Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

A very illustrative quote from a participant sums up the power of the ability to ask questions through Yammer, which we must remember, is the most common use of the tool:

I can tap into corporate knowledge; I can ask: “Have we done a project like this before?”

In this quote, the participant actually comes right out and says he/she uses to tool to tap into corporate knowledge, but in fact, so many of the examples we saw earlier in this and other categories as well, are examples of people tapping into the knowledge of the corporation. When people share interesting information, work activities, knowledge, their opinions on what works and what doesn’t work, their reports during real time events, their locations, their interests, or when they engage in discussions during Yam Jams (live chats), they are sharing information valued by their peers as illustrated by the many examples and quotes shared in this study, and interestingly enough they almost all tie back to learning and/or performance support opportunities:

I learned about a new technology through a link to an article that I have never seen before.

I frequently post updates on what the usability team is working on so people are aware and they can make use of the group, there is no other good channel to make people aware.

I have been looking for PM tools and people post links to things and tools that makes my job more efficient so that has been helpful in particular.

We’ve just been rolling out windows 7 on a pilot basis and we are seeing a lot of good knowledge sharing on the good and bad is taking place in yammer and we are getting a lot of valuable feedback that we could not have gotten the other way which is the helpdesk system.

Even for the people who are venting, to some extent, they are showing you things and perspectives you may not otherwise know and they are probably speaking in the name of others who are not.

We can see things are going on in the city such as a student march/demonstrations or special events and we can report on it to each other really quickly and real time; it is useful for the people working out on the street.

We have a lot of people in marketing who post about events on behalf of the company and post where they are at what trade show and I will suggest great ideas of how to talk to people about our products (participant has insight from a trainer perspective).

The CFO had a really fun time doing the Yam Jam and she shared a ton of info about what is going on with the company.

We had a person in industry marketing, who is in another country, who I don’t run into frequently, and he posted about mobile projects he wants to work on. We got into a discussion and now we are working on pilot projects that probably would not have happened had we not been using the microblog.

Therefore, using the tool in all these ways just mentioned helps people tap into corporate knowledge through tapping into a community of colleagues willing and able to share and help, one might say they are tapping into a community of practice. Wenger (1998, p. 8) explains: “learning is an issue of sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows and thus becomes effective and valuable as an organization.” Tapping into corporate knowledge also falls into the category of knowledge management, through people. One participant sheds light on why he/she uses Yammer:

I think I benefit from everything people post. This is a looking glass into my entire organization.

In a community of practice people “value their collective competence and learn from each other…” (Wenger, 2010).

The study did not find sharing non-work-related posts as providing the ability to tap into corporate knowledge, but the argument could be made, and participants have also said, that non-work-related posts reveal their personalities and allow people to get to know each other more closely. Still there are others who might find this to be unnecessary “noise” in the system. In fact, 12% (3) participants did mention that they perceive there is too much “noise” in the system and it can be distracting.

However, when participants were asked: Does using Yammer make you feel like you are part of a community of colleagues to whom you can turn to for help on the job? Table 27 demonstrates that an amazing 96% (24) said “yes” to this question, one participant also added:

…there has been no other tool that has offered that (making a person feel like they are part of a community where they can reach out to each other for assistance) in my opinion.

Let’s cross examine this answer by exploring why people value Yammer to understand if in fact people feel like they are a part of a community of people to whom they can turn to for help on the job.

Table 31: Why Participants Value Yammer, it provides the ability to Frequency Percent
1. receive answers in moment of need 21 84%
2. communicate 19 76%
2.1.   communicate like never before (unlike email) 15 60%
2.2.   communicate across geographic areas 12 48%
2.3.   communicate across silos 9 36%
2.4.   communicate across time zones and geographic areas 8 32%
3. receive good information, filtered   by colleagues 16 64%
4. find people/experts 8 32%
5. gain insight into the organization 8 32%
6. make people feel connected to the   organization 7 28%
7. help “new” employees get   acclimated/become productive 3 12%
8. provides short snippets of   information that are easy to digest 2 8%

Given that the most frequent reason brought up by 84% (21) of participants, highlighted that people valued the tool’s ability to provide answers in the moment of need reinforces what we already know that Yammer can be used as an informal learning and performance support tool, but it also speaks volumes to the fact that people feel they can reach out through Yammer and get responses that will help them in a timely fashion. “Informal learning is effective because it is personal, just-in-time, customized, and the learner is motivated and open to receiving it. It also has greater credibility and relevance” (p. 17). The perceived most effective aspect of an EPSS is the advisory, job-oriented or problem solving components (Chang, 2004).

The second category with many subcategories all have to do with communication, 76% (19). It is clear participants value the tool’s ability to open up communications in a number of ways: 36% (9) highlighted the importance of Yammer’s ability to break down silos, 48% (12) mentioned communicating across geographic areas, and 32% (8) of participants talked about using the tool to communicate “real time” across time zones. Many participants 60% (15) were very spirited about pointing out that Yammer was in fact unlike email. They explained that this is because you would not share “for your information” type content, like what you are working on, in a mass email but you would easily post it on Yammer. You might also not send out information and knowledge in a mass email, but once again, you would post it on Yammer. The tool breaks down boundaries and encourages informal serendipitous communication, as illustrated by these quotes:

(Yammer) Opens up the silos and opened grass roots level communication within the organization.

…we are spread across three offices; if we did not Yammer we would not know what the other is doing and we can’t sit in one office and open our mouth and talk to each other.

We can conclude that most participants really valued their ability to communicate with colleagues through the use of Yammer and this was growing or strengthening their association with various Yammer community members.

The third most frequent reason indicated by 64% (16) of participants said they valued the information that is filtered for them, or handpicked by their colleagues. Participants pointed out that they appreciated their colleagues sharing the “real gems” and acting as a “human search engine.” This indicates that the community proactively provides support in the form of different types of information or knowledge, so we shouldn’t only think of performance support as one colleague helping another with the task at hand. In fact more traditional forms of performance support tools package and bring expert knowledge to users, this being a key goal in creating an EPSS (Hile, et al., 1994).

Finding experts is another reason why 32% (8) of participants mention valuing Yammer. The following quote really explains why this is valuable.

The knowledge in the organization has become visible and you start to notice who the gurus are.

In this researcher’s opinion, one of the most power features of Yammer is its ability to make visible who the experts in an organization are. In this researcher’s experience of over 20 years, finding the experts has always been a challenge for large corporations. A tool that brings the experts to light is a very powerful component of helping a community learn and develop.

Gaining insight into the organization was also a category that emerged from the interviews; 32% (8) of participants mentioned this. Quote from participant:

I like the microblog and all microblogging in general as a way to communicate or to gage the culture of the company.

It is fascinating to think of Yammer this way but in fact it really is a tool that you can use to better understand everything about the company: what people say, how they say it, what they don’t say sheds light on company culture. In any community, understanding the explicit and implicit do’s and don’ts enable us to function optimally. This leads us to the next most valuable category.

It certainly makes sense based on the above that 28% (7) of participants cited the tools ability to make people feel connected to the organization. This feeling of connectedness strengthens the community.

Helping new employees get acclimated and productive is another powerful aspect of Yammer; 12% (3) of participants mentioned this. New employees generally don’t know who to ask for what—where to go for help. The ability of the Yammer community to quickly answer new hire’s questions can have a great impact on how fast new hires become productive and how welcomed they feel by the organization. Participant quote:

…it (Yammer) is good for people who don’t know where to go for answers.

Lastly, 8% (2) of participants said they valued Yammer because of its ability to provide short snippets of information that are easy to consume. This speaks to Yammer efficiency at information capturing and dissemination, Yammer only shows you a short snippet, even when people write longer entries, so you only have to read a little to decide if you are interested in reading more.

We can see that many of the reasons why participants cited using Yammer are in some way connected to activities that highlight the presence of a community. Wenger (1998) highlights an obvious yet very compelling point that we are always learning and we are always participating in various communities from work groups to families. Therefore, learning is situated in a given context and part of that context is a given community, therefore learning is also social (Wenger, 1998).

Wenger describes three key characteristics of communities of practice: domain, community and practice (Wenger, 2010). A domain does not equate to an area of expertise; in fact, members can have different areas of expertise within the same domain. Wenger (2010) goes on to elaborate in each of the three characteristics. A community is defined as a group of people who interact and learn from each other as they pursue their domain. Finally, communities of practice do in fact share a “practice”. Therefore, different people with different titles are still all practitioners in the domain.

When we think about communities in organizations, they are in the same domain or field or industry, albeit with various different roles and titles. The data in this study shows that they value their collective competence, and are various groups of people who interact and learn from each other as they pursue their domain—they do in fact share a practice. This could mean two different things: 1. Everyone in an organization shares the same broad practice as being part of a domain. So, in a car manufacturing organization everyone ultimately contributes to cars being manufactured, and 2. It may also mean that subgroups of people who share the same, more specific practice evolve, such as all the human resource personnel in the car manufacturing organization. The data in this study with the many rich examples supports the notion that both of these types of communities of practice have emerged in corporations.

“Communities develop their practice through a variety of activities. The following table provides a few typical examples:” (Wenger, 2010) Checkmarks in Table 32 depict all the examples encountered as part of this study of 25 participants and their organizations.

Table 32: Examples of CoP Activities in this Study

1.   Problem solving “Can we work on this design and   brainstorm some ideas; I’m stuck.”
2.   Requests for information “Where can I find the code to   connect to the server?”
3.   Seeking experience “Has anyone dealt with a   customer in this situation?”
4.   Reusing assets “I have a proposal for a local   area network I wrote for a client last year. I can send it to you and you can   easily tweak it for this new client.”
5.   Coordination and synergy “Can we combine our purchases   of solvent to achieve bulk discounts?”
6.   Discussing developments “What do you think of the new   CAD system? Does it really help?”
7.   Documentation projects “We have faced this problem   five times now. Let us write it down once and for all.”
8. Visits “Can we come and see your   after-school program? We need to establish one in our city.”
9.   Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps “Who knows what, and what are   we missing? What other groups should we connect with?”

 

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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