What do you do when you realize that there probably won’t be much of a future for you in your company? When all the bosses are white middle aged scientists or accountants, and they are all male and don’t understand a clue of your concerns… At this point, many would just let go (“internal retirement”), some leave the company, but some address the problems directly and go for the change they would like to see on their own.
Celine Schillinger used social networks and her community management skills to turn her employer into a better place to work at. What had to be started without any support from the company has now transformed into the job of a Director of Stakeholder Engagement, and Celine shares her experiences frequently as a speaker – e.g. at the upcoming Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris.
We talked to her about the beginnings of her community initiatives and her experiences and lessons learned during the process to introduce social media in a big international corporation.
What are your experiences with social media and digital networks in the enterprise; what did you use, what worked, what didn’t?
Well, there are several experiences.
1) I have used Yammer to create a community that strives for gender balance within the company. The initiative has been hugely successful: a few months after it was set up, it was already the largest of all Sanofi Yammer communities, and still is by far. It gathers now close to 2,500 members in over 55 countries and has enabled a real culture change within the company and actual achievements on gender balance.
You can read the details and success factors here , but in a nutshell:
Why has it worked so well?
- Disruption: we’ve done stuff that had never been done before. We’ve used an internal social network infrastructure that had not been intended for that usage (it was meant to facilitate work-related exchanges, not to empower employees on a societal topic). We seeded and nurtured a grass-root movement. We’ve organized events such as self-started brainstorming sessions, giant picnics, cross-company public meetings etc. This had not been done before and I strongly believe that live events make virtual interactions sustainable.
- Inclusion: right from the start, the movement was open to all. Everyone can participate in live and online discussions, in their language, anyone can opt-in, opt-out, women and men, of any function or job grade, in any country. This is such a difference from the usual corporate-sponsored networks! Usually, you’re appointed to a group, or you’re entitled to it. It doesn’t come from you. The beauty with social networks is that you join on a voluntary basis – the only inclusion criteria is your interest in the question, your own judgement. Freedom, trust and an inclusive mindset help to break down frontiers and boundaries, and to connect people (while everyone wonders how to break silos!)
- Engagement: internal social networks enable engagement to go viral. This movement has generated positive energy; people involved have been so interested that they have managed to find resources on their own (time on top of their professional activities) to contribute. Increasing productivity and engagement is a goal for many companies but few actually implement the right tools and, above all, the right mindset.
What hasn’t worked:
- It didn’t take off really in Asia Pacific, possibly because of different expectations on gender balance but also because of a different approach to the use of internal social networks, in cultures where obedience to hierarchical authority is important.
- Although Yammer is pretty intuitive, many people have been afraid of the tool and have not invested any time in learning how it works. They feel they are “too busy” (those people are generally not on external social networks either). Some of the users have been discouraged by the quantity of email alerts that overload their mail box. They have routed all alerts in a sub-box that they seldom check. Some have stopped using the tool at all. Some people have difficulties integrating social networks in their daily routine.
- The vast majority of members is silent, a small proportion actually posts comments. This was very unsettling at the beginning but we’ve realized it’s the case on all social networks – and in real life as well! Look at the number of people who ask questions in meetings or conferences. Thanks to the broad base of members, in our case, contributors are now well diversified which makes the community interesting.
2) More recently, I had created another informal community on Yammer called “Positive Disruption”, but this one didn’t take off. The aim was to exchange ideas about disruption that could inspire us at work, as a starting point for a community of self designated change agents and intrapreneurs. The underlying project was to create a continuous stream of innovation around one specific topic that is important for my company, through regular live brainstorming events with external thought leaders and a continuous virtual discussion on the network. After a while, projects identified through those discussions would be ranked (by the community), and the best ones would go through a “factory”, a follow-the-sun co-creation collective event over a couple of days. This pretty unusual, networked, open approach to innovation hasn’t yet made its way through the management but I’m confident it will someday.
3) I have set up a “one-stop-shop to all reference information” platform for the employees who work on our Dengue vaccine project. It is a Sharepoint platform where they can find all sorts of content (scientific reference information, on-boarding documents, geolocalized information about our studies worldwide, etc.). Also, all links to business applications (whether finance, business, R&D…) are gathered here. So it makes it easy for them to look for information, and it creates a sense of community. Several hundreds of people have access to this platform. I have started with attractive content and will add on the social features later. I think it’s better than the other way round. You see many communities being built that provide little or no benefit to its members, and which says: “now, go on, speak!”. Well, it’s a bit artificial and people see no reason to spend time posting. I’ve been invited on such a community recently and I post stuff from time to time, to be polite and because I know how hard it is to generate engagement at the beginning. But really, I think everything starts with useful content.
On the basis of this SharePoint platform, I have designed and implemented a collaborative newsletter. We call it the “Magazine” and it is automatically released every month. Anyone can post short articles (equivalent to 4-5 lines of email) plus a pic and a link and speak about what they do, a meeting or a visit that took place, a project that has ended, etc. It’s a great way to share information and break silos, without making it too demanding on the social side.But it takes quite some energy to bring people into “working out loud”. Many still see the act of communicating as a waste of time, although it is a vital requirement in today’s collaborative economy.
4) I am using external social networks and curation tools for my work. Twitter and Google+ have tremendously broadened my horizons and enabled me to connect with amazing people. I’m using Pinterest, ScoopIt and Pearltree for my own interest but also for my work, as a source & a repository of relevant information. When possible, I use the collaborative curation feature.
5) Finally, I am a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a think tank of thought leaders and change agents working on their own or in large companies. Our purpose is to change the world of work (modern leadership, new business models in the era of networks). To do that, we follow an organization model that we recommend: no offices, titles, hierarchy, org chart… but a self motivated collective of people gathering around specific projects. We produce services such as executive training, to train corporate executives into social collaboration, connected work and networked organizations. We exchange ideas and work together on projects using SocialCast as a platform, and a wiki. We never exchange emails! It’s very efficient.
There are high expectations around Enterprise 2.0, some talk of evolution, some of revolution. But many success stories shrink down to stories about efficiency (do more of the same faster) – do you see any other potentials effects or potentials for change?
Some of the projects I’m working on wouldn’t have existed without social networks in the company.
The gender balance initiative is a perfect example, of course. Through this network, we’ve been able to crowd-source ideas (for free of course) – this has lead us propose a platform of 62 recommendations to our management, which has selected a few and implemented them thereafter.
What could have been the alternative to this? Asking a consultant to provide ideas (not for free, not with the same buy-in), or doing nothing.
In fields that are more related to my work, I have been able to identify and connect people in the company that I have no chance to work with (different entity or location) and that have since then become a source of inspiration – and work! I am now contributing on a project on top of my regular job, lead by a person whom I’ve met through the social network.
Increase in the variety of people that you interact with is a great driver for creativity. It also widens your network and increases your chances of success, for project roll outs for example.
What’s your personal view as an employee in a big company? Did Enterprise 2.0/social media have an impact on your career or on your motivation at work? What changed?
You know what big companies are. What saved me from hierarchy and frustration? Enterprise 2.0!
At first, it has enabled me to push forward a topic that is both important to me and critical for the organization – that is the optimal use of the talent pool, whatever gender.
It has given me back a sense of purpose, pride in my contribution, and I have met fantastic people that have inspired me.
It has opened my eyes to the world of social media and I have since then become very active on Twitter, among others. I now keep on experimenting with new stuff - my IT partners joke and say I have become more of a geek than they are!
I think social networks are a fantastic opportunity to create and expand your network, to learn, to become visible for those who wish, to advance their careers.
My career has definitely changed since I’ve jumped in the Enterprise 2.0. pool. After my successful experience with gender balance, I have suggested that the company let me apply to the business all lessons learned from this first engagement initiative. I was in business and project management before. I am now in charge of the stakeholder engagement strategy around the company’s largest business program. This includes the external and internal audiences. It is a fantastic opportunity to implement what I believe in, and what social networks enable: cross-silo, multi-stakeholder, social-based, bottom-up approaches that mix live and digital experiences. 10 projects are now being rolled out as part of the engagement strategy, which first outcomes are outstanding.
As a result of all this, I have been rewarded last December with the La Tribune (a French business newspaper) Women’s Award. This is a fantastic recognition for all the work done, and a great motivation to continue leading change.
What do you recommend employees in big organizations when they are to face Enterprise 2.0-initiatives?
For those who don’t know what to do: Take a little bit of time to get to discover how the tool works. It’s an excellent investment for yourself. There’s nothing you should be intimidated of. You can always spare an hour in your calendar and use this time to learn the tool and browse the existing communities. Then, why not create one? If you don’t know where to start, ask one of your colleagues to show you. It’s easier with someone who knows.
For those who know: Share your knowledge. Let the others know you can help, show others what they can gain from it. And continue to learn, because things change so fast.
What do you recommend managers?
Get on the social networks yourself. Open an account, watch, practice. And think about your management practice (think seriously, not just a minute). Get Wirearchy by Jon Husband, understand the revolution that is currently going on with management, follow Change agents Worldwide, read my blog… Brainstorm: Is your management adapted to the age of networks? How can you improve? It takes a lot of self-confidence to empower people around you and to let go some of the entrenched addictions to control and process.
For a long time in my career I have been frustrated by the lack of consideration for connection skills. At best, they were considered as a personal character trait; at worse, as a lack of time. All this time, I was deeply convinced, I knew that connection skills are actually a key success factor for businesses today. Organizations must be able to connect with their internal and external stakeholders! And now, thanks to Enterprise 2.0. and external social networks, organizations start to understand this. Our time has come, fellow Connectors! Time to lead the change.