Follow the Leader in Enterprise Social


August 2014

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft's current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.

Learn how Microsoft IT develops the social muscle in employees to adopt social behaviors, participate in social activities, and join communities.


Executive Overview

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With the continued rise in popularity of social and communities, enterprises look to social to drive innovation and increase productivity and business agility. Leadership teams in Microsoft IT are spearheading the effort to embrace fundamental cultural changes and broadly adopt social inside of Microsoft to help:

  • Overcome geographical challenges for remote teams.
  • Expose business insights and increase innovation to build new value.
  • Increase the ability to spot trends and act quickly.

To get employees to adopt social requires the leadership team act as a role model. They, along with social champions, must encourage others to participate and build out the social networks.


Everyone in an organization has valuable information, yet that information remains locked in different corners of the organization. The challenge faced by enterprises, including Microsoft, is how to tap into that knowledge across geographies, traditional hierarchies, and business silos. Getting employees to adopt social behaviors and join communities is a way to break down those barriers.

Before the advent of social media channels, connections occurred across traditional channels—email, phone, and face to face. The opportunity to engage, influence, and advocate was limited and typically one dimensional. Add to that the growing trend for remote workforce and virtual workers, and businesses are faced with a need to introduce a conversational channel that is open, honest, natural, fluid, and organic.

Successful enterprise social initiatives require bottom-up employee adoption along with top-down executive support to validate the tool and the commitment to learn and adapt along the way. To fully adopt social, there must be role models at the leadership level. Leaders who are embracing social channels, who lead by example and show that they are living in this new world, and communicating and collaborating using social tools.

At Microsoft, the leadership community is paving the way. Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, believes that software will enable businesses to engage in more meaningful ways. Satya is a social role model by actively participating in internal Yammer groups, including his CEO Connection group, and externally through social channels such as Twitter. The same holds true for Jim DuBois, Chief Information Officer at Microsoft. Jim is very active in internal and external social channels, responding to people’s comments and sharing his perspective.

Another example of leading by example is the Microsoft IT team that supports Microsoft field sales and marketing teams. They are organizing the effort to empower employees to work in an environment that is more connected through social channels.

Evolution of change

To make social work, you must be social. Social is all about moving from one-way to two-way communication, from broadcast information to fostering interaction and dialogue. In a remote organization, employees must be very comfortable “working out loud” with collaboration tools like Yammer as a social platform.

Social enables new ways of working but requires a cultural transformation to succeed. Enterprise social is a journey of reinvention that requires a strategy and executive commitment and support. In Microsoft IT, that journey is driven by the leadership team.

Successful social must be more than asking questions. It must be integrated into the work users do and their workflow to provide a compelling reason to use social. There must be a value exchange, a we give/they give approach, as it is that mutual value exchange and sharing of ideas that will encourage conversations.

The move to social requires that leaders focus on driving specific behavior changes, for example, using a social platform like Yammer to move from telling to listening. Email is very much about telling—telling people what to do, telling people what you think. Social tools are more about listening to what people are saying. As a leader or manager, you can share out an idea or question and get a response in real time across the globe. But to be effective, you also must keep social clean and pure for conversations and sharing of information in context and utilize other mediums when information is long, contains many links, or is around policies and procedures.

Leadership’s role

People are creatures of habits, and leaders are no different. Everyone, including leaders, must make a concerted effort to move toward the new world, the new way of working. Leaders must change their mindset and embrace, adopt, identify with, and be more productive with social media. They must be forward-thinkers, utilizing the power of social and incorporating it into the organization to share insight, encourage open dialogues, crowd source decisions and ideas, and—most importantly—listen to the voice of the community. Successful leaders that champion social must:

  • Be active and lead by example, putting information out there, sharing and testing ideas. Leading by example must go beyond the internal network. At Microsoft, the leadership teams are active internally on Yammer but also have a presence externally on Twitter and Facebook. And many leaders are starting to spend more time on LinkedIn as a way to connect with and have conversations with colleagues outside, building connections, and seeing what others are doing across the industry—allowing for a similar kind of connectivity across companies. This public presence requires making sure that your digital persona is relevant and that posts are made though a lens so that all viewers (personal and professional) can read it.
  • Be human. Social presence (sharing personal and business) makes leaders human beings. It helps employees connect with their leaders. Especially in times of change and ambiguity when leaders are asking their team to step up and do really difficult things, leaders must connect with their team. And social provides that channel, a means of making that emotional connection. Social provides the ability to drive emotion by making posting pithy, something that is hard to do in email. The ability to show your human side can make you a more effective, inspirational leader.
  • Build a community. Demonstrating your effectiveness in creating a space for mutual trust and the ability to be open and honest is the best way to lead by example and to get traction. You can get visibility within a broader organization, especially when you work remotely. It is also another forum for you to drive connections with your leadership team. Leading by example has the trickle-down effect, where direct reports start to adopt social into their workflow and go on to encourage their own teams to do so as well.

“I don’t really look at social as a productivity driver but more a way to increase the quality of what we do and to help us do the right things as we move forward. Social is more about helping facilitate connection, community, new ideas, innovation, and agility.”

Bev Hess
Senior Director IT Solution Management
Microsoft IT

Leadership teams must take into consideration and be inclusive of everyone’s work style. You must account for the fact that not everyone will embrace social. Having open discussions on what causes resistance is important. You need to do more than calling out that social will be a good experience but instead sell it in practice by demonstrating the value and highlighting what is being missed out on if someone doesn’t take to social channels like Yammer.

You must be prepared for the type of feedback that may result from social conversations. If you have success in creating a place where people can talk and share their experiences openly, you must have a plan to mitigate any risk arising from negative experiences. It is important to acknowledge and not hide from negative feedback. This helps strengthen the community and demonstrates that you are listening. And it gives you a launching point to continue to build and evolve the conversation.

Social inside Microsoft IT

The following are some of the key ways that leadership teams within Microsoft IT are championing Yammer as their social channel.

Utilizing Yammer for field engagement

Position Yammer as a dedicated listening channel for the field. Part of the focus of the End User Application and Data Services organization is to capture field insights and voice of the field, to listen for new enhancements and requirements to improve tools and services. Yammer provides the ability to drive change management through a deployment period, such as the internal deployment of CRM to the sales force and marketing community, by posting productivity tips and best practices that are in line with the change curve. Yammer also provides a means of crowdsourcing requirements gathering, enabling the community to help each other see value in new ideas. The teams make sure that they don’t just provide information but generate conversation as well to get a gauge of field sentiment of how the field is responding to that change.

Moving team conversations to Yammer

Use Yammer as a dedicated communication channel for team conversations to help social lurkers (someone who looks or likes but doesn’t post to social) to adopt Yammer faster. Leaders post their communications directly to Yammer. When there is information that comes to them via email, they forward the email as appropriate but have the discussion or conversation around the topic in Yammer.

Using Yammer as a research tool

Managers can use Yammer forums where their team is actively participating to see what types of questions are being asked and who is responding to those questions. Even folks that are considered lurkers see incredible value in social as a mechanism to get quick answers to questions through peer support instead of using the formal helpdesk.

Taking the business pulse using Yammer analytics

Microsoft IT leaders can track real-time sentiment via Yammer analytics to keep their fingers on the pulse of the organization, monitor hot and trending topics, and be proactive by identifying and addressing issues and acting on them as they occur. Moving the business from using scorecards and KPIs—which are historical views—into using sentiments—which are real time—enables Microsoft IT to start to pick up on early warning signals. Yammer analytics becomes another tool in the manager’s toolbox, just one that is more real time.


By connecting individuals to a dynamic network of people and information, social helps Microsoft IT listen, adapt, and grow in new ways, enabling them to better understand their customers (internal Microsoft users), respond faster together, and deliver innovative products and personalized experiences. Social helps the business work like a network, capturing rich conversations and enabling group decisions, which ultimately empowers people to move the business faster—wherever they work. Social tools such as Yammer provide:

  • A collective intelligence that is natural, fluid, organic, and searchable—a cohesive knowledge management strategy and a way of crowdsourcing that knowledge.
  • A broader perspective, with more voices and more diverse thinking, which can open up the mind of leadership to different viewpoints.
  • A means to make leaders more effective, more strategic, by being part of or observing the conversations that are happening in Yammer. Within Microsoft IT, the senior leadership community of 400+ people predominately sit in Redmond. Yammer provides the opportunity for IT leaders in various regions to have a profile and to remain visible in the discussion with the senior leadership team in a way that emails can’t, providing both insight and a voice in driving the business.
  • Boundary-free conversations about topics relevant to life and work which allow you to think differently, try out things and learn things that you wouldn’t normally be able to and to share ideas in ways you couldn’t before. Innovation comes out of that, by people from very different places in the company coming together and exchanging ideas.
  • A way to bring people into the conversation, someone from a different group or department, specific to that topic. By adding folks you normally wouldn’t bring into conversations, in a less intrusive way than email, you can break down the silos that created barriers to cross-group productivity and allow a free flowing of ideas across the company.
  • The ability to listen with a critical ear to is that telling us something, even if it is only the voice of one or two people. With the speed at which business is moving these days, you must be able to course-correct much sooner to keep the business on track. Social provides you with that ability.

Best practices

The following are some of the best practices Microsoft IT would like to share from their journey to becoming a social enterprise.

Use of best-of-breed technology. Microsoft IT uses best-of-breed technology for the level of conversation they need to have.

  • Yammer has become a key communication vehicle to foster unfiltered, real-time, global conversations that evolve and receive quick response. For remote organizations, email communications get extended across the day across multiple time zones. Whereas, with Yammer, you can be alerted to what is going on now. Yammer provides crowdsourcing for input into an idea or concept and is the best way to scale out conversations.
  • Microsoft Lync provides remote teams with the ability to have a virtual "drop-by/hallway meeting.” Microsoft relies on the full functionality of Lync, including whiteboard discussions, sharing reading notes and decks, and conducting polls to help simulate face-to-face breakout sessions.
  • Microsoft Outlook has its place as well. Emails are relevant for specific one-on-one questions, urgent requests, confidential information, and communication with external contacts.
  • Microsoft SharePoint is used for document collaboration requiring document version tracking. Microsoft IT uses Yammer to start the collaborative conversation but SharePoint to post the final document.
  • External social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are used for creating a digital presence and following—merging personal and professional lives.

Acknowledge user diversity. Users have different cultural, generational, personality traits, and working styles that impact their use or lack of use of social channels. Leaders must account for that diversity when moving to enterprise social.

  • Millennials are very open to social; whereas, the transition to social for Boomers and Gen X is slower as those demographics tend to be more deeply rooted in email culture.
  • Outgoing personalities are more likely to actively post where less outgoing personalities tend to post only when there is a specific purpose to the post.
  • Many users, including leaders, are invested in their own processes and haven’t figured out how to fit social into those processes.

Promote social tools such as Yammer to leadership team. Provide members of the leadership team with a social concierge to demonstrate collaboration to let them see social in action. Help them though the onboarding process, providing a white glove experience to set up their groups and to configure their alerts.

Share insights between leadership teams to highlight how others are using Yammer in unique ways.

  • The aha moment—that instance that was key to converting you to a social user.
  • Processes that works for you for using social, such as:
    • Starting your day with social to give you a sense of what is really happening today and ending the day with social to sum up what happened during the course of the day.
    • Keeping multiple tabs open at one time for multiple conversations and monitoring the visual indicators for activity.
    • Setting your Internet Explorer home page to Yammer to make you more aware of what’s going on throughout the day.
    • Using phone apps to provide insight into social during the day.

Develop a social strategy for your users. Sometimes creating an active social culture needs a little help.

  • Provide education to keep users from becoming disillusioned.
  • Make sure users understand what’s in it for them. Drive them to social by making social the only source for team communications, exclusive information, specific training, etc.
  • Enlist evangelists to “seed” conversation to start or evolve conversations.

Reduce the fear factor. Ensure that users at all levels understand that enterprise social is a “safe” place to provide open, frank, honest, from-the-heart conversations with peers and leaders. Build trust and ensure people understand that social is a value-add to the way that they work in their role. Use private groups in Yammer to provide a little bit of a safety net to make them feel like they can get that transparency/openness in the way they collaborate without the fear of retribution if they say the wrong thing.


Leaders at Microsoft must be living in the new world, the new way of working. They must be role modeling how Microsoft can use technology to think and drive results in new ways. Part of the leaders’ responsibility—not just to their team but to the broader IT team—is to help change mindsets and drive innovate thinking about new ways to use technology.

Social provides the foundation for this. It provides a way to bubble up some really great or experimental ideas, to uplift those ideas in a very rapid, agile way. If leaders at Microsoft can figure out a way to harness that, Microsoft can accelerate their innovation and their agility as a company. Imagine if instead of looking at Customer and Partner Experience (CPE)—how Microsoft measures satisfaction among customers and partners—which is a lagging indicator, Microsoft moved to using social and taking actions based on real-time feedback as opposed to waiting to consolidate feedback. For example:

  • Based on something that was trending on Twitter—some problem or opportunity that Microsoft identified through real-time analytics—put out an offer for that one day only.
  • Or for some new product Microsoft was developing, use social at the envisioning stage to capture real-time feedback.

The ability to become really agile like that, the move to making real-time decisions based on sentiment starts with leaders leading the adoption of social in the organization.


Microsoft Enterprise: Reimagining with Social

Microsoft IT Annual Report: Mobility


Related videos

Measuring Business Value with Yammer

Driving enterprise social from the bottom up

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