Sunday, 25 November 2012

(Why) Should the Genie be put back into the Bottle?

We have in interesting dynamic going on at work.  Yammer's been released into the wild! "Hoorah!", you might think; and that's certainly been the reaction from a proportion of my #PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter when I mentioned it last week - something for which I cannot take any direct responsibility, however.  

It appears that it's sneaked in via a back-door approach that Microsoft exploits, whereby it invites a user or users into the Yammer network via their publicly-available work e-mail address, and then those people invite others into the network, who then join up in the mistaken belief that it's been officially sanctioned.  Indeed, I was invited to join the Yammer community by my Boss!  It now seems that our colleagues in IT have been caught on the hop and that this cloud-based Yammer instance is unsecured and outwith our corporate firewall.

What's really interesting tho' is the speed and enthusiasm with which my colleagues - across the whole business - are jumping onto the bandwagon.  There's an obvious thirst and enthusiasm for the tool and the conversations that are opening up.  So we have a dilemma...

Do we (HR and IT) get all 'command and control' and close it down arbitrarily (we're going to get an internal collaboration tool in our new 'Employee Portal' intranet next year anyway), or do we take a leap of faith, sit back and see how it plays out?  

I reckon that, with some lead-by-example input (this blog being one of them) and some light touch 'don't be a d**k' guidance, this could be a real opportunity to show trust, encourage engagement and - bottom line - see some authentic dialogue, conversations and collaborative activity start to happen.

I think there are going to be some very interesting discussions during the next couple of weeks.

What would you do in the circumstances? What would your corporate/IT/HR view be in the circumstances? I'd love to hear and share your thoughts and opinions with our new, growing internal network - and maybe create some new channels and relationships amongst us all.  At least until we shut it down...


  1. This is certainly a very interesting position to be put in!

    Here's a perspective on what can happen when you give people access to technology they've never had before. It's a TED video

    For those who want a synopsis, it shares the story of what happens when you put a computer in a village in India where they've never had PC access of any sort. Remarkably, the children (in this case) produce videos, access programs, the internet and applications and get stuck in.

    So, what I'm suggesting is, let it be. If people are already investing their time and talking to each other, what's the harm in letting it continue?

    IT can impose what they need in order to make it manageable, but experience has taught me that in a situation like this, if it gets shut down you've suddenly made it a hygiene issue and you'll have mutiny on your hands.

  2. A totally different TED Talk jumped into my mind:

    It's not related to this exactly, but in it Jason Roberts explains how they built a better block by ignoring local council rules and also making people just assume that things were true (e.g. "We told people, oh yeah, this is the bike part of town, and they believed it.")

    The other night I was at a Weelearning event in Bristol and was hearing someone else describe how many websites, especially social media and YouTube, are barred in their workplace. I made the argument that wherever there are rules, there are people circumventing them. This is a perfect example.

    I'd much rather businesses spent time setting out clear boundaries about expectations (e.g. don't give customer data away or else), rather than spending most of their time blocking things they should allow employees to innovate and solve problems.

  3. This happens a lot. - i.e. Yammer or Chatter or some such. I am guilty of introducing things like this myself. What's the phrase, 'no one washes a hire car'. What does it matter who introduces the tool and whether it is 'HR's' or 'belongs' to IT or Corporate Comms? The main thing is that it helps people work together better and do better work. Yes, some clear boundaries may be needed, but usually a common sense approach works perfectly well. Sometimes it is simply necessary to deal with the rare exceptions to courteous behaviour.
    In the main, I am so grateful to live in an age where I can go and grab tools myself, instead of having to wait for some stinky over priced, over engineered, over controlled software to appear.

  4. Sukh / Rob / Flora,
    First off, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment back. I'm making sure that my internal audience is aware of your responses. To be clear, I wasn't suggesting that we should close down Yammer; in fact, proposing, like yourselves, that we show some leadership and trust and, with some appropriate and common sense guidance, let the conversations and collaboration demonstrate and reap the value.
    Exciting times!

  5. I managed to sign-up one of my workgroups to Yammer this way. Very clever viral approach since it looks like its all been set-up officially.

    But I say go with it, lead by example, add some light touch 'rules of engagement' to keep the lawyers happy and see how it goes.

    As they say its better to ask for forgiveness... ;-)

    1. Thanks John, wise words, which I am trying to live by here.

  6. Hi Niall,

    I had exactly the same experience as yours in a previous organisation I worked with. Within months we had 700 active users, with real, measurable business benefits, but then a senior manager got invited!

    The end result was that Yammer was blocked for anyone accessing via the company network, and anyone that posted got warned off.

    Subsequent officially-sanctioned social networking projects didn't take off either because they were so "locked down" as to be unusable (eg. only access from a known IP address - impossible for home users!) or because of innovation fatigue (a lot of trust was lost when the Yammer site got closed down).

    Try to stick with it, and, if possible go with the paid-for version. Although the prices do tend to rack up for big organisations, it does give a lot more control.


    1. Thanks Mark, exactly my fears and those of several of my like-minded colleagues. It's the trust issue and the potential loss of momentum which most concerns me if it gets pulled now. Assuming that this doesn't happen, I hope that we will be able to manage the transition to whatever our officially sanctioned tool becomes when it is introduced into our emerging Employee Portal next year - maybe we are making the business case for paid yammer already?

  7. Problem is that when you scale (we got around 1K users) on the "free" service organically, you got problems with invite spamming, and huge security issues.

    If you don't know everyone, who do you challenge? And since you were allowed only x challenges a month it became unwieldy.

    Easy to block incoming mails from and you could firewall the web off.

    Internal "approved" services were/are available - but mugh higher friction than Yammer

    1. Steve, apologies; only just seen your recent comment (for which, my thanks). Looks like our IT Security guys are going to close this instance of Yammer down, for the very reasons you mention. Our new - soon-to-be-released Employee Portal will have a SoMe tool built in, so hopefully we will be able to transition from one to the other without losing our members goodwill...