I am an online community manager, and so I think a lot about ways to encourage my staff colleagues to use our online community. We work in the Yammer platform, but what I have learned through the years, and what I have spent a lot of time thinking about, applies just as easily to Slack, Teams, Workplace or any intranet program you choose.

When it’s time to launch a new online community, or an enterprise social network, community managers spend time evaluating options and then selecting a platform. They negotiate a price and budget funds to pay for the platform. After technical specifications are carefully evaluated and the platform is installed, then the real work can finally begin.

Now they have to build out the platform. How does their organization work now, and how will existing policies and procedures change now that this wonderful new technology platform is installed? What relationships need to be nurtured in the platform, and what are the different online spaces that need to be created in order to accommodate those connections?

With the platform selected, the processes and spaces built out, now the real work starts. The community manager needs to announce the new online space, and train colleagues on how the new platform is used. Not only do colleagues need to get trained on the new way things are done, but they are also trained on how those things are done on a mobile device, which are not the same way they will be done on their desktop computer, and neither of which is the same way the process was done before the platform was launched.

Staff then needs to learn how to use the community platform for communication and resource sharing. Rather than engaging in conversation and sharing resources over email, activity can be moved into the new platform for better communication, more transparent and effective work habits.

And now comes time for the launch. Exciting announcements are made, and maybe awards and other recognition will be offered for early adopters. The CEO talks about the importance of the new platform, and about how it will change the way we work, and will bring us all closer together. The community manager works tirelessly to encourage colleagues to try the new platform, and to find new ways to incorporate it into their work. Ongoing training is offered, user guides are created and the community manager is there to answer any and every question about why this change was made when everything was working fine before (or so some people may think), and to respond to colleagues who are frustrated, confused and angry about having to learn a new way to work.

Money has been spent. Time has been invested. Diligent plans have been made. The organization has determined that they way they work needs to change.

So why are we talking about employee engagement?

Why are we talking about finding ways to encourage colleagues to use the new software? Why are we talking about prizes, and launch events, and making people feel good about the changes that are being made?

Yes, we need to empathetic and generous, and know that not everybody will immediately understand why changes are being made or how the software works. We need to understand that different people approach new technology tools in new way, and while some people may be excited and enthusiastic about the changes ahead, others may feel nervous and maybe even a bit disoriented.

But this is the job, and this is the workplace. You were given email to use before, and now you are being given Teams, or Slack, or Yammer. This is the tool. This is the way we work. The changes have been carefully considered. Money has been spent. Time has been invested. Now, it is time to get to work. So get to work. We understand you may not care for the new platform, but his is how the company expects you to work.

OK, but people are still hesitant to use the platform. So then, we go to the top.

  1. Whatever platform has been launched at your organization, it must first be warmly and enthusiastically embraced by the leader of the organization. The top leader of the organization must use the new platform starting on day 1, on day 37, and on day 256. It must also be embraced by executive vice-presidents and directors. This is not about personalities or the way different people prefer to work, this is about the priorities of the organization.

    Now, people throughout the company will see leaders using the new platform, and consciously or not, will realize that this is the place that information is being shared. This is the place where work is being done.
  2. Now that the platform is being used by executive leaders, all staff should be compelled to use the new platform. When a vice-president sees that someone on their team is trying to communicate with colleagues over email, or sending attachments that will make it more challenging to track file version changes and comments, the vice-president needs to make sure that communication is moved on to the new platform. The platform where time and money has been invested. The platform the organization has decided to use.

    “Thank you for sending out this note Jim. There is some important information there, and I will be happy to respond once you have posted in our online platform that we have spent lots of time and money to launch and where we expect everyone to work.”
  3. The new platform is installed, so now it is time to tell staff to use the new platform. We want everyone to feel good about the new tools we have launched, and yes we want everyone to see the value, but ultimately this is a matter of the priorities of the organization. The time will come when people will need to be told “This is what you are going to use. This is how we are going to work.”

It is time for the conversation about online employee engagement to change. Let’s talk about clear expectations and focused outcomes rather than convincing and encouraging staff to use a tool that has been heavily invested in and strategically deployed. Executives need to lead the way. Managers need to be the first ones to tackle the challenges of changing the way they work. The change is upon us. The time is now.

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