A View from the Top – David Thodey Interview Part 3 – Reflections, On-going Challenges and Lessons Learned.

Thodey blog part 3 image

We are sharing the experiences of David Thodey, the former CEO of Australia’s largest Telecommunication company and strong Enterprise Social Networking advocate. In part 1 we looked at the key business issues Thodey faced in his six year tenure as CEO, and how he came to discover the ESN solution Yammer. In part 2 we traced his challenges, experiences and activities in formally adopting the platform as a key communication vehicle for the organisation. In this final part we bring it all together to provide reflections, challenges and lessons learned to those embarking on a similar path to Thodey’s.

For the major part, these reflections come from Thodey directly. However, at SWOOP we have had the opportunity to apply our online social networking analytics to several organisations around the world, including Telstra. We think there is much to be learnt from each others’ experiences. The analytics can provide a sharp focus to areas of need. We therefore take the liberty of weaving in additional insights gained from these comparative analyses, to provide you the reader, with as greater insights and support for your ESN implementation use as possible.

About using Yammer Thodey reflects: “It changed me personally. Conversations with people were real and authentic. I learned things“.  Often in the corporate world we find ourselves playing the ‘role’, rather than who we really are. Harking back to Thodey’s initial statement about ineffective communications, one could now appreciate this. Crafted messages from the CEO’s office. Equally crafted messages back up to the CEO’s office. Often the only authentic conversations happen in localised horizontal layers in lunchrooms and cafes. ESN’s and Yammer have the potential to change all of this. Authentic conversations across the whole organisation? We think it’s entirely possible, based on Thodey’s experiences.

On managing change Thodey is just as forthcoming. “The nature of work has changed. Collaboration is a necessity, not a nice-to-have. We had to change….and Yammer is a tool for facilitating significant change” .  Thodey is not alone here. A recent article from McKinsey entitled “Changing Change Management” identifies how traditional organisational change management must be disrupted by applying digital toolsets. Introducing change through stage-managed line management pronouncements and a plethora of focus group discussions does not scale and lacks an effective feedback loop. When you apply ESNs, discussions can be had in real-time and are accessible to all. Miscommunications or misunderstandings can be addressed and nipped in the bud. As Thodey enthused “Things that staff really cared about didn’t have to wait until the annual staff engagement survey to be aired”. As with all other digital disruption case studies, the traditional time honored way of doing things has been “blown out of the water”. Organisational change is always hardest in long established heritage style organisations like Telstra. But as time moves on the reports of a new way of working are now becoming commonplace. Author, futurist and commentator Jacob Morgan in his most recent book  “The Future of Work”, cleverly articulates what the (near) future world of work will look like. He provides many examples of organisations working more as a network, some with no managers and all largely digitally enabled. Typically, today’s examples are for smaller organisations of less than 10,000 employees. Morgan acknowledges that the majority of today’s larger organisations have grown up still under the influence of Henry Ford’s automotive empire. We explored some unfulfilled challenges with Thodey.

As much as Thodey was enthused at what an ESN and Yammer could do for him, he acknowledges that for large, established enterprises like Telstra, the journey has just begun. The experience with the response to the missed KPI discussion brought home the fact that the organisation was still not thinking as one. His desire to have customers and partners involved in their Yammer conversations was also still work in progress when Thodey left. The mean score for active users in our benchmarking group was 20%, with a best score of 31%. The results suggest that the 90% readers, 9% responders, 1% creators rule of thumb no longer applies.   But what is a good score? How much should people really be interacting on the ESN? The jury is still out on this one. Those that see the platform as a simple Q and A forum might be quite happy with infrequent usage. Others, which includes Telstra, have ambitions to drive usage right down to the team level. We asked Thodey what he thought would be a good target and he suggested that perhaps up to a 60% score for active and interacting staff should be achievable.

Other areas he reflected on included the use of the ESN to enable staff to manage their own profiles, with their competencies assessed by peers; “we shouldn’t have to run to HR every time we need to find out something about someone”.  As well as being a fan of open communication, Thodey is also a big fan of open data; “we can’t control information any more…we just have to go with it”. We have seen examples of this with the government Open Data initiatives. It is however a risk/reward decision, as we have found when personal privacy information violations have occurred. Analytics also got a mention in his reflections “analytics are very important, and we would have benefitted from better analytics”.  On the topic of tools, Thodey was careful not to oversell the tool over the human aspects. He did however comment that “Where I think people need help is in understanding what to use when. There is a time for email, or for writing a document. But if you want open and authentic conversations at scale then email is not it.” [1]

Finally we closed our session with a question on what advice he could offer to other CEO’s and Leaders like himself. Succinctly he responded with “You [emphasis on ‘you’] need to decide what you want from a tool like Yammer. For me personally, it was an imperative to have authentic and real conversations with my staff”. We think he is not alone with this aspiration!

[1] We have analysed the use of multiple channels of communications including Yammer, Email, Instant Messaging, Personal contact etc..here http://blog.optimice.com.au/?p=552

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