Imagine being able to harness the power of 36 000 smart and talented people around the world… and knowing they had your back when you were working with a customer? Today’s guest – Steven Piotrowski was recently the global collaboration lead that helped create a strong and flourishing knowledge sharing community at global professional services/HR firm Aon.
By using tools such as SharePoint and Yammer, Steven and his team were able to bring people closer together, enable the re-use of knowledge within the organisation, and ultimately amplify the success (and revenue) of consultants around the world! It is a great story and you will definitely get value from some of the insights Steven shares from that environment.
After his success at Aon, Steven joined Microsoft as an Office365 customer success manager. Later on in the episode we discuss some of the real world conversations he is having with customers to improve knowledge discoverability and sharing using Yammer, and other tools like OneDrive and Delve.
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Transcript of Episode 5 of The Yaminade
Paul: HI everyone and welcome to The Yaminade, the podcast dedicated to helping organisations build bigger and better engaged communities on Yammer. I’m your host, Paul Woods and you can find me on Twitter @paulwods. Thank you so much for tuning in to Episode 5, I can’t believe we’re up to Episode 5 already, time flies when you’re having fun so a big thank you to everyone who has supported the podcast so far. You can show your support by leaving a review on iTunes, just search for The Yaminade on iTunes or you can follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theyaminade, find us on Twitter @theyaminade or our website www.theyaminade.com
This morning I have the great pleasure of talking to Steven Piotrowski from Microsoft. Steven is a Customer Success Manager who has just recently joined Microsoft, similar to Stefani Butler from Episode 4 so for most of the podcast we don’t talk much about his time at Microsoft, but about his previous life where he led the knowledge manage initiative and knowledge sharing initiatives for global professional services, HR, reinsurance firm Aon. I think you’ll really get a lot of value about the discussion we had as he goes into detail about how he aligned projects to various specific business strategies and objectives. We both agreed through the Episode that it is a really important aspect of ensuring your community has legs and is sustainable in the long term. Totally by coincidence, Steven is the third episode in a row where I’ve talked to someone from Chicago: Stan Garfield in Episode 3, Stefani Butler in Episode 4 and now Steven Piotrowski in Episode 5 all from the Greater Chicago area, so I think that might be enough from that part of the world now. Unfortunately being in the East Coast of Australia talking to people in Central Time in the United States means a very early start for me. You can tell in this episode as my voice is a little bit of a morning voice, I had been awake for about 7 minutes when we had started this call. But the content is well worth it. Please welcome Steven Piotrowski to The Yaminade.
Steven: Thanks for having me, glad to be here.
Paul: Thank you so much for making the time to appear on the podcast. The reason why I was really interested in talking to you today, just like Stefani, it wasn’t too much about your life as Customer Success Manager, as you’ve only been in that role since about June and we’ll get to that later in the episode. What I’m really interested in is your previous life and roles and how you used Yammer to do some pretty amazing things. Can you give us a little bit of a context as to where you’ve come from in your career and some of the things you’ve picked up along the way as you’ve come to this crescendo as Customer Success Manager at Microsoft?
Steven: Crescendo? I like the sound of that. In some respects it does feel like that because it allows me to mix a few things I’ve done over my career and pull them together. I joined Microsoft in June and it’s been a fun ride so far. Before Microsoft, I spent four years with Aon. Aon is a risk brokerage and HR advisory firm and knowledge is at the root of much of what they do in the professional services industry. What I was doing at Aon is helping push forward a knowledge sharing strategy to bring colleagues together to help provide access to and the best information and examples of the service offerings that we provide customers available to find them. Colleagues were always starting from an end-point of a product rather than reinventing the wheel every time they engaged with a customer.
Paul: Just to put that into context, how many employees is that and how distributed? Was it just the US operation or was it much broader than that?
Steven: This is where it gets fun. Aon has around 65,000 colleagues across the globe in about 500 different offices in 150 different countries, so as you can tell it’s a pretty dispersed workforce, when you think about the scale of some of Aon’s global customers, the need and ability to connect colleagues together to provide a cohesive story and service delivery becomes essential. And that’s really what we were trying to get to.
Paul: That makes perfect sense. Sorry to interrupt, keep going on.
Steven: I was responsible for this knowledge sharing program. One was how to get insight out there around who a colleague us. This is to do with their internal professional profile, something akin to an online curriculum vitae, like LinkedIn, for lack of a better term. The second one which is what really brought me here to Microsoft is that I owned the Yammer network. When I was pulled in to the project, there was a handful of people who had tried yammer and we had a bunch of fledgling networks all across the globe and we wanted to unify them to help realise the knowledge sharing vision of bringing the global firm together. That’s where I spent about a year and a half of effort getting the network unified and getting colleagues to understand the value of the tool and help them understand how to incorporate it into day-to-day workflow.
Paul: You mentioned a project. Was it a formal project by the business or this grassroots campaign that informally turned into a project and took it on yourself?
Steven: This is where Aon aligned very much with the way I advise my customers today at Microsoft and the way I always have throughout my entire career. Products are most successful in my mind when they are linked to a strategic goal of the business. In this case, the knowledge sharing at Aon absolutely was. It fell within a tier of projects on the CEO’s agenda which was called Unmash Talent with the focus on Aon’s colleagues to create a work environment that allowed for greatness to be demonstrated and delivered across all facets of the organisation whether that was internally through efficiencies or externally through fantastic customer experiences. So knowledge sharing at Aon was tied to a strategic initiative and that’s the advice I’d give to my customers today: If you want broad acceptance of a project, particularly an enterprise level project, connecting it to something that many of the folks at executive level care about and they themselves are trying to drive toward and achieve, it’s going to get you the biggest level of attention and resources behind it, and the colleagues are going to understand why it matters. That’s exactly what Aon has done with the knowledge sharing program as a whole.
Paul: And obviously there’s a really strong executive sponsorship from the leadership team because it’s directly aligned to the strategy of the organisation and ultimately aligned to the money they bring in every day by allowing people to do this work with customers?
Steven: That’s exactly right, Paul
Paul: What I would be interested in hearing is if you could break down that process that you and your team went through during the year or two when you worked specifically on trying to establish Yammer as the tool that allows people to find that expertise and unlock inside what’s in people’s heads within the organisation.
Steven: There’s a lot going on there. Aon is focused on three or four pieces. The first piece was helping to get access to the people. Who was those subject matter experts? In a professional services organisation, that is the project you deliver so how do you know that you’re bringing the right product to the right business or customer scenario? To be able to understand that, you have to know who has the skills within the organisation? Focusing on profiles and making that information accessible and sociable so colleagues didn’t have to play the phone game all the time, they could just do a few searches and get some leads. The second part of it was really around the knowledge, the outputs of the subject matter experts that we deliver to the customers. These are the intellectual property, the next thoughts and how services and products progress, those outputs. How do we make those outputs available to colleagues? That, oftentimes is often a conversation starter while you’re trying to find the right expertise to sit in front of the customer and show them where you’ve been successful in the past and clearly articulate what the firm can do for those customers.
The third piece was around the collaboration. How do you help colleagues work collectively together to create those outputs? That’s really where the Yammer piece fit in.
The final quadrant, if you will, around what they were trying to build, at this point I know that they have deployed it, was bringing all these capabilities together in an updated and refreshed intranet which becomes the way colleagues view the organisation each day they come in and open up their browser.
Paul: One place to go, you brought all these different aspects of the world together. So if I’m a consultant in Australia and working with a customer here and I have a specific challenge I’m facing, I can not only find the documentation from previous projects that were delivered around the world but I can find out who the subject matter is and I can engage with them using the Yammer network as a way to engage these people around the world?
Steven: That’s it!
Paul: Very good. So building up the Yammer community in a professional services organisation where everyone is too busy because they’re out billing with customers and they have their administrative job after hours where they do their timesheets and all the paperwork… and obviously the distributive nature of the organisation, how did you get people’s attention? How did you get them into that community into when they had that constraint of “I don’t have time for this?”
Steven: I think that is always a constraint with anything new and Yammer isn’t an exception in that scenario. Any new project or effort you have, you’re vying for people’s time, so you have to connect it to something they care about. My approach was to hark it back to my days as a consultant at Deloitte, to enter and become my own internal management consultant to them. I was using the network to see who the early adopters of the platform were, who were contributing to it and trying to get something out of it. Early on it was quite easy to see who those folks were. I would phone them up and explain that I had seen their activity on Yammer and ask them what they were trying to accomplish. I’d explain that I had seen them on Yammer and if I could help them. Then we’d talk about what collaboration meant for those colleagues. What was interesting about those conversations was that colleagues always thought they had great methods for themselves for how they got that information, shared ideas and sought ideas from others. The more you talk about it, the more you see friction in so many aspects of work with their team and stakeholders and the more distributed those relationships got, the more frictions there were. What that did was really open up a door to talk about how Yammer and SharePoint could help reduce or eliminate those frictions. It was a great entrée into those conversations. What would happen was one of two things: Not everyone is going to bite, due to the time constraint. Some folks said “no thank you very much” others said “oh my gosh, I need you to sit down with my team and I want my team agreeing that we are going to collectively begin to work like this” and those were the people I knew I had hooked and were going to become success stories in the network.
Paul: When you met with those teams, did the passion and enthusiasm with that particular manager translate to the rest of the team or was it a hard slog to achieve that level of awareness of the desire of what we can achieve if we transition some of the work we do into an Enterprise Social like Yammer?
Steven: Here’s where that was interesting, because I saw varying examples. For managers that were very close, and this is just their leadership style, to their team, they had already painted the picture and paved the road before I turned up. Their teams were like “we’re so glad you’re here. In speaking to our manager, he totally gets that we have a hard time here, here and here. So let’s talk about those areas”. When that manager wasn’t that close to their teams and they had just tapped someone on the shoulder and said “Hey I think you have had this conversation with Steve about Yammer” and provided that context, then it was that tough slog. Clearly the former conversations were so much more fun and productive and the adoption and conversion happened so much faster than the latter.
Paul: Exactly. I’m thinking about the scale and complexity within the network are as significant as the Aon one. Are there any Yammer Wins where you think “that was so worth it going through all that work to bring these people together”?
Steven: You know what? There’s no one. Because these experiences were so individual, I stopped looking at them in their uniqueness. What was interesting to me was the growth of the network as I had those successes along the way. When I started with Yammer in April/May 2013, there were a few thousand users across multiple networks. The first thing we had to do technically was bring those networks together and integrate it with the environment and slowly we had communications and created minor awareness, never really a launch, and that’s when I began all my grassroots consulting within the organisation. Each person I was able to convert, multiplied and amplified my ability to do that. Each week I had more and more of an influx of people who would call me because their manager would call for insight and guidance and they had discovered who I was through the network or hearing about a peer having this conversation. More of those were coming my way than I had time to feel so I had to be more strategic about who I went to. The more I saw that happened, the more you saw that network multiplying effect and before I knew it, when I was transitioning from Aon to Microsoft about a year later, we had around 36,000 colleagues who had signed up to the service. It’s that milestone for me that was the exciting one. Each of those wins leading up to that culmination.
Paul: You really put that into perspective. If I was a consultant working on a customer site, being able to tap the brains of 36,000 people… the power of that and the amplifying effect for that one consultant let alone all the other networks affected by that is huge.
Steven: That’s what customers are buying. In some cases a consultant is fantastic in front of the customer who is in the room at that moment. But the customer understands that they’re paying a rate that not only includes you, but the whole organisation. And that’s their expectation. An organisation that works in the services industry like that, the more apparent and transparent that you can make that transition to everyone around you, the better those customer experiences are going to be.
Paul: Exactly. I think that’s a nice point to wrap up the discussion about your role at Aon but before that, if you had your time again at Aon, what would be the three things that you would do differently that would improve your success of the level of engagement within the community?
Steven: Three things? I’ll pick one. I was very good at being the one in the room doing the consulting. It was so much of my career it was something I enjoyed. It helped me impart the knowledge and helped me get the teams who I was advising up and running on Yammer. I think there was an opportunity for me to turn that into method. Some of that method has shown up on the YCN, there’s a maturity model that I put out there that helped me, but I think there’s more that I could have done for the folks internally. In essence, heading those teams that once those teams had crossed the proverbial finish line and produced a success story, say “here’s the playbook, guys, I need you to be out there” I think they did that in references, but giving them the tools to help facilitate those conversations and continue to push how colleagues within Aon could work out loud and work social like a network, that would have been a really big one.
Paul: That makes sense. I guess my question now is, at Aon, it sounded like you had a pretty good run and a lot of success. Why would you want to leave there and go to Microsoft?
Steven: A few things. One, being in that advisory role even as an internal consultant reminded me how much I love being with customers. The second thing was watching an organisation transform itself online. That to me was the most amazing thing being the Community Manager, the Network Manager for Aon, I was able to appear into the behavioural changes of colleagues well beyond the four walls of our office in downtown central Chicago. To see the transformation and people come into the network and openly ask questions, even if they thought they were dumb questions… there’s no dumb question, right? To see those folks transition from asking to sharing, I thought if I could do this sharing and help colleagues make these behavioural changes to make us a more transparent, knowledge-orientated company, I have to do that for a lot of other places. That’s where I picked up the phone and I have a great relationship with some fantastic Customer Success Managers at Microsoft and began the process. Lucky for me it ended in my own success story. It’s truly how I view it.
Paul: Exactly. You’ve been there for five months now. I and other people from the YCN would be interested in is that transition from an internal role to an externally focused role at Microsoft. Are there any other challenges you’ve faced, particularly making that transition? What about any war stories from your engagement with customers?
Steven: There’s two I’ll talk about. One is what it means to leave your room: Enterprise Social and join the Yammer network. The second is getting back in front of customers and talking about the products. That’s a shift in the nuance of how I’ve been with customers previously. Typically it was a services industry where, “if you don’t like the service you’re getting, let’s talk about it on the fly and establish goals that we both care about”. With the product, it’s a little bit different so I’ll talk about that as well…
For the first piece around the network… what was interesting was that towards the later stages of my ten years at Aon, I became known as ‘the Yammer guy’. You hear across CSMs, “oh you’re the Yammer guy?! How are you everywhere in the Yammer network all the time, don’t you ever sleep?” Yeah I did sleep, but I was having a ton of fun, working hard being visible and making the connections. When I came to Microsoft and truly saw how the Microsoft team works inside Yammer, particularly the customer success organisation… it goes from high-school football to pro… that’s the way I think about it…
Paul: Just without all the money!
Steven: They embraced the work out loud culture and everyone challenges each other to continue to demonstrate those behaviours and think through other ways that is possible. This expands into the second part I want to talk about, the product as a whole. The CSM organisation lives and breathes by working out loud and CSM itself. So everything we bring to customers starts with our own organisation, right? You can think about the progression… customers who started with Yammer, then our transition to Office365, we as CSMs, and it’s clear even before I joined, the team has been doing that long before. Learn what the tools can do, play with it in a ton of different ways and walk into customers with ideas that we have tested where we know work and circumstances where they fall down. When a customer says “we want to try this”, we can actually say, “we’ve tried that experiment and used this combination of Offic365 tools to see these outcomes, but if you tweak it this way and add a note to it, think about sharing more broadly, the SharePoint piece linked in Yammer, then try it this way, we’ll have a much better output”. What that does is helps the conversation with customers to think about their user cases without as much trial and error that would be there otherwise.
Paul: That makes perfect sense. I’ll just echo that point as well: having enough knowledge about the products to be able to solve a problem. It’s a powerful discussion you can have with the customer when you can give a few options to solve that specific problem for that customer, not just a generic “here’s a brochure, this is what I can do, move on” type conversation.
Steven: I think you’re bringing up an important point here, Paul. Every time I’m in a conversation around the tools themselves, you can easily get overwhelmed with all of the things the tools can do. Where that becomes salient is when you start asking and transitioning from the tool conversation to the “how do you work today and how could you better work tomorrow?” discussion. That’s when it’s less tools and more about “how do I begin to reduce friction in this one area?” Then the tools become easier to identify and the functions within those tools that are going to help you get to that better place of working collaboratively with your colleagues. If I want one thing for folks listening to this to think about, it’s to pull away from that tool-focused discussion and think about where colleagues have a hard time collaborating together, interacting with each other, bridging time zone gaps, bridging geographic gaps, get it down to where individuals need help connecting then the solutions become much easier to envision and more tangible to explain.
Paul: Exactly, because you have something to ground the conversation in rather than “this is what this button does and this is how you connect people together”. There’s that business context and value which makes it easier to talk about. You started talking about user cases. What I’d be interested to hear is some of the more unique user cases or some of the things a little bit out of the field where you thought “ah that would be an interesting problem to solve, let’s see if we can solve it with the tools we’ve got here”?
Steven: One is one that I’ve been playing with my knowledge sharing background… My knowledge sharing exposure started long before Aon. The question of how do you curate content and how do you help colleagues begin from a point that isn’t a point of origin in their own silo. One of the things I continue to tinker with is “how do you help colleagues think of the work they do at two key points if not others…?” When I begin a new task, pause and stop, keep yourself from jumping in and put a little plan together and how do I get it done? Do a little bit of research. Do the research in those collaborative places where you know your colleagues are. That’s where Delve really comes in and it’s been great for me in accomplishing this thing, as well as OneDrive and SharePoint, not to mention the conversations that are playing out in Yammer. I have found that a few hours of research on a topic puts me in a far better place to structure a plan that is grounded in others’ experiences which already starts me off from a place where I can avoid a handful of pitfalls or avoid going into a ditch.
Paul: For the people listening to the podcast who aren’t familiar with Delve, which I think is the best thing ever since sliced bread, can you give us an overview of what Delve is and how you can use that tool in this context?
Steven: To me, Delve is the full manifestation of one of the many things that Office365 can bring to organisations and individuals. It takes signals from each of the workloads. So SharePoint, OneDrive… it’s going to continue to expand from there… and begin to create connections around who has liked a document, who has shared a document with you, etc. It takes all these signals and you can go in and see a homepage and see content that the system thinks is relevant to you that day. Beyond that, you can search things you are explicitly looking for and it will crawl across the groups, emails, where there are individual connections between people and surface content. If it’s out there in Office365, then you can find it. Not all of that is there today, some of these links are still being built, but already it’s a fantastic way of surfacing things that others are doing things that could be really close to what you’re doing, and you might not even know about it.
Paul: Discovering content that might be valuable for you, but also when you’re looking for content and knowledge, it’s that extra level of relevance and closeness because it’s building on the relationships that you have with other people.
Steven: To close this piece, the second part of that is the end of that knowledge life cycle. If I’m ending my project with research, I should be ending my project, understanding that someone out there wants to do research. Even If I’m in the early stages of changing the way I work to work as a network and work out loud, at a minimum in my efforts and thinking about what I learned and where my inputs and outputs were and putting them into the Office365 space (SharePoint, OneDrive), or using Delve or other tools, it enables somebody else to start up where I left them. I view it as the courtesy I owe them for the amount of time I invested in something, so they wouldn’t have to start from a place that I was when I was at, three months before I completed it.
Paul: The organisation has invested a lot of time and money to pay your salary while you’re trying to solve that problem. If you’re a good corporate citizen, you need to pay that back so other people don’t redo that work all over again. But from a personal point of view, if I knew someone in the organisation had just solved disheartening situation for myself. Actively sharing the outcomes that you get from this work is paramount when you’re engaging these communities.
Steven: There’s a second piece that I’ll add to that. Not only do companies want to get what they can for my salary and what they’re putting in to me, but the company wants to grow and evolve. The way you do that is not by talking to these people who are there all day every day. Innovation happens when you connect colleagues who are within different pockets or circles of the organisation. You never know when an idea or output that you landed on will be that innovative spark, but if you don’t put it out there, I can guarantee you it won’t be. So getting it out there becomes so important just to enable those connections and ideas of individuals, the right insights that those concepts push the outer boundary further out.
Paul: Exactly. It’s an interesting point that you make there that I’ve discussed with a lot of people within the YCN about innovation and generating ideas and how you encourage innovation process. I think you’ve hit a really important point, it’s not a formal process where you ask people to submit ideas for approval to then become innovative ideas that then become some sort of project, it’s about putting things in there where sparks could happen and that informal way of making sure people share ideas and you can share two ideas and create a new idea, I really like that, the power that drives innovation, even though you don’t have a formal innovation program around it.
Steven: The foundation of innovation is sharing
Paul: Absolutely, I agree. That’s been really interesting. You’ve had a stellar ride there across Aon and Microsoft with Yammer and community management now broadening out across Office 365. A lot of people listening to the podcast can’t draw on Delve or OneDrive because they’re sitting in HR or internal coms or other parts of the business that might not have any influence. What I’d be keen to hear is for those people in the Yammer network just starting out, what would you recommend to them to ensure their network grows and they encourage the level of engagement that you’ve seen at your time at Microsoft and Aon? What would you say to those Community Managers, whether they are formal Community Managers or people doing it just for the love of it, to ensure their success long term?
Steven: Great question. Regardless of your network size, you can’t go it alone. As much as it feels like you need to be in the network making connections, you need to make your own connections outside of the network too, so you can get your own scale as that is a big part of it. The second one is success stories. There’s a reason why you hear Customer Success Managers talk a lot about success stories because they do the selling when you’re not there. In addition to recruiting folks to help you, put in their hand the stories and tools for them to be in the position to help their colleagues along, even just a bit.
The last part, which is what I’ve had a chance to do now, is to take a look at what you’re doing in the network. You need to make sure that the network is doing what you want it to be doing: growing in the right places, having the right kind of conversation and tone in the way colleagues interact with each other. You’re a strong influencer whether it feels like it or not. You really influence how people behave, so get out there and show what right and what truly working out loud looks like!
Paul: And lead from the front. Lead by example. Thanks for taking the time to talk through some of your experiences, it’s been really insightful for me and I’m sure for other people who are listening to the podcast on their commute or in the office today. Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it and look forward to chatting to you in the future.
Steven: Thank you, Paul. I’ve been listening to the podcast and I’m becoming a fan. I’m glad and honoured that you’ve included me in this project. I think it’s tremendously valuable to everyone out there trying to set this up. It’s not easy, it takes effort but the rewards are there for individuals as well as companies, so thank you for the opportunity!
Paul: Not at all, catch you later