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A little more conversation: Lessons learned from one year of Workplace

One year after launching Workplace by Facebook at nbn there's still a lot to talk about.

When was the last great conversation you had? What did it look like? How did it make you feel?

Perhaps it was when you met someone new, learnt something new or saw something from a different perspective.

Was it when you spoke to someone who you admire, who inspires you – someone you consider a leader?

Or perhaps, and this is my personal favourite, it was a conversation that shook you up a bit; words that led to action. 

nbn and Workplace by Facebook

On the 7th July 2016, nbn was the first large organisation in Australia to launch Workplace by Facebook into our organisation. After one year of managing this platform, it's clear to me that its power lies in its ability to supercharge conversation.

Examples of all the styles of conversations listed above occur on the platform on a daily basis. New people and expertise are routinely discovered, and this brings with it a diversity of ideas and voices.

Leaders at all levels have the ability to speak with their own voice and in their own style directly to employees. And, of even more value, employees can speak back. They can ask questions or seek clarification, share messages and broaden the conversation across the enterprise.

And, increasingly, smaller teams – people who need to speak to each other every day to get their work done – are using Workplace as a platform of true collaboration.

This is an especially powerful form of conversation because it can lead to information being socialised more efficiently, outcomes being reached faster and people winning back time in their day.

So… great, huh? Cool conversations. Diversity; empowerment; productivity. Drop keyboard. End blog.

No? Some insights into how nbn has been able to utilise its Enterprise Social Network (ESN) as a powerful conversational tool might be of use? Well, ok, here goes… 

Tactics first, strategy later

First of all, when things come to enterprise social, planning is not the be-all and end-all that you might think. I did write a blog four months into our Workplace experience that listed some early tips and observations about the platform.

I still stand by all of them, but these were all very tactical and practical. At that point in the process there was no ‘strategic’ vision, as such. Our strategy came after our tactics.

Yes, I can hear the teeth of change managers grinding together as well, but there were some good reasons dictating this ‘back-to-front’ approach.

Firstly, we wanted to be the first large organisation in Australia to launch Workplace, which made for  a very tight deadline. And, frankly, strategy was a luxury we could not afford.

More importantly, however, we were not absolutely sure what Workplace at nbn would, or could, look like. An ESN can be one thing or many: a broadcast communications tool; a knowledge sharing platform, a skills database, a video library, a collaboration space.

We just didn't know how the culture of our organisation would take to Workplace or what it would turn it into. 

As the platform bedded down and our people's appetite for its silo-busting, information-sharing model became clear, the strategic approach coalesced. I call it the strategy of three C's: connect, communicate, collaborate. 

The three C’s

Connecting is the first phase, the foundation stone. A critical mass of your organisation not only needs to have access to the platform, but good enough reasons to get on and actually use it.

If people don't connect to your ESN, you cannot use it to perform any meaningful communication. Leaders are extremely influential at this phase. A few leaders visibly championing the platform simply by using it can cause a significant shift in behaviour.

Communication will begin to occur on the back of strong connection on the platform. This is not merely replicating a corporate intranet, with the masses passively consuming company-wide content, but rather a move from ‘one-to-many’ to ‘many-to-many’ communications.

This is a significant shift and, when it happens, is a sure sign of platform maturity. The richness of content being shared across the enterprise will explode during this phase, which is great, but can also fragment your audience… something for corporate communicators to be aware of.

The third strategic phase is collaboration. This is the phase we're currently attacking at nbn. Collaboration builds on broadcast comms because it moves from merely sharing information to creating action around that information.

It’s a value-add and, because of the reach of Workplace at nbn – its penetration and agility – collaboration of this sort has an impact that is both fast and broad.

This is what I mean when I say Workplace's power is to supercharge conversation. At the collaboration level, people are having conversations across their teams, business units or even the entire enterprise that operate independently of proximity and benefit from a rapid exchange of ideas from any number of participants. 

A little more conversation, a little more action

At the pointy end of our strategic pyramid – built ground up on connection, then communication, then collaboration – this is resulting is reaching better outcomes, faster.

Which is not to say that happens easily or all the time. And Workplace (or any ESN for that matter) is not a panacea for an organisation's collaborative woes.

But nbn's experience demonstrates that the choice between conversation and action is not a binary one. Unlike Elvis, you can have both. You just need to find the strategic approach that will deliver it for your organisation.

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