The name Jam may suggest a heavy metal group improvising onstage, but, at Grant Thornton UK LLP, it’s where over 4,000 partners and employees are making an altogether different type of music.
“We asked our colleagues to suggest the name for the platform; Jam resonated with the ideas of stickiness and people working together,” explains Paul Thomas, Online Communications lead at the UK professional services firm.
Officially rolled out to the entire organisation in March, today Jam, which is based on Jive, has an adoption rate of 84%. Success of the new ESN is the result of much hard work. It all started with a soft launch to a smaller group of people to help build advocacy around the business benefits of the platform, before launching more widely to the whole firm.
Jam…a business sandbox for working out loud
Grant Thornton launched a new brand two years ago as part of its efforts to grow. Part of that brand is being dynamic and agile. Jam supports and encourages both.
“We were looking for an online environment where people could be bold, speak up and have engaging conversations with anyone in the firm, across all levels and locations. We wanted to see them collaborate, work out loud and talk openly about what they were doing.”
“Jam gave us the platform to do just that.”
Community Manager Katherine Carter pinpointed a number of initial use cases. These were identified in part to demonstrate how Jam could support key business projects in order to cement leadership buy-in and ensure that Jam wasn’t mistaken for simply a social platform. From the beginning, she worked on understanding people’s differing needs for getting involved with Jam and supported them in achieving their KPIs.
An example of this is Exceptional Connections, a year-long leadership development programme. “We populated Jam with all of the resources and materials for Exceptional Connections before participants attended the first in a series of workshops and invited them to this space. This helped them to consider and strengthen their development goals in advance of the meeting itself.”
The ESN also became the place to go to for continuing conversations after the face-to-face events. “The group committed to work together towards generating new ideas, and still uses that community today.”
Opening up the conversation
Another way to show how Jam has radically changed the relationship between offline and online communications is the annual Partners’ Conference. Although highlights have historically been shared with employees after the event, Jam has enabled people to get involved real time. This year, the Partners’ Conference team set up a dedicated group on Jam, called Partners’ Conference Live. The community became the way for the rest of the firm to participate without being present. “During the event, we did live blogging, posted photos and even held panel discussions driven by questions asked by employees back in the office. The uptake was huge, with one discussion still taking place two months after the event and racking up more than 3,000 views, confirming that we had done well in breaking perceived organisational walls and increasing transparency around the meeting.”
Despite some initial caution, the firm’s leaders are also seeing the benefits of ‘working out loud’.
“It was the Partners’ Conference that made it all real,” notices Carter. “The activity online was being commented on in the room and you could feel the connection. I think our partners were surprised at the level of interest by employees in what they were talking about,” adds Thomas.
Calling all bloggers
Today, one of the main ways people participate on Jam is through blogging, using their posts as a means to amplify their voice or share a message. Anyone can start a blog, creating their own content and publishing it on a dedicated area on the ESN. And all leadership blogs are visible on the homepage of Jam so that employees can easily find and read them. Not surprisingly, this is an area of the site with a lot of traffic.
Thomas points out how the phenomenon of leadership blogging has started to change the role of traditional internal communications. “Our CEO’s blog has always been popular, and now everyone has the opportunity to say something in their own blog. With our leaders particularly, the opportunity for timely and authentic communication with their teams is being taken up and our people are asking for more with their comments, ratings and likes.”
Getting people on board and supporting them in understanding the ‘why’ of Jam is challenging yet gratifying.
Enthusiasts like Thomas help people change their mind and behaviours. And sometimes they turn even the most sceptical of people into passionate users. “I do remember having a conversation with a partner last year about the platform and why it should be important to him. He wasn’t at all interested. Today, this person is one of our most active bloggers, always talking with excitement about his next post.”
Thomas believes that when people have the chance to take a step back and see what Jam actually enables them to do, a change of mind like this one becomes undeniable. “If you look at Jam on any given day, and the interactions taking place between people who may not otherwise cross paths, you want to be a part of that. Having figured out why it is important for themselves and their teams, many jump on the opportunity to get involved.”
To maintain engagement with the platform, 75 advocates were recruited to show colleagues examples of how to use the tool, keep the interactions flowing, welcome new members and keep their profiles up to date.
But what does it mean to give everyone in your organisation a voice? “We are talking about disruptive technology. Jam is breaking down barriers and challenging existing processes and channels. It presents teams such as Communications and Marketing with new ways to communicate with the business and with each other. It also helps us listen better than ever before – better understanding of what’s on people’s minds, what’s important to them and what they’d like to know more about. What that means for the evolution of our own roles, we haven’t fully determined. It’s exciting though. New skills such as community management, content curation and stronger peer-to-peer networking are all opportunities to be even more effective communicators.”
While Paul understands that it can sometimes be hard for people to figure out how they will use Jam, he absolutely believes: “Jam can help enrich the work that we do and the relationships we build while doing it. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”