stats are internal email is down by 80% (and still going).  Team collaboration is up (significantly).  Teamwork where there wasn’t any…and people are getting to know their co-workers, not just across the cube…but across the country.  Duplication of effort (for us this was huge) is down to almost 0%.  Working publicly is working, it’s been a real shift in our corporate culture.
Ending (internal) email isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard either.  The key is finding a reason for each individual in the company – if there is a personal gain, there will be adoption.

Success factors:

  1. Running a solid test group – creating Yammer champions – you have to have believers for any cause.
  2. Setting up the right way – Yammer implementation model of just let people go at it and they’ll get it, isn’t the right model (IMHO).  Orchestrate success – that’s how to ensure it happens.
  3. Make it fun… and have a champion for that – we have a daily post in our Water Cooler that keeps people going.  Have a stash of gift cards and make up prizes for most collaboration, most helpful this or that.
  4. Consistently push to Yammer – make sure that the team is posting there, vs email.
  5. Have some real “wins” for people – use a carrot – sticks will only get you so far.
  6. Set up email to Yammer aliases to auto-send to yammer from email – helps with adoption…and your employees don’t need to remember the long cryptic email addresses Yammer assigns to the various groups.
  7. Send regular posts on Yammer tips and tricks to help make adoption stick.  Just because we have reduced email by 80% doesn’t mean it will stay there.  Have to help back-sliders.  We have a daily tip post that goes in our Yammer 101 group.
  8. Dispel myths about email being faster – set up SMS notifications for groups and individuals, as well using the Yammer app (iPhone, Android, BB, iPad, PC, Mac, etc.) to show speed and ease of use.
  9. Use @mentions and #tags to draw attention to people and organize topics.
  10. Find a success factor for each and every participant – it’s got to personally benefit each person, or they won’t use it.

I’m at if you have any additional questions.

Image [cc] dharder9475

I have a love/hate relationship with email. It is the first thing I open up in the morning when the alarm clock goes off, and it is one of the last things I check before going to bed. I use it religiously… but I really would rather not be so reliant upon it. Unfortunately, since about 1995, it has become the primary communications tool for business. Your co-worker that works six feet away from you would rather email you a question than lean back in his chair and ask. It has become a de facto database of information. It has become a timeline of events. It has become a system used by many of us to keep everything we can “just in case” someone questions why you did something and you can go find that email they sent you 18 months ago to prove to them that you weren’t just acting on an impulse. Put plainly… it has become a monster.

Do we really need to use email all the time? Is it the best medium for communications? Is there something better? All of these questions have been asked for years, yet it still dominates business communication. However, there are some ideas that are happening in businesses that may finally challenge the idea that email is too ingrained into our business methods to go away. The crack in email’s armor may be those companies that ban its use between employees. There was big news last year when British information technology company, Atos, banned internal email, but is that something that others (including law firms) could emulate?

I did talk with a legal recruiting company while at AALL in Boston that has done just that. I won’t cover all the facts (mostly because I’d love for someone at the company to guest post and explain why they are doing it), but here were some of the reasons that they told me.

First of all, they realized that email is simply inefficient. Once you get more than two people on a chain, it can get messy in a hurry. They were also realizing that when people left the company, even if they still had their email files on their server, most of their business knowledge and experience history was tied up in those email files, and in reality, there was no good way to isolate that. In order to counter these factors, they went with a Yammer solution for all internal communications.

Yammer solved a few issues for them. First of all, it was a nice clean interface, and by setting up “groups” based on how they worked, it allowed for members of the group to jump into the middle of a conversation and look back at what was discussed and quickly be up to speed. It also allowed for files to be housed in their central document repository, rather than creating multiple copies that go out to everyone. In addition to all that, once someone leaves the company, their public conversations are still there to be found long after they have left.

The thing that impressed me the most while talking to this group, was the fact that other members of the company jumped in to the conversation to express how much they love this type of communication (this included the younger employees as well as the more ‘experienced’ employees.) They got excited while talking about this, and they would chime in with stories of how certain members were skeptical of banning internal email, but once they jumped into the process and saw the benefits, they were quickly converted to true believers.

Email, like the telephone, will probably be around for generations to come. It is so easy, and it is so built in to most current business processes, that it won’t go away anytime soon. That doesn’t mean that other things won’t come in as alternatives. Whether it is Yammer, Instant Messaging, or something like a Facebook Groups Page, or Google Plus, there are options out there that can be real alternatives to email. I for one, look forward to testing out those alternatives and finding something else to wake up to in the morning!