British Gas, the largest UK energy and home services company, started to pilot their Yammer-based employee social network (ESN) in October 2013. "Initially, we trialled Yammer with a small group of 500 staff. We wanted to see if it was worth investing in the BG Network for the longer term. Eventually it was!" says Liam Kilminster, Social Media and Collaboration Manager.
Responsible for building the adoption of the ESN across the whole organisation, he provided engineers in the field with iPads and iPhones pre-loaded with the Yammer app: "Suddenly the number of users went up to 5,500. That was when I realised how much our remote employees loved it."
In fact, Liam didn't have to find champions: "engineers and other technicians became instantaneously our best advocates." Because they typically go out every day to fix boilers, they never really have the opportunity to speak with the rest of the organisation, Yammer has changed all that’. For the first time they realised that they could talk to each other. They started to invite colleagues to join the BG Network en mass, asking for ideas and sharing best practice.
The importance of training
Most of Liam's job has been around developing user guidance and communications. He met with different stakeholders, asking how they would like to use the platform and identifying their unique needs. "They gave me some really good ideas. I then went back to the management team, and we started working on the basis of that feed-back."
To encourage further adoption, Liam ran a 30-day Yammer campaign in June. He put together a month calendar of activities; every day had a specific topic, such as building profiles, sharing documents, setting up a community and making the best of analytics.
The all-employee feed was populated with pieces of advice and user guides relating to the topic. "For example, we posted material on the rationale behind the BG Network and what it could do to help people in their job." The advice was followed by concrete tips on how to use it - from uploading documents, to sharing images and videos, to commenting and to including other colleagues into conversations.
These are just a few great examples:
• Yammer is all about collaborating with colleagues - remember that the answer to your question is out there, and the best response may come from someone you never knew existed! By completing your areas of expertise you are letting your colleagues know who you are the 'go to person' for. The information you provide is also searchable so please put as much information in here as you can. Remember that Yammer is a BG wide platform, so don't forget to mention which area of BG you work in (BGR, BGB etc). It's a great feeling to answer somebody's query, so please allow them to have a chance to ask it!
• You can follow just about anything on Yammer! In addition to people, you can also follow conversations and files. If you find a particular discussion thread or topic useful then you can follow it so that you're kept up to date with the latest developments. If you find that you're no longer interested, then it's real easy to stop following it as well - find out how in this document.
Every day they also ran Q&As correlated with the tips shared on the platform. These were instrumental to open up dialogues around doubts as well as to speed up the learning process for the less advanced users. "It was good to see how people were stepping in answering each other queries. It was not just myself and my team giving the answers. That showed the real power of communities and collaboration."
However, what employees found most engaging was a contest called #Yamwins organised during the last week of the campaign. Employees were required to share successful use cases that they had experienced since using the network.
"We saw hundred and hundred of examples. That was surprising, something that I would have never thought of." Some use cases were about finding contact information within seconds, such as a boiler part number to send straight away to an engineer. Other examples were around faults and appliances: "for example, an engineer would take the picture of something wrong with a boiler, then upload it to the network. Immediately, other engineers could work out what the problem was and give him advice on how to fix it."
There were also stories around managerial feedback. "If a technician was making a customer happy, he would post the news on the site to let the managers know about the achievement. That was a chance to get a 'Well done! Good job."
The latter example has been particularly transformational for the culture of the organisation: "In the pre-Yammer era none would know how good your job was, and praise wasn't something drawn to attention." Now, it happens every day. "This new level of appreciation has been massively important to boost the sense of inclusiveness of our field teams."
Throughout the month, Liam kept promoting the campaign. To build awareness he sent out emails and e-newsletters each week. Plus, he set up big digital screens in all the offices to display what was going on the BG Network.
After the 30-day Yammer campaign British Gas managed to have over 11,000 employees actively engaged around 700 communities.
When leadership talk with engineers
"It had never happened before to see a leader talking with an engineer."
While taking advantage of the grass-root viral adoption, having executives' buy-in was key to adoption. When the BG Network was still at its conceptual stage, Liam met with the Leadership Team to discuss the benefits of the tool to the business.
The Managing Director "got it straightaways" and became himself an evangelist. "He invited his teams to join the platform. His teams in turn, invited their own teams. It just escalated from there. In a sudden, we had all the senior management using the BG Network to talk with anybody."
The barrier in the middle
"Now we have started to hit the middle manager layer."
This is perhaps the hardest change to implement. Culturally, British Gas has always had internal politics; trying to change the status quo, the normal way of working, is hard. "Middle managers can get very twitchy about our engineers. They are the people who control projects, outputs, people performance, processes and everything else. And they still want to reply on emails."
But engineers are already using the BG Network despite what managers say. And managers are starting realising that they cannot control this.
Leadership has also stepped in with a let it go message: "Let them use Yammer and do their job, they are adults and are not going to do anything silly."
"However, we are getting there, the value of the ESN is undeniable. There is huge appetite and that cannot be stopped."
In fact, Liam is planning to run another 30-day Yammer campaign at the end of the summer. His goal is to have 30,000 staff on the BG Network by the end of the year. He knows that key is getting middle managers on board.
This article originally appeared on simply-communicate