By Gloria Lombardi

When it comes to engaging employees on the journey to enterprise social, getting 75,000 employees or 50% of your staff to actively use one network is about as ambitious as it gets.

Veronique Vallieres, Internal Communications and Community Manager at ABB, worked a long time on adoption as part of the company’s vision to break down internal siloes and enable greater collaboration across 100 countries.

“We are one of the global leaders in power and automation technologies providing literally thousands of products and solutions to reduce environmental impact around the world. Being aligned internally as an organisation is not only crucial, it is essential.”

Pockets of change

The story started in 2009 when a small group of employees from the digital communications team began to use Yammer. “It was a coincidence that they used that enterprise social network (ESN) vendor. It could have been any other tool.”

While the technology was chosen randomly by a few end users, the purpose of shifting from a complex matrix organisation to a more responsive and networked business was clear.

Vallieres thinks that the main factor of success was the initial bottom up approach where people invited their peers with very defined goals. “To drive the change, these early adopters started to invite others from different pockets inside the organisation and gave them a concrete reason for joining the platform. That way, the employees had the chance to experiment and understand how to use it around a specific purpose.”

And then it happened. Between 2009 and 2012, already 10,000 staff were using the social network, which at the time was an impressive number.

Engaging communicators

In September 2012, the company decided to run ABB’s first full-day digital event for the entire communications community. It lasted 32 hours starting in Asia and finishing in America.

“Normally, fewer than 100 communication leaders would have a face-to-face annual meeting to discuss corporate communications strategy and how to align the different divisions with the overall plan. But, this time we wanted all our 600 communicators to attend the virtual space.”

For the occasion, ABB’s Corporate Communications team created a full-day agenda, which included online workshops, webinars, remote presentations and case studies. “For example, we would watch and listen to the Head of Corporate Communications talking from 8AM to 9AM. Then, we would comment on that presentation in real time on the ESN.”

The initiative sparked engaging conversations across the different countries. Some people were quoting the speakers, some were making comments either agreeing or disagreeing with what was being said, others were sharing further ideas and material.

This was beneficial in at least two ways. It allowed the 600 communicators to be on the same page in terms of the overall business communications strategy. “Many told us that they had felt much closer to Headquarters despite the physical distance.”

Plus, it let them become champions of the social network. “For many of them, they had direct access to the senior members of the communications team for the first time. Additionally, they had developed relationships with new colleagues who were previously unknown. And they felt enthused. Once the event was concluded, they voluntarily decided to go to their own teams encouraging and supporting the use of the platform as an internal communications channel.”

Bringing the entire community of communicators involved with the platform was a further step toward growing the network. “They clearly were the right audience to turn into ambassadors.”

From the freemium to the enterprise version of Yammer

By April 2013, there were over 100 ABB networks. Some might interpret that as the positive sign of a widespread adoption of Yammer inside the company. Instead: “It was a problem. We ended up having a siloed community on the same platform.”

This was largely due to the settings of the freemium version of the social tool. Since every country has a different email domain at ABB each employee with a different email address ended up creating their own network. Switching to the enterprise version of the software helped to solve the problem. “It allowed to merge all the different networks into one.”

The decision was made by the CIO. “He had always been keen on getting the entire organisation on board. He is quite visionary about the future of the workplace where employees can work with anyone, from anywhere, on any device.”

Restoring confidence on one network

At the end of 2013 the number of employees on the network had jumped to 50,000. But the network merge process took several months to complete, and not without its fair share of hiccups. The process had been quite complex and the team needed to restore confidence among staff.

Hence the decision to do a soft launch of the new, global ABB network to highlight the benefits of using the unified platform and encourage further adoption and engagement.

To do that they leveraged the material offered by the vendor. “We decided not to reinvent the wheel.” But they also needed to customise that material to reflect the ABB culture. “It was important to use our language in every communication. For example, we did not like slogans such as “Try this for 30 days!” This language doesn’t fit ABB. Instead of removing barriers we would have created more. So we customised all the material.”

Reasons to join

As part of the campaign, Vallieres blogged about the major milestones such as ‘50,000 reasons to join Yammer‘. It linked to some use cases, toolkits and video interviews with senior executives discussing the value in adopting the tool. “For example, our Head of Operational Excellence spoke about using it to capture, share and spread knowledge faster within his team. Or the Head of Customer Contact Management talked about having a more transparent dialogue with his people who were spread in different regions.”

However, the focus was not only on the positive aspects. Instead she invited them to also go through the challenges that they had to face. The idea was to send a truthful message that it was a journey; it might have been difficult at first. Yet, in the long term it was worth it.

“It was important to paint not only the rosy picture but also the negative sides and the failures. Because it is a change process and it is not easy.”

Top stories of the year

The team also crowdsourrced ‘The Top 25 Yammer Moments of 2013‘ which captured the best use cases of the year from across the company. For example, “a welding and cutting segment manager in the global robotics team was looking for a colleague in sales or engineering who could provide him with detailed information about an arc welding system. Within 24 hours, some contacts from Sweden, the UK and Italy had emerged and an order was placed one week later. The customer was impressed with the fast turnaround.”

Not myths but facts

Another piece of communication was the online brochure ‘Yammer – separating the myths from the facts‘. It was crowdsourced by many community managers and included:

• I have no time for Yammer – Yammer can help you save time by enabling you to share updates with the right audience more quickly and find answers to your questions faster.

• Content on Yammer isn’t relevant to me – Choosing the ‘Following’ feed instead of ‘All’ will only display the content from the groups you have joined and the people you follow. You can see as little or as much content as you like on Yammer.

• Yammer will overload me with information I don’t need – You can turn off notifications completely or personalise the type of alerts you want to receive, so that you get just the right level of information that matches your needs.

• Yammer is like Facebook – While the functionality is similar, Yammer is a closed, secure network that facilitates business-related conversations. It is used to ‘work out loud’, so that relevant information is surfaced to help others perform better at work.

• Why use Yammer when we have instant messaging? – Instant messaging is great for one-to-one, real-time conversations. But, unlike instant messaging, Yammer threads are searchable by everyone. Search queries deliver accurate results and also provide useful background context around topics.

• Email is better than Yammer – While email is useful in certain contexts, Yammer allows you to reach the right audience at once in one post, rather than pushing information to a selected few. Messages are more conversational.

Other communications included infographics and video animations.

Office 365, not so ‘soft’

With the enterprise version of Yammer came the transition to Office 365. Unlike the social network, which employees were invited to join, Office was a move that everyone had to go through. “It was not an option.”

Hence, the approach taken to launch O365 was also different. “In some respect it was simpler – it was imposed.”

Communications were focused more on the technology rather than the culture. “It was about ensuring understanding of the new application from a technical viewpoint.”

They had to clarify which features were available and how to use them. “For example, how to share, edit and comment on a document directly with our colleagues.”

At first people were reluctant, yet, “once migrated most people found they had a better solution at hand.” Yet, there is still plenty of coaching to be done “to understand how it can really help our people to work better and simplify their lives. Plus, how it can be integrated into their normal way of working.”

Toward one ABB

Today there are as many as 75,000 employees on the network, making it one of the fastest growing ESN in the world.

Vallieres believes that the organisation is ready to take enterprise social to the next level. That means making it fully embedded across the entire company to get true and measurable business value not just in the communications and IT communities but also deep in the business units, service teams and among sales people. Ultimately, “to be an open, responsive organisation that works together as one ABB.”