June 24, 2011 at 5:40am
In a large company, due to geographic diversity, one of the most important elements of work has been eradicated; The Conversation. By using Microblogging in Alcatel-Lucent, we were able to have real conversations, find answers more quickly that lead to real business outcomes, improve morale and allow people to interact as if they were part of a small, agile company.
Alcatel-Lucent was a newly merged (2006) company between Alcatel (French) and Lucent Technologies (American). In 2008, Ben Verwaayen joined the company and told the employees "We need to be a Web 2.0 company" as a way to focus more on our customers. The telecom equipment space was suffering from a generation gap as new 4G technologies were still in its infancy and had not been widely deployed. There was talk of further consolidation in the industry and the company was "right sizing". In this environment, many people did not want to share what they knew because of the risk that if they did, they would no longer be needed.
About the time that Ben Verwaayen joined the company, Yammer won Techcrunch 50 (Sept, 2008). By being able to sign-up for Yammer without having to launch a formal pilot, we were able to quickly and cheaply explore if the company was ready to really be a "Web 2.0" company. When I joined the Alcatel-Lucent Yammer network, I thought that I would be the first employee, but in fact, I was the fourth, with the first three were from Romainia, Italy & France. It was then that I realized there was a huge opportunity. I was connecting with other employees that I never would have been able to using any of our existing technologies.
Key Innovations & Timeline
When we started to use Yammer, there was lots of talk about "What is it?". During the first few weeks, we saw the network quickly grow from 4 to 250. Many of the questions were around security since Yammer is a cloud based solution. Every day, I would wake up early (I am in GMT-5 and headquarters is in GMT+1) and check to see what was going on. I would see a post or two, and get excited, but realize that this was not going to prove the value. For the first 6 months, I would engage the growing community every single day and ask a lot of questions that hopefully would get others talking.
Do you understand the value of a tool like Yammer? I think the fact that it's only ALU folks makes it much more valuable (internally) than a tool like Twitter.
Through the first 6 months we mainly flew under the radar. At certain times, I'd talk to my colleague Jerome Colombe in communications and ask what would happen if I didn't post for a day. He suggested I try it. Of course, the first few times I tried this, the conversation completely died. Then I would come back and re-engage the community. We tried this experiment about once a month for the first few months with the same results. During this time the early adopters were starting to see the conversation shift from the tool to how do I use this to help me get my job done faster, find experts that I need, and make the company successful.
In March 2009, I was sitting at my desk when I got an e-mail from Kenneth Frank, our VP of Solutions & Marketing asking if I was in the office today, he'd like to talk to me about Yammer. Needless to say, I was freaking out, wondering if today was the day I was going to be shut down. We met and talked for about 15 minutes about what Yammer is, what I saw the opportunity was inside of Alcatel-Lucent. This conversation ended by him asking, "What can I do to help?". Over the next few weeks, he talked to a group of "high potential" employees, eventually talking about Yammer during his "all hands" call. This was exactly the support that the I needed, getting people to the door. Once they came in, it was up to me and the community to create an environment where people felt comfortable.
As new people joined the community, the security questions kept resurfacing, so weekly I would post:
I think now is a good time to once again remind everyone that Yammer is neither endorsed, supported or managed by Alcatel-Lucent. This is really a Web 2.0 groundswell within the company. With that in mind, you should not post any information here that you would not yell from the streets! But beyond that, have fun and participate. #security
During this time, I noticed a strange phenomenon, there were a lot of Directors and VP's joining the community. They would not contribute, and after interviewing a few of them, they indicated that they'd join to stay connected with what's going on in the company, the "buzz", both inside and outside of their organizations through a daily e-mail digest.
We had lots of people wishing our CEO would join the Yammer network, but I would respond, "I would prefer he not be here. There are 2 reasons that I say this. First, I would rather our CEO building relations and driving business. Second, I do feel that perhaps the tone of the conversation may shift if he was listening". (I came to find out later that the CEO actually knew about the initiative and he loved it.)
By simply asking the question, "What are you working on?" we realized there were many groups trying to accomplish similar things. When someone would ask a question, often times, someone else would indicate that they were working a similar thing, leading to the discovery that we could potentially consolidate the efforts, save the company money and remove duplication. Af the very least, they felt that they had someone they could collaborate wiht to work through challenges.
Challenges & Solutions
Driving change in a large company can be daunting. I felt almost every single day that the efforts that we were taking to drive change would be shut down at any moment by some senior management team member that felt threatened. It took courage to keep going to work, pushing the envelope of what's acceptable, help people realize that doing things in new ways was the only way to surivive and most importantly you need to be respectful when challenging others in the company.
During one early session with a VP, the question was asked, "Who are the top 5 participants on Yammer? Clearly they either need more work, or we don't need them." We were able to demonstrate in this person's org how work was getting done using Yammer, which was the last we heard of the issue. It really took some time and education to eventually help this VP realize that people were actually getting work done faster and better than before, but by showing him positive outcomes, he eventually became a supporter.
Keeping IT security from shutting down a Software as a Service (cloud) solution required a lot of resassurances that we would behave in a way that would not viloate any policies. It was like being a teenager trying to gain your parent's trust. By engaging in the community and leading, we ensured that people understood the groundrules. If there was anything that was inappropriate the plan was to instruct them why it was inappropriate and encourage them to do the right thing.
One of the most challenging aspects of the conversation was making sure that this didn't just become a place to endlessly debate. By providing active community management and interjecting possible next steps, we developed a place not to just talk, but also to take action. If people felt that this was just a place to talk, the value would never be realized.
Benefits & Metrics
People for the first time since the merger felt like we were connected and part of the merged company. Yammer was the first platform that was not part of either company's legacy which really helped all employees accept it. As of this writing, there are about 11,000 users using Yammer in Alcatel-Lucent.
In early 2010, I ran surveys to determine the success of Yammer in Alcatel-Lucent:
92% said that they felt like Yammer helped them find out things that they would not have otherwise known.
57% of respondents said that they felt that they were able to find answers more quickly.
85% felt that Yammer would help them build their personal/social network within the company
78% said that they believed Yammer provided real business value for Alcatel-Lucent
Sometimes the best way to drive change is to focus on opportunity, not by following the book. It was by working in the cracks that we were able to introduce a change that didn't tred on anyone's "turf" that gave us the ability to succeed.
It was not until I accepted the fact that this could get me fired that I was able to gain the courage and embrace the role of leader and drive this innovation to where it needed to go.
When driving change, ensure that you are leading the conversation and asking questions that lead to positive outcomes. Avoid critisisms at all cost.
When a company is trying to show their customers that they are changing, being able to share the successes outside the company provicdes credibility that the change is real and not just lip service.
In a large company, the typical behavior is to be risk averse. "Don't do anything that could get me fired" is a very common approach. By taking intelliegent risks and applying this to help people achieve success you eventually find that you will gain broad support. I found that I was approaching work with the attitude "How do I make others successful?" not "How do I find success?".
By being transparent, I was able to gain the trust of the communuity. Trust is the most important thing that a leader needs to be successful. There are many times when I would pubicly admit a mistake, occasionally accompanied by an apology. This eventually got the community to better understand my goal was to help the community thrive.
As a result of driving change, I never really was able to find a home. Management believed in what I was doing and actively encouraged it, but generally were unable to accept the risk associated with directly supporting a "rebel". This meant that I was in 7 different organizations. This cost me promotions, raises and bonuses, but yet, I view my accomplishments to be the most impactful of my career (so far). This caused me to evaluate what success really meant.
When dealing with cloud solutions, instead of just focusing on security, have the discussion around what we should not feel comfortable talking about in the cloud. Usually this includes financial information, RFP's, and legal issues, just to name a few. But, when we looked at what we couldn't talk about we realized there was a lot we could talk about. Helping everyone understand this is vital to ensure that the right conversations were enabled.
I have to credit to all of the people in Alcatel-Lucent. Not just the supporters, but also the skeptics and the nay-sayers. Each group challenged me to dig deep and reaffirm what I believed in, to make sure what I was saying did indeed offer value not only to the company, but for the individual. This has enabled a great period of growth both professionally and personally.
First public sharing of Alcatel-Lucent's Enterprise 2.0 success
This got broad attention in Sr. Management ranks within Alcatel-Lucent