At a Microsoft conference a few years ago, the Yammer team was enthusiastically describing features that would be rolled out on the enterprise social network platform during the year to come. A young software engineer was taking questions, and a member of the audience said “Our CEO does not come to our Yammer network very often, so can you make it so we can post on behalf of someone else?”
The young engineer replied that they are always looking into new features and new ways to support the community, and refused to commit to anything. I approached the engineer after the the presentation had ended and begged that they never introduce such a feature. I shared my concern that doing so would stop the hard fought progress we were making on creating an environment of sincere and authentic communication throughout our organization.
At the time, the Yammer engineer agreed with me, and yet this year Yammer will be introducing the ability to post on behalf of senior leadership at your organization. In the Yammer developer documentation, this new feature is called “Impersonation.” The Microsoft community refers to this functionality as #POBO (Post On Behalf Of).
I understand why #POBO is being introduced. Senior executives are busy, and yet they need to be able to communicate with the entire staff. Now, with the inclusion of #POBO functionality, important messages can be shared with staff, and staff can feel like they are hearing directly from leadership. #POBO seems like an easy fix to a prevalent problem, but it’s not.
It comes down to a simple measure of sincerity. If we want our organizations to be sincere in their communications and messaging, then senior leaders need to find the time and opportunity to communicate important messages themselves. They may be in a rush to share the information, and there may be typos and inadvertent errors along the way, but those will ultimately serve as signposts that the information we are seeing really came from the person who is sharing the information. Too often, information to which we are exposed is written, edited and vetted by committee. There is usually very little character or passion, only information. Sometimes, we just want to hear from a person.
You know what I mean. You have recently gone to a website only to be greeted immediately by a pop-up message asking if help or additional information can be offered. We know there is no one there, and we immediately dismiss the information because we know the communication is happening only because some clever programmer developed an AI chat bot, not because the site is being staffed and monitored by a real human being.
The email we receive with the important organization update, signed by an executive VP, was most likely written by a person in the communications department, reviewed by legal and HR, and then sent out by administrative support with the VP’s name attached.
Simon Terry, charter member of Change Agents Worldwide writes in his blog article Leadership Theater “If you are too busy to lead, then you are not a leader. Leadership is work, not a status. If you don’t do the work those who have given you authority and influence will offer that work to others.”
In other words, our senior leaders need to be the ones doing the work of communicating with their staff. They need to be leading. We want to hear from our leadership, and we want to know the voice is sincere and authentic. As Michael J. Fox’s character Lewis Rothschild said so beautifully in the movie The American President, “They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”
It’s easy. Log in to Yammer and make a post. Better yet, make your post a question. Show us that, although you have important information to share with us, you want to hear from us as well. Information is already pushed at us all day every day. How can your message rise above the noise of everything else we are hearing, everything else we are told we need to be paying attention to?
It’s because your message is sincere. It’s because your message is more than a printed memo arriving on our desk in a manilla envelope that has been circulating our office for years. You have gone into Yammer and shared your information. And now, because we have heard directly from you, you can hear directly from us. Some senior leadership may shy away from such direct communication, but it is through this direct communication that real information can be shared, that the feedback loop is truly complete, and that our organization can continue to grow and thrive.
Melanie Hohertz, Midwest Region Modern Workplace Transformation, Offering Lead at Avanade writes in her wonderful Sock Puppets and Social Collaboration blog article “We need to think beyond pushing messages and reaching people, and focus on supporting multi-directional conversations and personal, non-hierarchical connections. We need these genuine moments with our leaders more than ever in this time of industrial disruption, pandemic, and civic unrest. Leader connectivity and authenticity are two of Yammer’s superpowers, and now is the time to invest in them, not undermine them.”
The ability to post on someone else’s behalf will be introduced soon, because it has been one of the most requested Yammer features for several years. Hopefully, posting on behalf of the CEO will mean that more people will read the important information that needs to be shared. However, if the CEO was able to instead just put aside a few moments of their time to share the message themselves, then maybe real connections could be formed, sincere relationships could be developed and the company will become a more transparent, collaborative organization as a result.
Don’t let anyone post on your behalf. It’s too important. Post it yourself.