Breathing life into Yammer at B&Q


B&Q is the UK’s leading home improvement and garden living retailer, helping customers have smarter homes since 1969. It’s part of Kingfisher plc, an international home improvement company with over 1,200 stores in 10 countries across Europe, Russia and Turkey, supported by a team of 77,000 colleagues.

Alison Boothby interviewed Steve Gilbert, Channels Manager at B&Q, to find out how he’s helped establish enterprise social internally, breathing life into Yammer to position it as a valuable business tool.

What was the digital landscape at B&Q when you arrived?
“When I joined B&Q in January 2017, there was already a global IT programme underway to improve digital capability for our colleagues and customers everywhere. Internally, Kingfisher had assessed a number of solutions in detail and, off the back of a significant amount of work, chosen Office 365.

“The company had dabbled with enterprise social before but, prior to Yammer, no one tool had ever reached critical mass. Yammer was already ‘switched on’ in B&Q when I arrived, but it wasn’t widely available, and nobody was really owning it locally from a business perspective. It lacked structure, posting was sporadic, and the audience was small. This made it juicy and daunting at the same time! Fortunately, I made an early friend in our global IT Services Director, who’s very pro social, and he’s been a huge help throughout.

“In terms of other digital tools, we had the usual mix of SharePoint, Outlook and Skype. But there was no single online platform that all colleagues could access or use to connect with each other, and it was a similar story right across Kingfisher. So it was a very exciting time to join and be part of an international team shaping our digital future.”

What issues and challenges are you trying to fix?
“Digital is an industry buzzword right now, but it’s not some magic set of workplace tools that don’t exist yet. They’re here and we need to get on and use them, rather than working in the ways we always have – I think that’s half the challenge for corporates but there’s a definite sea change here in Kingfisher. It’s about being brave, trying something new and not going straight back to how you did it before if you don’t get instant results.

“There’s a lot of evidence that companies who do social well are more engaged and perform better. Yammer is a fantastic tool for bringing people together and dispels the corporate myth that a fun and informal way of communicating can’t drive serious business results. The hard bit has been convincing the doubters, but each day our evidence gets stronger. I want to see all colleagues connected across our company, contributing to and feeling part of something bigger.”


Why did you decide to go with Yammer?
“I think with enterprise social, or any IT tool really, you can spend forever chasing what’s new and shiny, but as some point you have to choose and focus your energy on making it a success. Kingfisher chose Yammer as the best tool for our needs. Having worked in companies before where trials of different solutions keep popping up, distracting and confusing users, I find it refreshing that Kingfisher committed to a single social platform for everybody globally and has stuck with the plan.

As part of the broader Office 365 toolbox, I knew that Yammer had the potential to add significant value within our business. We just needed to have faith and show it some love. Microsoft has also been adding a lot of new features lately, so the things we can’t do today with Yammer, chances are we’ll be able to do tomorrow. For me, that makes it a good long-term bet.”

It wasn’t long ago that social pundits were sounding the death knell of Yammer, but in the last year or so Microsoft have dramatically improved its functionality within the O365 suite. We wrote about this here.    

How have you tackled your Yammer rollout so far?
“Kingfisher recruited a head of channels soon after I joined and he quickly set up an international working party for Yammer. This meant every country has been aligned from the start, supporting each other and working to a set of common objectives for social, in close consultation with IT. While we are at different stages in terms of rollout, this has allowed us to learn from each other, re-use shared materials and refine things as we go. It has, and continues to be, a real team effort.

“I see the past year as a big extended trial – an opportunity to try things out and start building a fanbase. We’ve also put some shape around Yammer, establishing key groups, but letting them grow organically. There’s an All B&Q one that now has around 8000 people in it, with a 5000% increase in traffic since this time last year. All the time I’m looking for positive use cases that demonstrate to others how well Yammer is working for us. Our first phase has focused on head office and our managers in store. Now that Yammer has a strong heartbeat in B&Q, we’re rolling it out to the rest of our teams on the shop floor, connecting every colleague and giving them a voice.

“You can’t underestimate the need for nurturing in the early stages. My colleague Gemma Saint and I have done lots of face-to-face sessions with office and store teams, explaining how Yammer works and how it can help in the context of what they do. We make a point of going out to our colleagues, rather than relying purely on self-help videos and how-to guides. This also gives us valuable feedback on the different everyday ways Yammer is being used. The more we can share evidence of how it’s helping the business, the more our colleagues see the benefits. In these relatively early days, we’re relentlessly linking people on Yammer, curating conversations, sharing the proof and shouting about successes, which we label #yamwins.”

What have been the early wins?
“We identified and worked with Yammer early adopters and I think they’ve been fundamental in the evolution of big groups like All B&Q. Without variety of content, or posts being answered, Yammer soon withers. Conversely, if you have a committed team of sharers and carers, your audience grows naturally as more people have the desire and confidence to join in. At the beginning it was very much the few helping the many but, there’s now a lot of peer-to-peer support on Yammer, which is great to see.

“Something else we saw emerging quite quickly is how much of an amplifier Yammer is for everything – good news travels fast on social, but so do issues. As long as you look at this as a helpful early warning system, rather than something exposing flaws in your business, the insights can be incredibly valuable. We’re now getting into that mindset.

“In terms of specific successes, there are a few that stand out. Early on we created a closed group for our store administrators, who are based in each store and look after all the day-to-day colleague and store queries. Yammer has given them a peer network they’ve never had before, enabling them to support each other and share knowledge. This not only builds a sense of belonging but is also really empowering. From a practical point of view, support calls to head office have dropped dramatically too as the stores and office team are now all part of one conversation.

“The fact that Yammer is an ever-growing knowledge base means that it’s also becoming a great learning platform for us. Colleagues can search for answers, ask a question to the crowd, and we even have some doing their own videos on our products! ‘Learn with Lorraine’ is a popular vlog started by one of our store colleagues, where she walks you through the benefits of Kingfisher’s new unified and unique ranges in a really accessible way. Without a social network, this know-how wouldn’t be so easy to share.

We’re also using it to drive sales. Recently we had a back stock of wheelbarrows, flat-packed in boxes gathering dust. Our retail director laid down a challenge to sell more by building them in store for customers to see and try out. Through Yammer, stores competed for who could build the barrows the fastest, filming the action, then sharing it. With ready-built wheelbarrows on prominent display, sales rocketed up and down the country.

“Yammer is really helping us communicate and celebrate success too. This can be a quick shout-out when we reach a certain business milestone, a personal thank you from one colleague to another or our CEO sharing letters from satisfied customers with recognition for named employees. It feels a really natural way to drive engagement. I think having this direct and informal method of communicating, where anyone can talk to anyone, makes our business feel more human.

“Another good example is our Group Exec and CEO YamJams, where we link up our leaders with store and office teams around the globe. It’s the international scope of Yammer that excites me the most and the cut-through it creates. We’re now starting to see conversations happening across the company globally, discussing and problem-solving together. Recently, some feedback about how new products arrive in B&Q stores was picked up by a Kingfisher packaging technologists in France. That colleague-to-colleague connection happened in under 24 hours, all thanks to Yammer.

“Aside from specific work-related communities, we know that our more light-hearted groups are beneficial too. In B&Q, there’s a group for gardeners, another for cyclists and one called ‘didyouknowthat’, where colleagues share all sorts of diy facts and home improvement top tips. I think these kind of forums wire the business differently – someone you meet through a shared personal interest on Yammer might turn out to be a handy work contact or even a new friend.”

What challenges have you encountered along the way? And how have you overcome them?
“The hardest part was getting it off the ground initially. Mass adoption needs a movement, but that only comes from the early pioneers being brave and sticking with it. Another challenge has been around meeting the excited expectations of some while managing the fears, doubts and cynicism of others. On the one hand there are people who feel Yammer is something else on top of their day job, while others have said it’s reduced the amount of email they get and made work more efficient.

“Certainly for us, the crux of Yammer success is the effort invested in streamlining groups. It’s about getting a balance between them being focused enough to be useful, yet not so targeted that we fail to break down silos which limit innovation and our ability to solve problems together.

“In truth we won’t win everybody over. Social media is a choice we make, in and out of work. But if half of the people in a store or office are on Yammer and they talk to the other half, all of that knowledge, information and celebration has the potential to reach everyone. Rather than us saying ‘join Yammer’, we want to get to a stage where colleagues are thinking ‘why wouldn’t I?’. That’s when we’ll know we’ve cracked it!”

What would you do differently if you did it all again?
“That’s a tough one. Part of me says it would have been better not to have made Yammer available until we had a clear strategy for its use. On the flip side, social networks are organic, so I quite like the way we were able to grow it naturally over time and experiment, rather than a big orchestrated ‘switch on’ with prescriptive groups. Yammer is an alternative way of working and that’s the whole point.

The one thing I’d definitely do differently is to have a network of volunteer champions from the outset. In Kingfisher we call them Digital Agents and are recruiting them now as part of the wider Yammer rollout. Supporting a vibrant social network is an ongoing job and the ‘missions’ we set our agents are a really important part of its continued adoption and further uptake of Office 365 tools.

We actively reward our agents, with spot prizes for helpfulness but also by giving them the inside scoop on where we’re heading as a company with digital. It’s early days, but my goal is to build this community not just into something that supports and shapes our digital world internally, but also plays a vital part in developing the online capability Kingfisher offers to customers.”

What’s next?
“Having rolled Yammer out to B&Q head office, field teams and our managers in store, we’re now inviting everyone else on board. This has the potential to take our numbers from 8,000 to around 27,000, though I’ll be really pleased if we hit anything over 65% take up. We’re introducing it region by region, being very careful to not break what we’ve already built! It’ll be great to have one place where we can all talk about home improvement. This is happening right across Kingfisher too, with more and more colleagues in different countries joining the community over the coming months, so I’m looking forward to Yammer having a more international flavour and the new collaboration opportunities this unlocks.

“In B&Q our focus is to build on the strong foundations we have, working with our Digital Agents to help the business get the most out of Yammer and use it in the best way. I’d like to get to the point where we go a step further than responding to issues raised on Yammer, with leaders proactively asking colleagues for their ideas and thoughts on how we can become a better company. We’re also looking at analytics in greater depth, seeing what useful insights our social network can give us in terms of our processes, our colleagues and our customers.

“In addition, as part of our global working group for Yammer, we’re looking at how we can make the tool even more accessible for the people who work in our stores. Our colleagues in IT are in the process of making Yammer available on the touchscreen devices used for picking stock in store. This will be a great solution for colleagues who don’t want to use their personal mobiles for work, or in countries like France, where legislation actually prevents this.

“Wherever we take Yammer though, I want it to keep its sense of fun and informality. I think it’s a big part of the reason people use it. Work should be enjoyable and if enterprise social helps with that, at the same time allowing you to perform better as a business, what’s not to love?”

What good advice do you have for any readers who are struggling with Yammer?
“Invest time in your enthusiasts and your critics. Fans are the key to great content – the more you can make enterprise social something that belongs to everyone, the more it will thrive, and the more evidence you have to win non-believers round! Remember that enterprise social is a leveller. This goes against traditional business hierarchies, so your leaders need to accept and embrace the fact that Yammer gives everyone an equal voice.

“It’s likely you’ll face technical as well as cultural hurdles, so be prepared for both, and have realistic goals for rollout. In a large business it takes years rather than months to establish a social network properly. Above all though, keep the faith! If you start off by making Yammer a helpful place and work hard to keep it that way, it absolutely will grow into a force for good.

“The heart of a successful Yammer network is getting the categories and groups right – not too complex, not too prescriptive and let them grow organically. Ride the wave, don’t try to control it and make sure there’s a mix of business and fun. Yammer is very adaptable, so experiment and tweak as you go.

“Be really clear on what Yammer is good for, show people how to use it in the best way and provide practical guidance on things like response times. Not every post will be seen and not every question will get answered – you don’t want people on Yammer late into the night trying to achieve that! In general, the hot topics naturally rise to the top and, if everyone rolls up their sleeves, the easier it becomes.

“For anyone looking to use Yammer for the first time, start small then scale gradually, selling the concept in relentlessly at team meetings as you go. Pick two or three use cases and focus on getting these off the ground. The sooner you have internal case studies you can use, the quicker you’ll get buy-in and an appetite from other areas.

“If you already have Yammer but are struggling to get it going, think very carefully before you abandon it. If enterprise social hasn’t worked for you using Yammer, simply jumping to a different tool is unlikely to change the result. You get out what you put in.

“Ultimately, you can’t deliver Yammer successfully alone, so surround yourself with helpful people, including business and technical working parties, a board sponsor, plus some form of champions community. The end goal is a network that’s self-sustaining, but this does take time.

“Following the above approach, it is possible to bring a social network like Yammer to life. That’s what we’re doing in Kingfisher and so far, so good.”