Melanie Hohertz is the Online Engagement Lead at Cargill, a global provider of food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services. Melanie is a frank and high-energy collaboration network manager, known for her passion about the issues that matter. In the Office 365 Customer Community she is recognized by the Yammer community as a leader and she has been recognised by Microsoft, which made her a Most Valuable Professional in 2016. Here is an exploration of Melanie’s practice of working out loud and how it stretches her world.
You’ve commented that you would like to see a better balance of public and private groups in the Cargill Yammer network. Can you explain the value you see in more public work?
When people first get involved in a collaborative network, and start a group, they often choose private over public. It’s natural. We’re uncomfortable! None of us were ever taught how to work out loud, to post about what we’re doing.
When we’re asked to do it, we worry about who will see this. What if we’re wrong, or we don’t know something we should? We have a lot at stake in how we’re judged by others.
We also don’t know why anyone in another team or part of the company would be interested in what we’re doing.
But public work, working out loud, is the heart of collaborative value. It’s how these networks take advantage of a company’s collective knowledge in a way email can’t do.
Email’s weakness is that it’s always addressed. We send email only to people we know. Also, we send email only to people we think might care.
But when you work out loud, that knowledge can reach beyond you. I like to say, you don’t know everyone who needs your work… and you don’t have to!
You also might be helped by someone you wouldn’t know to ask. There’s untapped expertise all over your company, locked away in people’s heads because people weren’t acquainted, or they’re not on the team, or this work isn’t part of their current role. But they can help, and they do!
Connecting more people who can help with those who need help, and tapping more expertise from across your company… that’s the goal. A collaborative network is necessary, but it’s not sufficient to get that value. For that, you’ll need to get a critical mass of people working out loud. Public groups are the first step.
Working in public, out loud, is hard. It’s culture change, personally and on the company scale too. I still struggle with it.
What are some of the barriers you have encountered taking a large global organization on the journey of enterprise social networking?
First, the word “social” can be a barrier, all by itself. Some managers reflexively oppose it, as if real business happens in a vacuum-sealed professional space, uncluttered by people and relationships. Managers have asked me about technically blocking access to the network, or tracking the time their people spend in it.
Now that our network has been around for a few years and integrated with so many teams, campaigns and events, this doesn’t come up as much. I think we tend to forget that even email was new, once upon a time.
Second, a “pilot” mentality can be a barrier, if you’re working with teams that require quick gratification to maintain their commitment. I recognize that what I’m driving is culture change, wearing technology lipstick. A network succeeds as people and teams across the company start sharing what they know more openly and consistently. That shift can take months and years; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Results aren’t guaranteed, and can take time. Leadership modeling and ongoing support are important for long-term adoption.
Also, our collaboration platform and its new ways of working are competing for attention and emotional resources from people struggling with industry, leadership and team changes. It seems like businesses are being disrupted left and right out there. If yours hasn’t been turned upside down yet, you’re due.
Challenging times can enable people to transform, or to dig in and resist. Collaboration has a natural place in fresh starts like these; but only if people have room for these changes within their overall load. You’re asking people to think differently about how they work, and to make daily changes to their behavior. That’s not small!
On the flip side of that coin. once the platform has taken root, it can be a fantastic tool to manage organizational change. My company has been transforming itself over the last three years, and we’ve used our network to offer access to our leaders, share information and get aligned on many of the changes.
What is the biggest risk you personally have taken in working out loud? How did it go? What did you learn?
I have a persistent, obnoxious worry as I post my team updates from week to week, that people will think I haven’t worked hard enough, I haven’t made measurable progress on projects that matter. Like, why isn’t that strategy done yet? How could she still be working on it?
But while that keeps happening, otherwise I’ve almost always felt very secure in our company network. After all, “#candor” and “#candor is good” are common topics attached to posts in our C-suite YamJams. We’ve Yammered openly about reductions in force, workforce accidents, and organizational transformations. This builds transparency and trust, and supports key priorities like safety.
Probably the biggest risks I’ve taken in working out loud have been in Microsoft’s customer networks. I still don’t know exactly how I progressed from ignoring those forums, to scanning for information, to asking questions, to answering them, to sharing my ideas and materials, to debating with the Yammer team in sometimes very intense ways.
I also think of my presentations about Yammer as working out loud, on a larger scale (and a much more nervous one). Every single time, it feels like the biggest risk to date. Who the hell did the event organizers think I was, and who did I think I was? What do I think I know?
These experiences have always turned out to be a good, painful, worthwhile stretch. Getting stuff out of my head and into a form I can share is a huge challenge, but I’m rewarded with so much feedback from others that will help me, my team or my company. People have been incredibly kind.
What have I learned, in all this? Over the years I’ve been in this work, I’ve learned to be a very different person than I used to be. I’ve gained confidence in my skills, opinions and voice. This introvert isn’t sure any more that she really fits that category. I count people as friends across many companies and around the world. A few, I think of as family. My world has gotten much larger, more colorful and collaborative, and it’s hard now to imagine living in a less connected and outspoken way.