The main reason Hall & Wilcox has been successful with Yammer is because we’ve had the support and encouragement of our Managing Partner Tony Macvean and our COO Sumith Perera. This blog post is an interview with Tony and Sumith and their thoughts on Yammer.
Tony has been the Hall & Wilcox Managing Partner since 2007. He is well recognised in the legal sector and has led the firm through a period of substantial growth and success.
Sumith is the Chief Operating Officer and the national Head of Corporate Services at Hall & Wilcox. He has over 20 years’ experience in leading and managing teams at professional services firms.
Yammer at Hall & Wilcox
Why is collaboration important and how can Yammer help?
Tony: Research from Heidi Gardner from HBS has demonstrated that firms that collaborate well are better able to solve clients “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) problems – and therefore build stronger client relationships driving greater revenue. We seek to differentiate ourselves by collaborating well across teams and offices. Yammer is an important way in which we do this. Yammer is also a way in which people connect personally both within and across teams and offices.
Sumith: I think our competitive strength as a firm is around collaborating and demonstrating to clients that the power of the different groups and the different approaches and styles and thinking that we can bring to a client problem and I think that Yammer helps us to collaborate better. Even in the last couple of weeks I've seen people posting questions about legal issues or client issues where others chime in and try and help and I think that's one way we can differentiate ourselves in a competitive market.
When we were expanding to multiple offices across Australia, what part did Yammer play?
Tony: As leaders, it is essential for us to be continuously be communicating and connecting with our people. This is especially the case as we have grown quickly by adding teams and opening offices across the country. A competitive advantage for us is being “one firm” and collaborating seamlessly across offices and teams. Communicating using yammer enables us to drive our one firm culture and ensure that everyone is involved in what is going on.
Having Jason has made a real difference in helping us understand and use Yammer.
Sumith: Yammer was invaluable when we were expanding. A whole bunch of people joined at the same time and they didn't really know a lot of people around the film, much about the firm and Yammer had been reasonably well established in the Melbourne office. With us expanding, people were able to make some sort of connection with the firm and the people that make up the firm and some of the new people that joined like the Newcastle office really took the reins and were passionate about posting and sharing information sharing both the highs and the lows and showed some of the challenges of joining a new firm as a start-up office and I think we've replicated that experience around the country
How has Yammer helped with promoting our core values, the Hallmarks?
Tony: We have had great success in entrenching our Hallmarks – our values – as a way of life in the firm. Yammer has really helped with this. Hallmarks are frequently mentioned on yammer platforms. In most weeks in my weekly “MacWrap” I will mention one or more of the #Hallmarks.
Sumith: The hashtag feature is pretty important and the number of posts these days that people hashtag one of our values like #bettertogether is always visible throughout the place and it's great to see that people are using some of the features of Yammer to call out behaviours and examples of our core values has really brought them to life.
How do people use Yammer now compared to in the past? What has changed?
Tony: I think that now most of our people accept – and embrace – the use of Yammer and its importance as a communication tool. I think that these days if I post something on the All Company Yammer group, I can be confident that most people will read it. I’m not sure that this was always the case.
Sumith: It's great to see the increasing amount of business use. At the start I think some of the reservation in the partnership was about Yammer being very much a social platform for the firm. That was of value but we felt that we would get even more out of it by having a balance of business and social and I think that now that balance is pretty right whereby people are sharing information about what's happening around the firm, asking questions, asking for advice or guidance to particular issues or recommendations before they have issues so yeah I think that the balance is about right now.
What are some of your most memorable Yammer conversations/moments?
Tony: I do a weekly “MacWrap” – which tends to include some personal reflections and opinions as well as a summary of what is going on. We try to use different media as much as possible (Jason helps!). Whilst preparing the MacWrap is a significant task each week, I value it as an opportunity to share and connect, and people say that they appreciate our transparency and honesty. I would say that it is a privilege doing the MacWrap.
The MacWrap when I bribed 400+ people (out of 500 odd at the time) to like the post with the bounty of a free leave day was a favourite, as was the half day leave pass MacWrap.
Sumith: Tony's leave post was pretty good, with the additional days leave there was a rush to get the numbers up and that was terrific. I love seeing a lot of the social posts. From the Animals of Hall and Wilcox through to the rev heads of the Top gear group which you know shows a personal side of people. In a business it's easy to talk about business and clients but it's also really important that we understand who our people are, what they're interested in, and what's happening in their life. Yammer gives us an opportunity to do that across the country.
What was the Dyson vacuum story?
Sumith: I was looking for a recommendation on a Dyson vacuum cleaner. I'd heard all the hype and I wasn't sure whether I should buy one and I put it out there and the number of posts, it wasn't as big as Tony's leave post, but for its day when we were only one office it was a pretty big post I think I had 50 comments or something that's about a vacuum cleaner of all things.
What are some of your favourite Yammer groups and why?
Tony: If I am being honest, I would say that I think that we probably have too many groups and could do more curating – or maybe be more selective about who is subscribed to each group. I’m not sure if Yammer – or at least how we use Yammer – is the best tool for projects. I also think we could also be better at shutting down inactive groups. There seems to be a lot of general groups to which everyone is subscribed. I think that it becomes overwhelming for people (at least for me!).
I tend to find out the most relevant information on the All Company group. I also like the office groups for insight into what is happening in each office. Client feeds can be useful although some are rarely used.
Sumith: The Top Gear group is really interesting as most people probably know I’m into cars and a bit of a rev head and it's great to know that there are a few others out there. One of the group members recently posted about all of the cars that he's had throughout his life and that was fascinating to see. Others have chimed in. It's interesting what people's interests and likes and dislikes are - that personal connection keeps it interesting it's also great for someone like me when you're walking around other offices to know something personal about people. So just about every office there's people posting about the volunteering activities that they're involved in or their pets or you know holiday places that they've been to and that's always a great conversation starter.
Yammer and Leadership Involvement
You are both doing a great job of leading by example, how much time do you spend on Yammer and how often should leaders post or reply?
Tony: I try to keep on top of my yammer feed and all the groups. It takes a lot of time – between 30 mins and an hour a day. I think that I know more about what is going on as a result. I’m not sure if it has saved me time on email!
I think that Leaders should be top of important yammer feeds (All Company, their team, their office, major clients). I think that Leaders should show support by liking and responding to posts where possible. Not all leaders will post on yammer – I think it can be a great communication tool.
Sumith: My Yammer usage varies from week to week. I try and look at my feed you know a couple of times a day but that doesn't always happen. If nothing else I try and like what others are doing and my posting varies on any given week as but I try and get on there and like what others have done that comment on what others have done. That's probably my biggest use of Yammer at the moment. I haven't really posted a lot or started any conversations in the last few weeks for example.
I think it is for me as well when I post a weekly update and I know when Tony posts a MacWrap there's nothing better than knowing that people have read it. It takes a lot of time and effort to come up you know with updated information and we're both really committed to doing it but it's really rewarding when you know that people are reading it.
If you had to explain to another C-Suite leader what the value of Yammer is what would you tell them?
Tony: Yammer is a great way of communicating, connecting and telling stories.
Sumith: Yammer has in a practical sense reduced email traffic. I used to hate getting the all user emails on various items that were happening around the firm I prefer reading them in my own time on a platform like Yammer and seeing what others have to say this is a pretty efficient way to do it.
Having access for people no matter where they are is a useful thing. Getting feedback from people is a useful feature and far more effective in communicating that that are one way email. To have a two-way conversation and having that visible to multiple people is really powerful.
We had a pretty good adoption rate with Yammer but did you struggle to get senior management involved?
Sumith: I think it varies. There are senior people across the firm that are really active participants starting conversations and commenting on conversations but as with any platform or technology you're going to have people that are right into it and others that will take it or leave it and others that won't want a bar of it and I think Yammer is no different. We've got those people which I think of a majority of people who can see the value in it and are active participants in one way or another.
As you can tell, Yammer democratizes Hall & Wilcox. When you have the COO like your post it is really meaningful and it's not a financial reward, it's the online recognition and engagement. That’s motivating for a lot of people.
SWOOP has researched the link between senior managers’ use of enterprise collaboration tools and how it energises their people. The research shows that you can expect as much as 50% improvement in use.
@Jason Soo is a Technology Trainer at Hall & Wilcox an independent business law firm. Jason connects people with technology and has taken a leading role engaging their people on Yammer for better performance and collaboration. Jason specialises in E-Learning, Office 365, Enterprise Social Networks and eDiscovery.
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