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What Are You Working On?
Global knowledge sharing at Deloitte

By Simon Townsend / January 2012

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What do 4500 accountants, auditors, tax experts and consultants have in common? Each other.

In November 2008 I was working as an online headhunter, trying to identify technologists for a role within Deloitte Australia's consulting service line. A startup caught my attention and I signed up to see what it was all about. As it turned out it was an empty stream; I was the first person to join using the domain. Being on Yammer from the very beginning has allowed me the opportunity to witness the genesis and maturity of a social network.

For those who don't know, Yammer is a real time, many-to-many, communication platform that asks the question: "What are you working on?" It is designed for collaboration between coworkers. Constrained to a single domain it is perhaps easiest to think of it as Twitter in a protected environment without the 140 character limit.

Gradually other people from the firm joined me. Most were from Melbourne and discussion ranged from the best coffee houses, the most challenging cycle paths, and tips on how to get back up to speed when returning from maternity leave. It was a small virtual water-cooler where the digital kids hung out.

Fairly soon though, someone asked a serious business question and answers were offered quickly from other service lines and interstate. The idea of a real knowledge sharing space was born.

The tipping point came when Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital, saw the opportunity to test the platform when we launched a campaign to create advertising slogans for our Green Dot logo. He sent a voice mail to all employees encouraging them to submit their slogans and comment on others using our brand new Yammer internal channel.

The result was astonishing. Hundreds of people signed up and submitted more than 1500 slogans, which were developed through the Yammer conversation. Many of the new sign ups were watchers or "lurkers," rather than idea generators. But that was fine; confidence needs to build to make an effective network.

That initial uptake of 1000 people slowed, but the network continued (and continues) to grow organically as people spread the word to their colleagues. The easy access to information started to change the way we worked with each other. Service line divisions began to dissolve as people found like minds across the organization. Tribes formed around shared experiences outside work, which created stronger bonds within. We appeared to have cracked the silos conundrum across an enterprise.

Today Deloitte has a network of more than 4500 members in Australia and has recently launched a global network that supports more than 28,000 current users to share information easily across international borders. The global network is open to all Deloitte employees and we anticipate having all 182,000 users online in the near future.

Why Yammer Works for Deloitte

Deloitte in Australia uses the microblogging tool to crowd source answers to questions. Yammer has been instrumental in locating experts, sharing successes and interesting articles, and, most excitingly, has helped us to extend idea development in conjunction with our Innovation Academy platform.

It is a great tool to flatten the organization; our senior partners and the executive team often engage graduates in conversation about their experiences. In fact our CEO, Giam Swiegers, reads the entire stream at least every other day. As the CEO he is in a powerful position to truly keep his finger on the pulse of the organization.

The success of Yammer in Deloitte comes as a result of grass-roots exuberance meeting top down enablement. The simple interface and real-time conversational nature is addictive. Swiegers joined on April 1, 2009 (making a few of us think it was a joke) and quickly demonstrated that this was a safe place to be human. When one of our managers posted "That's it for me tonight; my daughter wants to use the laptop. Shhh, don't tell Deloitte," Giam replied; "I won't."

Of course there are rules of the road; we crowd-sourced ours through Yammer. These rules are about encouraging rather than restricting, advising people how to get the best from the platform, and reminding them of our code of professional conduct. The basis of Deloitte's policy and guidelines revolves around one of our guiding values, empower and trust.

The culture within Deloitte lends itself to networking and sharing knowledge, which has certainly led to the success of Yammer. To provide better service to our clients we need to be able to access the latest information quickly and use that to build insight. As a result people feel motivated to provide their best thoughts to shared articles or questions. The built in recognition tools allow for instant feedback as people "like" a reply, or bestow "praise" on a contributor.

We've had more than 25,000 messages posted since the beginning of 2010, which does call for moderation to ensure the steam is appropriate. We follow a self-moderating model where all users keep an eye on the network they consider their own. And so far, we have self-moderated successfully.

Return on Investment

Being a professional services firm with many accountants, an advanced analytics division, and a strategic consulting arm, it was unlikely the Yammer could avoid being analyzed for return on investment.

Aside from the linkages between divisions that have enabled an integrated culture and collaboration to grow and flourish and supported a long held goal of cross selling services, we decided early on that the best measure would be replies to posts.

Those generating conversation were obviously adding value to the network and we worked with Yammer's team, to create our own leaderboards, which gives us statistical information about network activity.

In addition, a powerful return on investment has been to enable our staff to better understand each other and take part in a conversation that supports them in working together to increase their knowledge. They are continuing to build new ways to support the markets we work in to help them grow in confidence and capacity.

About the Author

Simon Townsend is the Manager of Innovation at Deloitte Australia. He is a member of Deloitte's Social Media Steering Committee, and he was instrumental in the launch of @Green_Dot, the firm's Twitter presence. Townsend has spent the last decade working with the Web and social technology, both in front and behind the scenes. Simon blogs at Twelve2 and can be found on Twitter @wittering.

The views in this document are those of the author and do not represent the views of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu or any of its affiliates (Deloitte). This document is provided as general information only and does not consider any one's specific objectives, situation or needs. You should not rely on the information in this document. Neither the author nor Deloitte accept any duty of care or liability to anyone regarding this document or any loss suffered in connection with the use of this document or any of its content


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