The enterprise social networking tool Yammer is now used by more than 5 Million employees in 200.000 companies. Hundreds of millions of online conversations have taken place inside these companies. The question is if these conversations increase productivity? And is it effective as a Lean Management tool?
The Potential of Yammer as a Lean Management Tool
Sceptics think of Facebook and conclude that bringing such conversations into the company will be a waste of time. However, a new comprehensive study by McKinsey suggests that social technologies can increase the productivity of “interaction workers” (or knowledge workers) by 20-25%.
Their analysis suggests that the biggest potential gains from social technologies should come from a reduction of email and physical meetings. We have looked for evidence of this happening inside companies that are using Yammer as a Lean Management tool. This is what we have found:
There Is Little Evidence That Yammer is Unlocking The Productivity Potential
We have read all the Yammer cases that we could find via LinkedIn, Google, news articles and on Yammer’s own website. Then, we talked with five company-wide Yammer customers. Plus, we did come across anecdotes of new ideas, informal feedback, community feeling and other benefits. It’s a similar type of benefits that you get from the informal knowledge sharing that happens next to the coffee machine or the water cooler in most offices. It’s just on a much larger scale. Such effects are positive but we have found no evidence of productivity gains of the kind that McKinsey is suggesting.
So from this short research, e can conclude that Yammer as a Lean Management tool primarily seems to be supporting the informal organization and the community feeling in companies where employees are not co-located. This is clearly valuable but the effects are “soft”. Senior management may, therefore, be asking if it is worth the time that people spend on participation. In other words, is there a “net contribution of time” to the organization? And how can a Lean Management tool be effectively used?
Two Cases Reveal Why Productivity Gains Aren’t Realised
To dig deeper we talked with managers in two Danish companies that have deployed Yammer. Both had taken formal management decisions to roll this out to all employees.
The first, a large engineering firm, deployed Yammer late 2011 as an internal communications tool. It spread like a wildfire and people started chatting about all kinds of topics. The strategy director that we talked with felt it was like going into the cafeteria. He felt it added more noise to his already overflowing inbox. After a few months, he turned it off. So did most of the other managers. Yammer is still being used but it is now considered to be an employee benefit. It’s not a productivity tool.
The second company is a large law firm with multiple offices. Again Yammer was quickly adopted by the employees and conversations spread quickly. It became such a popular activity that the partners of the law firm decided to close it down. It was simply consuming too much time without clear benefits.
What can we learn from these Yammer experiences? Clearly, there is a desire for dialogue across departments and offices. In other words, the challenge is not how to engage people. The challenge is how to connect the increased dialogue to productivity and make contributions visible. If the managers in the two cases could see a drop in time spent on CC emails, or in physical meetings or in “reinventing the wheel” then they would most likely have been seen as clear successes and enjoyed continued support.
How To Start Unlocking The Productivity Potential
The answer to the question of whether or not Yammer as a Lean Management tool increases productivity is “perhaps and it depends”. If you believe that open conversations across the company always are positive and it will result in positive spin-off effects such as new ideas and productive relationships then the answer is yes. However, if you feel that your company already has plenty of informal conversations via email and Messenger and that more open conversations will remove focus from getting work done then the answer is no.
In our experience, there is some truth to both of these perspectives. 80% of the discussions in Yammer may be a waste of the company’s time. This leaves 20% that are not. The challenge is to separate the two. Another challenge is that when conversations turn into “cafeteria chatter” many senior managers turn Yammer off.
So, how do you bring the positive energy of the open conversations into a business context that is relevant for managers? We see two ways. The first is to create groups that are focused on specific business topics, such as “Using sales contract templates” or “Ideas for new customer events.” This will set a context that allows people with similar needs to find each other. The second is to use the company’s business processes, or workflows, as the pivots for conversation. For instance, a product development process should involve marketing, sales, purchasing, development and supply chain departments. This is a great context for value-adding business dialogue across the company. It should be followed by a concerted management effort in all domains.
Interesting in exploring how to make processes agile?
Let us know if you’re interested in a Skype call on how you could try Gluu’s method and platform in your business and as a Lean Management tool. Or if you’d prefer, you could start by reading our guide on how to build a process hierarchy.