Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.
When the Australian telecom Telstra was privatized after years as a government monopoly, the company was buffeted by change.
Chief Executive David Thodey decided to try something daring, says Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni. Through the internal Yammer platform he invited employees to tell him which processes, policies and IT systems slow them down and keep them from doing their best for the company.
Within an hour he had 700 responses; he assigned his executive team to solve the top 10.
He wanted employees to feel empowered “to recognize the things that were slowing them down and to say something about it,” Pisoni says. “If they did, they would be rewarded and not punished.”
Pisoni tells the story in the Ragan Training session, “Turn disruption into an organizational plus: The responsive organization.” He encourages organizations to rethink their workplace and capitalize on the open flow of information through internal social platforms, asserting that these give them a competitive edge in the new era.
Here are some takeaways:
1. Organizations must change how they exchange information internally.
The way we run companies today isn’t so different from the way it was done in the Industrial Age, Pisoni says. Yet since then, the world has seen the rise of the Internet and social media, creating instant access to information as never before.
“The whole world formed a giant network,” Pisoni says. “That is unique in human history.”
Many organizations have failed to adapt when sharing internal information. Employees can get instant access to answers and information through social networks off the job, but on the job knowledge is often tightly guarded. It’s time to open up.
2. Pushing for greater efficiency won’t solve business problems.
Until now, organizations have been able to keep up by boosting efficiency through means such as computerization, Pisoni says. But those days are gone.
“The things that we knew were right in the past are no longer right,” Pisoni says.
We need to unlearn the old ways and embrace a new decision-making protocol that will be better for both individuals and organizations as a whole, he says. Example? In many organizations, some bigwig will corner a manager and say, “You’re spending too much on travel.”
The instinct is to respond with more planning, Pisoni says. Managers think, how about making employees tell further in advance where they’re going to travel and what they’re going to spend? Let’s give them a good travel IT system to control where they can book, vendors they can choose.
3. Empower employees to make changes.
Yammer went a different route during an annual global get-together. An employee complained that the travel system didn’t support Airbnb, which was cheaper than other options.
The bosses said fine, book however you want, and here’s the price range. They went a step further, though, asking employees to post a public note telling everyone when they were arriving in town so they could share taxis with their colleagues.
The bigwigs said, “We’re going to increase your empowerment, but at the same time we’re going to increase transparency,” Pisoni says.
Result? The new procedure saved 40 percent on the cost of travel over the previous year.
4. Innovation requires unpredictability.
“We can’t innovate in a highly planned environment,” Pisoni says. “It requires unpredictability.”
Organizations, long steeped in the ethos of planning, often don’t like unpredictability. Higher-ups claim they want innovation but make it clear that it’s not OK to fail. This means nobody is going to take risks.
“Innovation is really just a combination of new ideas,” Pisoni says. “There’s no innovation, despite what you’ve heard, where somebody gets hit on the head with an apple and has a totally new, novel idea that’s disconnected from anything that’s ever been thought before. Almost all innovation is somebody taking two disconnected ideas and putting them together in a novel way.”
5. Internal social exchanges speed product development.
When one burger company released a new product, it used to take 18 months of planning, Pisoni says. This means the pressure to succeed is huge and that flops-which sometimes happen-caused serious problems.
When one new burger failed, the instinct was to say, “You know what that means?” Pisoni says. “We’re not planning enough. We don’t have enough control. Maybe it should be two years [of development]. Maybe it should be three years.”
Instead, the company put frontline servers in a Yammer group with the cooks who design the product. The frontline employees were told, “During the day when you’re serving this new burger, ask your customer what they think, and then post them through. And then we can have a conversation about it, and change the burger.”
Product development went from 18 months to four weeks, and those involved felt they had a better targeted burger. This all happened because they increased the capacity for experiment by decreasing the cost of failure.
All that means a different kind of leadership.
“Leaders become significantly more like connectors and facilitators,” Pisoni says.