By Gloria Lombardi

The City of London Corporation looks after the City of London on behalf of all who live, work and visit there, carrying out a crucial role which goes beyond that of an ordinary local authority. The need for all employees to be constantly informed, inspired, involved and behaviourally aligned to the company strategy and services is key.

Keeping up with the developments of the digital world, the company has been using Yammer since 2011, and since its beginning the adoption has been showing incredible behavioural and communicative changes inside the organisation.

Christine Brown (pictured at right), Head of Internal Communications at The City, shared with us her insights on taking a Yammer approach and lessons learnt.

Gloria Lombardi: When did the City of London Corporation start to use Yammer? And why?

Christine Brown: Yammer ‘took off’ virally in the City of London Corporation just over two years ago, shortly after I joined. At first it generated a great deal of interest and activity but also suspicion – which in hindsight was a good thing as it disrupted the status quo albeit in a positive way! Being a very traditional organisation, there was a ‘top down’ approach to communications through mostly broadcast channels and we wanted to improve on that through more collaborative approaches.

GL: What has the adoption been like?

CB: In terms of behaviour, about 1/3 of our employees are registered on Yammer. We have various ‘activists’ but many more ‘lurkers’! Behaviour ranges from staff publicising events or initiatives to generate interest, to ‘internal appeals’. One staff member recently appealed for a football whistle or rattle for an event he was running – he was offered the whistle straightway and I think a rattle came later.

GL: What kind of approach did you implement towards Yammer?

CB: We adopted a ‘soft launch’ approach to Yammer to see what it might tell us. It’s part of a bigger initiative to understand what support, education and engagement we need to put into place to encourage people to work differently. We hear a lot about social platforms engendering new behaviours but we wanted to understand what ‘collaboration’ and ‘knowledge sharing’ might looks like for us. I think Yammer has helped illustrate ‘where we are at’ in very insightful way and where we need to put our energies and quick wins. For example, encouraging ‘project focussed’ communities and encouraging staff to share their ideas online will be the main drivers for us.

GL: Have you seen changes in employees behaviours and ways of communicating since Yammer was first launched?

CB: Even just embarking on this road has highlighted significant culture change that may have already been quietly taking place. For many of our colleagues working socially is very exciting, a welcome and natural extension of how they live and connect and they are jumping at the opportunity to do more. But for others it can be intimidating, alienating and highlight deeper cultural issues going on. Many staff have spoken openly to me about fearing they will be judged if they participate on social media full stop – and judged if they don’t! So we are turning our attention to addressing some of the issues it raises alongside educating staff through ‘social media surgeries’ which take place once a week. It’s also allowed us to uncover a lot of fantastic work going on that may go unrecognised in other ways – such as staff volunteering, informal networks, and what staff are comfortable sharing. Building confidence is key. We’ve noticed a real interest from staff wanting to share insights about conferences they’ve attended, or online resources and external communities they’ve found useful for their professional development and day-to-day work.

GL: In your opinion, what are the roles and challenges of the internal communications function with Yammer?

CB: I’m a recently qualified occupational psychologist working in IC and I think IC practitioners have a massive challenge – and opportunity – in facilitating communication of employee groups who may hold very different views of the working world. This consideration motivated me to run our first social media staff conference. The event itself made a clear statement about how social technologies are engendering behaviours and attitudes that are changing the world of work and it’s not simply a generational difference. As a result, through exploring channel use such as Yammer we really addressed the issue of organisational trust: do we have it, how can we improve it and what role does everyone play in that process? It dawned on many attendees that they contribute to shaping the culture rather than simply being recipients of it.

GL: Do you have any internal ‘champions’ or ‘ambassadors’? If yes, what benefits have you seen as a result?

CB: We recruited around 80 digital and social ‘champions’ who pledged to work with their colleagues – including their managers – to encourage not simply ‘Yammer adoption’ but challenge resistance to what ‘social’ means. This has led to a big increase of staff interest in exploring the potential of social technology for collaborative working, problem solving and project publicity. For example, many of our staff have now appeared on YouTube talking about how their work has made a difference inside and outside the organisation. We are about to embark upon a ‘rotation curation’ initiative where colleagues from different parts of our organisation share insights about their working day on Twitter. But having the right people who are authentic and accessible to do this is important as it encourages others to identify with them.

GL: How has leadership reacted to the Yammer use? Are they visible on the platform themselves?

CB: I believe the message about ‘working socially’ has had a strong effect on face to face communications too: we recently ran a staff workshop exploring leadership communications where Yammer was discussed. While we still have some way to go to encourage the senior team to participate on social platforms, the workshop acted as a launchpad to scrutinise our face to face communications too. As a result we have now developed a programme of twice monthly face to face staff discussion forums with our Chief Executive, where any topic is up for grabs – which have been incredibly well received so far.

GL: Where do you see the future of internal social media at the City of London?

CB: Like a lot of organisations, we’ve still got a really long way still to go in terms of staff feeling confident and ‘permitted’ to post on social platforms such as Yammer. But it’s revealed some surprises – such as giving more introverted staff a voice where they would not speak up in meetings for example.

I think it’s important that IC specialists appreciate the small successes as well chasing the bigger ones. Anecdotal feedback about things ‘feeling different’ in the organisation can signify something powerful going on.

My advice to other organisations exploring the adoption of social platforms internally is to begin by understanding what behaviours social technologies might amplify, get HR and IT on board to look at what those behaviours tell you and work incrementally – you won’t achieve a collaborative culture overnight but you’ll get plenty of insights.


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate