UNICEF's adoption journey through internal social media

By Alba Perez Grandi

Defined as the “Yammer guy” in his previous role as Community Manager at UNHCR, Décsey (pictured at right) truly believes Yammer has a huge potential to develop inside UNICEF. His enthusiasm for Yammer could serve as an effective model for other international organizations as simply-communicate recently discovered.

APG: When did UNICEF start using Yammer and how many employees are now active on the network?

ED: I joined Yammer in 2011 but the process was started already in 2008 by the internal communications team at UNICEF’s New York headquarters. We are about 4300 members out of 12,000 employees so slightly more than a third are on Yammer and we have around 280 groups. What is interesting from our figures is that only 5% are accessing it through their mobile so the vast majority are interacting while they are in the office and not on the go. That’s surprising because a lot of people are mobile in this organization.

APG: And what kind of internal communication did UNICEF rely on before introducing Yammer?

ED: We relied mostly on the intranet, e-mail and some communities of practices for discussions. Before there were more interactive types of participation, quite a few communities of practice were put on the intranet and have been initially successful. These days when new communities of practice are being discussed people come and say ”why don’t we do it in Yammer” because the community of practices has a bit of an outdated user interface and are less active these days.

APG: Is Yammer integrated into your current IC tools?

ED. We are currently in the process of migrating our intranet from the Lotus Notes into SharePoint. The overall intranet is managed by our internal communications team in New York and we´re maintaining a sub area here in Geneva. At the global level, it is used primarily to publicize stories and experiences from the field and some of the articles get a lot of reactions through a commenting feature. If we had full integration of Yammer and single sign-on, users would be able to benefit from the conversational aspects of Yammer right on the intranet and interact in a very lively way.

APG: What is the outcome reached in terms of benefits for internal communications among employees?

ED: I feel that Yammer is following the SNEP model: start-up, neglect, excitement and productivity levels. This model has been referred to a lot in the Yammer customer network.

I think Yammer in UNICEF started getting quite a lot of traction, enthusiasm and then moved into a neglect phase. I think that this partly has to do with the lack of single sign-on and abscence of full integration.

Senior leader participation is obviously also a crucial element to move to the excitement and productivity levels.

I believe that we might now be moving from the neglect into the 'picking up' phase (excitement) for several reasons. Although until now Yammer has been more knowledge management, communications and IT, people start to realize there is a real potential from the operational level so you could get answers very quickly on very particular questions you have by reaching people around the world in all fields. So we are not in the benefit phase but we are kind of getting in that excitement phase again.

APG: Has knowledge sharing and collaboration increased since early adoption?

ED: Since the beginning in 2008 there has been an increase in sharing and collaboration and pockets of success from my perspective; but in the overall organization Yammer has not yet reached its full potential. For example in my division, I have created a small Yammer group  for our divisional intranet editorial board.

Before I joined people were meeting once a month, sending e-mail, putting things on the share drive. Then I arrived and I said: “Why don’t we use Yammer?”; so I created the group, invited all members and started to put the minutes of the meeting in Yammer and alerted group members so they could comment.

We then decided to add action points into the group and track progress on them. Now there is no longer e-mail, shared drive; the whole conversation is purely in Yammer.

Initially, I was the person mostly sharing the minutes. Now when someone finds a good article, they post it in the group and people react. Another useful Yammer feature occurs when we have to make decisions between two meetings. We are able to post a poll enabling people to vote.  At the meeting we review the outcome. Since the discussion has happened before we meet, the process really saves a lot of time.

APG: How do you currently champion the use of Yammer within your Division (Private Sector Fundraising) and at the global level?

ED: In my previous role before joining UNICEF, I was Community Manager for UNHCR where I created the Yammer network for the whole UNHCR and felt very enthusiastic about it. When I arrived here, I started to encourage everyone to use it.

Concretely, I’m using Yammer for specific type of meetings for the intranet editorial board, trying to use as much and as effectively as possible the features of Yammer including the Wiki stand notes. The latter is purely for action points so we can co-author and co-edit the notes in between meetings. I’m also trying to encourage members to participate. For instance, if I see a question and I know someone has the answer but isn’t on Yammer, I’ll send him the thread via email and encourage him to share his opinions by joining Yammer. At first, people might have some resistance but if it is a good topic they will be willing to use it.

I’m trying to change the mindset and always refer to Yammer whenever I meet people. In my previous work place, I used to be called the ‘Yammer guy’ so it’s about championing it, sending documents or e-mails with links to Yammer or trying to redirect to people either verbally or though links. I tried to do away with my email by creating an auto-reply, “I’m currently not reading my e-mails but you can contact me on Yammer”. That didn’t work very well.

Because of the culture and size of the organization, there is some time still required for people to be completely comfortable using the tool. However, we’ve created a 'Starting with Yammer' group with tips and video posts to ease people into the transition and make the best out of our internal social network tool.

APG: What strategy is UNICEF using to get senior executives to participate on Yammer and take an active role?

ED: Engaging senior management is crucial from my perspective to get the organization fully behind and everyone involved. Here in Geneva, we stress to manager that it doesn't take a lot of time to participate, that Yammer is available on mobile and that the ability to 'like' a post or post quick updates are sending good signals to the organization. And of course you can also create a bit of positive competition between senior managers.

For example I heard of the example of a Canadian CEO posting an employee invite to a hockey game. As a result, he drummed up strong participation on Yammer generating jealousy among other directors who ultimately decided to join Yammer also.

We've recently had our first-ever YamJam with the Division Director and it was quite a success.

APG: What are you plans to support the development of UNICEF international Yammer network across the 36 National Committees around the world?

ED: This is where we see the most value and the most potential for Yammer. Our 36 National Committees are located throughout the world and people meet once or twice a year. After those meetings the discussion is stopped or continues bilaterally via e-mails. The idea is to create an international network where all the National Committees can join and are able to share and compare their different activities and interact among themselves.

But the greatest challenge in this international network would most likely be the language barrier. Yammer’s upcoming translate button is particularly interesting for us because it would help to unite people speaking so many different languages.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by Ernst Décsey are his own, and don´t necessarily reflect those of UNICEF

Alba Perez Grandi is a junior consultant with simplygoodadvice.

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