If you have ever found yourself in the position of introducing new policy at your organization, you have most likely been warned that “culture eats policy (or, sometimes strategy) for lunch.” That is to say that, regardless of the policy or strategy you are working to introduce, the culture of your organization will win the day.

If the members of your sales team normally call clients to thank them for business, and a policy is set that all thanks must be made over email so the correspondence can be documented, chances are good that phone calls will still be made. If your communication team likes to collaborate on an article before it is shared with the rest of the staff, and a policy is set that requires all staff to have input on editorial projects as soon as they begin, the actual start date of a project will most likely just be shifted a bit so that the communication team can still have first crack at the article before everybody else. Set whatever policy you like, but the culture of your organization tends to be a strong determining factor.

We went through much the same thing when we introduced Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social network, at our organization. Without a strong culture of transparent collaboration and open communication, our staff had a challenging time making the leap from email to Yammer. From private to public. From closed to open.

Over time though, the benefits of Yammer became clear. We could see what other teams were working on without waiting to hear things through the office grapevine. We could collaborate more effectively with our own teams in the Yammer platform, and we found ways to connect with other colleagues we may not have even had an opportunity to meet had it not been for Yammer.

Whether work is being done in Yammer, or Slack, or Facebook or any other community platform, an investment of time, patience and education usually pays off with a workforce that is more connected, more collaborative and more transparent. And then what happens?

Then, culture takes over. In time, a staff that was once silent and private is now public and communicative. Conversation begins with projects and work, and ends with family, pets and vacation. And then culture and policy clash.

Now, an enterprise social network that was designed as a place where work would be done now must also be a place where staff can talk about valuable things having nothing to do with work at all. Now, we recognize that staff colleagues can become closer to one another, and work more effectively with one another, if they know the names of our children, what kinds of pets we have, and where we have just returned from vacation.

When staff connect on these non-work type of issues, they now know each other better, they feel more comfortable and connected with each other, and now they can get work done. And then policy is introduced.

“Our Yammer network is for work only.” “All new Yammer groups must be approved by your supervisor.” “Your posts must follow these guidelines.” Though such policies make sense in concept, in reality there is a disconnect, and everyone should recognize that the Yammer network is a positive reflection of your workspace.

In other words, whether it is your office or your Yammer network, everyone is there in the first place because of work. Work will get done, because work needs to get done. Workplaces are created, means of communication are provided, and staff teams are present. Nobody wants to lose their job, so whether that work takes place in a cube or in a Yammer group, the work will get done.

Management and HR concerns about inappropriate content and conversations are valid, but those same concerns exist whether the work is getting done in the cubicle or in Yammer. Actually, the concerns should be reduced in Yammer because anything that shouldn’t be there is easy to track, easy to prove and easy to act upon.

If we let our policy feed our culture, and our culture feed our policy, and let each of them grow and respond naturally, and in a way that makes sense for the environment in which the work is getting done and conversation is happening, a positive, constructive work environment will be created and maintained.

Feed your culture. Feed your policy. Time for lunch.

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