One Small Step for Us, One Large Step for our Team

This week we had our People Day. Over 400 people across Australia in the Human Resource function travelled to Melbourne to gather and hear our Leadership Team talk about the challenges of the future and how we can work together to face them.  Although I will not go into detail here about what was covered, suffice to say that the key messages were all related to what we read about on the internet everyday.  That is, the impact and speed of which technology has changed the way we work and how we can work with it.  The underlying theme was that change is the new norm and that we don’t have a hefty manual to tell us what and how to do things anymore.

While sitting in the big plenary room, I glanced around me and saw that no one had their devices out. No iPads, no phones, no tablets.  Sure we had paper and pens and some people were scribbling notes but I felt awkward to have my tablet out sketch noting presentations and taking photos.  People looked at me with curiosity wondering why I was bothering taking photos.

Some time ago, I had written a note on Yammer, our organisation’s social networking site on the power of the backchannel and how we could use groups and hashtags to capture internal events and conferences and share these out across our organisation.  Of course, it’s one thing to write about it and another to do it.

I had been thinking about using the hashtag #PeopleDay and sharing my notes on Yammer but as no one was doing the same, an awkwardness overcame me as the ‘odd person out’ and had thoughts such as, “Maybe this isn’t the done thing? Maybe they don’t want this to be shared? Maybe I’m doing the wrong thing by sharing to Yammer? Maybe there are different rules for internal conferences and external conferences?” 

During the morning break, my colleague Paul came to me and asked me if I was going to share my notes on Yammer.  When I told him my concerns, he was feeling the same way. He was the only one on his table, like me, taking notes on his tablet and having strange looks come his way.

I’m sure people thought that we were being rude with our heads down madly tapping at our tablets.

We decided at that point to just ‘do it’. Just post our notes, photos, sketchnotes on Yammer to our team group with the hashtag #PeopleDay and see what transpired.

What did we have to lose?

Besides, the leadership team was espousing knowledge sharing and collaboration.  This was our go ahead to try something different and apply it immediately.

So we started uploading our photos, notes and sketch notes and over the course of the day, we saw that a few others had seen the posts and started commenting on it.  Then, we saw photos being uploaded and amazingly, all tagged with the hashtag!

I was chuffed.  This was a real win for us because it immediately broadened the scope of how Yammer was being used in our division.

Paul and I demonstrated the power of the backchannel by being the first two to start the ‘movement’ and the rest followed.

The next day, we had our Capability Day (our department’s team day) which was much more hands-on, interactive and a lot of fun.  By this stage, people were accepting of us using our tablets to capture what was going on around in the room.  Some people had asked what we were doing and when we told them, they too, contributed their own posts and photos.

However the power of what we had done didn’t reach us until the next day when we were back at our desks.

The head of our department had heard what Paul and I were doing and asked me to send her an email about it as she was keen to learn more.  I wrote the email and explained what a back channel was, how a hashtag is used and how Yammer has helped create a storyline of events, information and posts that would be beneficial for those people who were absent on the day.  I explained the value comes when people contribute their thoughts and reflections past the event and that it is ‘kept alive’ as people are talking about it online.

At the same time, I was glancing at the Yammer page and watching the traffic of people viewing documents and photos in our Group, the stream was too quick. It showed me that people were on Yammer interacting and engaging with the content that was uploaded.

I shot a quick message to Paul to check the traffic in Yammer.  Both of us were like excited little kids because this was a real win for us.

Although we didn’t have the volume of people participating and contributing to the online conversation, we did see that many people viewed the content.  There is a level of ‘fear’ of the use of Yammer and as many people have an online profile, many of them also don’t post anything related to their thoughts or their own work.  We still have a way to go in this sense but at least we have made a step in the right direction.  Once we have our senior leaders also contributing and responding in this tool, then I believe things will change.

In the meantime, I’m still counting this as a win.

We received congratulations from our head of department and our team members….


And now we can say that people know what a back channel is and how it can be used to capture and share information….


As a result of this action, yesterday afternoon, I was approached by the Culture team to work with them and look at how we can use Yammer in sharing our work and yes, the word ‘networks’ was mentioned.

YES! Score! Fist pump!

It looks like people in our team are now curious and want to know more.

Curiosity leads to questioning why we do the things we do.

Questions lead to experimenting with a new way.

Experimentation leads to learning something new.

Learning is then shared.

Networks are created.

We’re on the right path.

About Helen Blunden

My unique super power is that I see learning experiences in everything I do. #alwayslearning
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14 Responses to One Small Step for Us, One Large Step for our Team

  1. Pingback: Spur. | The FreeFacilitator blog

  2. Pingback: How To Pitch The Value of Personal Learning Networks to a CEO – Wise or Folly? | Activate Learning Solutions

  3. kotch2010 says:

    Helen – an interesting post which I was able to sympathise with. Let me tell you my story. I was at a Senior Exec L&D Leadership meeting about 12 months ago. Now we are talking people of high standing in the organisation who are also in L&D. I pulled out my iPad with it’s built in bluetooth keyboard and starting typing my thoughts and “AH”A moments – something I think we all do when going to meetings or conferences. Everyone one else was using pen and paper so in a room of 30 people I am the only one on a device of any sort. I got strange looks. During the break, one of the attendees approached me and I thought here we go some one that’s interested and keen to hear what I am doing and how this will work. Well guess what, instead of what I expected I got “Do you realise how annoying it is you taking notes on that device”. I looked at them – my jaw dropped 2 feet and I froze up – I did not respond, how could you. What do you say to someone who does not appreciate what I was doing. I gave up, kept typing and my notes were posted on our blog. It still amazes me that in a large group of HR / L&D professionals in my organisation I can count on one hand how many are connected or even aware of Twitter Google+, Linkind or a blog. I think Andrew Jacobs recently used the word “tragedy” in one of his posts – for me this is the biggest tragedy of all – professional HR / L&D people who dismiss the power and the collaborative benefits of the devices and tools we have before us – very sad indeed.

    So well done Helen – a great achievement to you and Paul – I am glad some of us are making inroads in our organisations – I will keep plugging away.

  4. tanyalau says:

    Helen I hear you about sensory overload with #xplrpln! I feel like I’m in a constant state of cognitive dissonance – which I guess is a good sign : ) but can be overwhelming. I think in some ways the CEO project has created a bit of a diversion, whereas I’d like to back up a bit and explore ideas a little longer. Feel like the train’s left the station but I’m still trying to figure out where I’d like to go! ; ) Anyway, all part of the fun – the best learning is always messy. The way I’m dealing with it for now is to ignore the project deliverable and focus on teasing out ideas that I can use to connect some dots with. But yeah, there ARE a lot of diverging ideas and filtering through them can be overwhelming. You do have to take time out for individual reflection every now and again (as introverts do!) or you’ll go crazy.
    Back to your post: you say it was Paul who was the inspiration – but it sounds like you were his inspiration too! Great partnership. And just goes to show how important having a support buddy is when you’re trying to do something new. I think there’s also something in using a key event to generate momentum – using this as a catalyst to introduce people to the ideas of social sharing in the workplace, developing connections and PLNs. It’s actually something I’ve been thinking about as a result of a spontaneous little twitter chat I had with EssGarland ‏@essigna a week or so ago. We were talking about what motivates reciprocity in a PLN and one of the things she mentioned was “Moocs ie forming PLN out of previous online experience.” It got me thinking about this idea of catalysing events as motivators for people to connect and form meaningful long term PLN relationships.
    And relating this to your idea of introducing people to PLNs / helping them to develop PLNs in the context of induction >> induction as the catalysing even to hook people into org PLNs.Something we could use in both the #xplrpln project AND real life?
    Maybe we can chat more in G+…

  5. Thanks for your really kind words Tanya. It’s been an eye opener in many ways and also doing Explorer Personal Learning Networks MOOC at the same time, there’s a lot of overlap but I’ve got sensory overload – it’s as if there are too many ideas, projects, concepts all working at the same time and I’m not using my time effectively to digest and reflect on them all – and also feeling way behind on blogging about them.

    In the end, I say “what the hell, don’t think it, do it” and see how it goes but there’s always a sense of foreboding before it. Luckily it was Paul who pushed us to just do it. He was the inspiration. He had read a post I wrote about Yammer back channels and he wanted to test it out. If I didn’t have a buddy in this, things may have been different. But then from 2 people, others got interested.

    So I think now the power is to just do what we’re doing as if it’s the most natural thing in the world in our daily work flow and hope others then start to consider, “hey, that’s interesting, I want to do what Paul and Helen are doing” but not force them to do this. I think it’s just about showing people the what and the how but then backing off and letting them be curious and explore for themselves and then let them have their own ‘aha’ moments where they can get as excited as I did.

  6. Thanks for your kind words Colin, greatly appreciated. Thanks also for your offer as I will keep it in mind. It’s early days yet in so many ways and potential is huge.

  7. Thanks so much for posting a reply. It was a win but there’s a bit of work ahead. It’s making me think that it’s these little serendipitous actions that make people sit up and take note – not when they’re forced from above.

  8. Ah! I wasn’t the only one then. It’s always hard to gauge what others think when you do something a little bit different.

  9. tanyalau says:

    WOW. Totally floored when I read this. Such an amazingly inspiring story that shows what’s possible if you just take a chance. THIS is how it’s done. Really exciting stuff Helen, I love this story. Not just the outcome but also the way you’ve told it – of the initial awkwardness and fear that (even you!) felt, then getting together with Paul for moral support and both of you taking the plunge, people going with it, gaining momentum and the successful outcome at the end. And I think this is the value of narrating one’s work – and narrating in the format of a narrative of how you got where you did. It allows the rest of us to see how an outcome like this happens through a series of small but intentional steps that seem achievable. This is the sort of thing that has the power to inspire people to take a plunge and enact the same change in their own organisations. I think what you’ve achieved here is amazing. And sharing it the way you have is even better! Thanks for the inspiration!!! I really love this story (or did I say that already??! Love!)
    It also makes me think that perhaps the best way to encourage the development of PLNs in any org (or medium) is to create this culture where sharing stuff is acceptable and valued, and this mindset of curiosity and fearless experimentation. Because it’s this mindset that really motivates people to direct their own learning, to invest time in developing and nurturing relationships, and ultimately leads to more innovative ideas.

  10. Colin Steed says:

    What a wonderful story Helen. I’m so very pleased for you. Your organisation do not know how lucky they are to have you. I’m keen to help you. Let me know if I can help in any way anytime.

  11. Great post Helen, I was fist pumping for you and Paul! I’m really happy for you given the changes happening in your org. It’s also a fine example of how leadership doesn’t have to come from those in charge 🙂

  12. Fabulous Helen! Taking steps forward often feels like a risk but also very often pays off as yours did in a big way.

  13. Mark says:

    Always a pleasure reading your posts Helen. Sums it up really. If left my iPad in the car and felt incredibly awkward when I started using my iPhone. The perception .. “Is that guy writing text messages?” was ticking over. I’m treating this post as positive reinforcement for my next similar encounter.

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