How a Digital Jam can spread fresh thinking on corporate culture
Starting to move the whole organisation in a post merger integration to one new culture, achieved outstanding engagement through genuine, open and informal exchange
When a specialist European pharmaceutical company acquired another business in Switzerland, it needed a way to bring all employees together and integrate them in one new culture. That’s where Telos Partners stepped in and united everyone in a digital jam.
During the integration, messages had been top down and serious – a tone reflective of the change and uncertainty in the business. But feedback from pulse surveys suggested that the company and its employees operated best when being innovative, and a more informal approach was needed to promote the sharing of ideas.
As the first phase of a project to define the culture, Telos helped the business set up an online company-wide conversation.
The 36-hour digital jam was promoted like a major internal event – communicated to everyone.
Prepping senior execs to think informally
While the chief executive was an advocate of digital jams, having participated in a previous role, the concept was new to the rest of the leadership team.
A rehearsal session was vital, says Telos consultant Nigel Borowski. “Often, senior leaders are not from a digital-savvy generation, so we got them playing with the platform.
We also wanted to get them comfortable with the provocative nature of questions and help them move beyond the anxiety of making their first post. “We talked to them about tone of voice – we asked them how they wanted to be seen, what their online persona would be. In that format, it’s important to encourage leaders to be themselves, be chatty, have open conversations.”
As part of the rehearsal, execs were asked to introduce themselves in a relaxed, social way, and to add a profile picture – and not necessarily a typical corporate headshot; the CEO posted a photo of himself at the top of a mountain with his wife and kids.
“Some of the pictures were hilarious,” says Nigel. “We told them to chat online as if you’re having coffee with someone and not as if they were on a stage. Use layman’s language. Be yourself.”
Encourage positive and negative feedback
Although digital jams require moderators, the prospect of inviting unsolicited comments can still be daunting. Leaders need to be ready for honest and open conversations.
“It’s important to remind leaders that they should want to hear what others are saying,” says Nigel. “Online conversations are not a place for pushing info down. Encourage all opinions, so that the business can tackle them. If you get strong feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, that’s good. The worst thing is silence.
“That can be a challenge to leadership teams – you’re asking them to have conversations that might not always be 100 per cent in line with what they would want to say formally.”
It’s valuable to also get other influencers throughout the business on board early, advises Nigel. “They might be mavericks in the business who have a following, even if they don’t have any formal authority. They might have a strong view or opinion to share. If there are any dissenters in the organisation, try and bring them into the conversation, too. Engage them in a way that’s positive.”
Structuring conversations on a flexible platform
Telos and the leadership team together decided upon six core conversation threads to run simultaneously – from how well the business collaborates to how patient focused it is.
For the jam, Telos worked with its technology partners at innoloop to develop a platform to host the on-line discussion in the company’s brand. It could be accessed through any mobile or desktop device, creates discussion tiles and builds word clouds from employees’ posts, so everyone can see the hot topics straight away. Posts can be sorted by latest or most liked, and moderators could reorder discussions to encourage more activity on certain issues.
“As we moved to the end of day one, we reprioritised topics, to get people to comment on other conversations,” says Nigel. “We also prompted the leaders to respond more where necessary.”
Open, honest sharing of real stories
The aim was to encourage employees to share their stories – real examples of how things work within the business and the actions they have taken.
Of the 420 employees in the company, 358 were active in the jam, some were observers browsing and appreciating the views and comments of others with the vast majority then fully participating.
“We had the option to set views to anonymous,’ says Nigel, “but we encouraged people to be open and frank. We did a lot of work to get the tone of conversations right before we started and that made people feel comfortable.”
The digital jam was greeted well by employees, though Nigel warns that if you’re working across timezones, there are logistical issues to consider.
“The number of employees in timezones out of Europe – in the US, for instance – was quite small and, we realised, there were not enough to keep the conversation going and things slowed down. It required the leaders and moderators to get the energy back the next working day. It felt like two waves.
“For some audiences, it might work better to have a full day with a break overnight, and then kick it off again the following day.”
The executive team involved loved it.
“They were blown away by the volume of engagement and the quality of conversations. They had been used to a negative tone, and people flagging dissatisfactions. Once you start provoking stories about how and where the company is delivering at its best, it’s great. We used all the feedback to help define the company’s culture and values.”
It is a good process for moving your culture from being just a set of words, concludes Nigel. “You can use your people to encourage collaboration and influence the type of organisation you’re going to be. If you are open to this kind of platform, people can see they have a voice and a part to play – and that the organisation is listening.”
If you are interested in designing a captivating and exciting engagement process or running a digital jam in your organisation and want to know more, contact Nigel at firstname.lastname@example.org.