People are more important than technology – a story about Enterprise Social Networking

Can I see your passport please?
Can I see your passport please?

I arrived at the boarding gate pretty early for me and benefitted from going straight to the front desk due to my frequent flyer privileges (believe me, no queuing = a great experience). Being a modern sort of chap I handed the lady on the left of the gate my iPhone with my boarding pass on it and greeted her with a smile and a hello.

I’m known at work for being a big fan of the Enterprise Social Network tool Yammer. Soon after we started working with Yammer in 2009 the nice people at Yammer gave me a whole load of ‘Yammer schwag’ which included iPhone covers to give out to people. Someone I work with scratched the branding off the back of his. My phone still has the cover, unscathed.

Turning the phone over screen downwards to place onto the QR code scanner, the lady said, “Oh, Yammer. Are you with us?”

I must have looked a bit quizzical because the other lady on the right hand side of the gate chimed in. “Are you with BA?” she said. “They want us all to use Yammer. But we don’t.” There was a small ripple of rebellious laughter between the two of them.

Now I was smiling. I’ve faced similar challenges with Yammer adoption in my company. Needless to say for any number of reasons they are far from solved.

“Oh, why don’t you use it?” I asked.

“I’m scared to!” lady on left said, as if using Yammer would infringe her basic civil liberties.

“I have a therapist for that…” said lady on right, chuckling.

This was not a response I was expecting. People are great entertainment.
“How do you mean?” I probed.

“Well, you know if I want to, uh, express myself then I’ll go to a therapist. I’ll sit down and talk through any issues I have. I’ll work it out that way…” She paused briefly and then said knowingly, “They want us to express ourselves.”

Laughing, I suggested both of them ought to express themselves as they never know what it might do for their own profiles within British Airways. Maybe it would impress their boss.

“Nah,” they both said together.
“Nothing ever changes. Not for us, anyway,” said lady on right.

Smiling, I wandered off to board the plane with those words ringing in my ears. Customer facing people in ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’ feel their feedback isn’t valued and is actively ignored. So much so that they won’t even share it, and they avoid using the latest technologies to do so.

So much for ‘To Fly, To Serve’ eh?

Of course, this may be an isolated incident. But I’m curious to know. What went wrong with British Airways’ implementation of Yammer? And what should they do to put it right?

Your views welcomed.

2 thoughts on “People are more important than technology – a story about Enterprise Social Networking

  1. Hello David,

    Almost everyone who has made it to adulthood knows – at the level of body – that it is unsafe to ‘express oneself’. We are not conditioned to express ourselves; we are actively conditioned not to express ourselves and to follow orders, do as the authority figures mandate, to fall in step with cultural practices and be ‘good little sheep’. Turning ‘sheep’ into self-expressive ‘wolves’ is an uphill task at best. It is particularly so, if it occurs to the ‘sheep’ (inside of each of us) that expressing ourselves means putting ourselves at the mercy of the ‘wolves’: the powerful in any organisation especially one that provides your living.

    As Werner Erhard said “The context is decisive.” And the context just about in any organisation renders it unsafe to honestly speak one’s authentic voice. Where the context is one of ‘Master-Slave” slaves will show up as slaves- not doing anything to risk the wrath of their Masters. That includes going through the motions of compliance.

    All the best

  2. Sounds like they just need to be shown a reason, a benefit to them and a relevant example of improvement through collaboration.

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