Continuing my conversation with co-founder Adam Pisoni, we discuss Yammer's integration strategy, and the two things he thinks get in the way of most collaboration. He'll take a look at how business models are changing and driving more value out of employees, how space effects collaboration and how communication drives everything!
David: So, you were talking about partners and integration. What are some of your criteria for this?
Adam: Simply put, we generally like working with companies that are easy to work with. This includes companies that have open APIs or have thought about a following model or activity streams. We also look at integrations very strategically, as in the case of SAP.
Part of our integration strategy is to make it really easy to partner with us. All we need is activities through data and open graph objects. Once the basic integration is complete, our partners get increased value over time without anyone having to upgrade or change their product.
David: What do you see as the biggest stumbling point for collaboration? What is the thing that's getting in the way of it working well since you quoted Gartner saying 70 percent of all IT-dominated social initiatives would fail, which is good for me because I consult around that part.
Adam: I think there are two things: one is there are still a lot of bad tools out there that just don’t work or aren’t easy to use. The second is more about corporate culture. There is a huge conflict in enterprises between the old model – where companies try to be as rigid and predictable as possible – and the new model that incorporates transparency, agility, etc.
If you’re agile and innovative, you’re going to be less predictable and that’s a really difficult set of trade-offs because we tend to reward companies for predictability above all else – even above success. Look at the stock market – if a company comes in within an analyst’s range or beats it, the stock goes up, but if it comes in lower, the stock goes down. This is the ultimate value of predictability.
David: Any other indicators besides their stock price?
Adam: In general, we give employees very narrow job descriptions because we want to know what their output will be. We would rather have an expected outcome than have them excel in a way that was unpredictable for the most part.
David: I would think you would want them to excel ...
Adam: Of course, we want employees to excel. But historically, predictability has been more important than agility.
David: Well that's because it's based on a model from the industrial age, a Taylorist model.
Adam: Exactly. That probably has been detrimental for a couple decades now but I think we’re at the point now where we’re seeing whole industries get disrupted so fast … It’s becoming really apparent that we actually have to be able to get more value from our employees by expanding their job descriptions and letting them excel.
We have to be much more innovative and agile. One of the ways we can do that is by giving our employees a little more room to solve problems in a better way and collaborate. Everything we talked about, self-organizing and just-in-time, isn’t predictable. That’s what we’re saying. It’s like we’re going to let them figure this out and that’s the biggest stumbling block.
If companies are internalizing this and deciding that that’s important to them and modeling that behavior in fact -- because certainly I know plenty of companies who said, “We want to go social,” and then modeled a really bad behavior, like firing employees who were questioning strategies. Giving employees a voice -- those are the kind of things that I think are the biggest and are a key part of social.
David: Well that's why I look at collaboration holistically, all the good people, process, technology and space. Because I think all four affect the ability to collaborate.
Adam: Physical and virtual space does impact collaboration. What do you think of offices and cubicles?
David: Yeah. Because, you know, a lot of the problem is that you don’t get to sit and have time to think before you get interrupted. And I think studies say that it takes 7 to 15 minutes to get back to what you are doing once you’re interrupted. I mean when I’m writing, I just ignore email, phone, cell phone, IM, etc. I just don’t even look at my other screen which has email and IM and all that, and I just focus on the writing because otherwise I would never make a deadline.
Adam: I have thought a lot about open spaces versus offices and I don’t know yet what’s best. It seems sort of role-dependent. Our engineers work in mostly open spaces, but I have an office, and now that I’m in the office, I can’t imagine getting anything done in a cubicle.
David: Right. But you have an office because you have to talk about stuff that’s not public.
Adam: For me it’s more about interruption. For our engineering, it really works in teams. Nobody works alone. That’s a good thing I think in engineering. But for other jobs, if you’re writing, you’re working alone. You need your time.
David: What do you look for in an engineer?
Adam: When we hire engineers, we look for ones with good communication skills because we think that is indicative of a good and productive employee. It’s not just about how well engineers communicate with the computer, it’s how well you communicate with other engineers. You’re not writing code for the computer, you’re writing it for other people who have to work with it.
David: So getting back on topic, how does Yammer help or hinder enterprise processes?
Adam: We work with a lot of big companies and the Yammer can confuse their processes, particularly those that have become too rigid or broken. But what’s really confusing is that there seems to be a lot of people whose job is attached to process. So when the process changes, their job is in jeopardy. I think the best approach is not to organize people around process, but to organize groups around objectives.
David: Right, because you're rigidifying the process. You know the old story about the square meatloaf? So, a woman makes a meatloaf and she puts it in a square pan and one of her kids says, "Well, why do you make the meatloaf square? The meatloaf we have at school is like a loaf." And she said, "Well that's the way my mom taught me." And so, finally she goes back and talks to her mother and her mother said, "Oh, the only reason I do it that way is because I didn't really have a pan that would work the other way."
Adam: That's what happens with corporate processes, they become institutionalized.
David: I also think though, that tying collaboration to a process to get an outcome is a good strategy.
Adam: What do you mean exactly? Or what would you think as an example?
David: Ok. So let's look at new product development. I look at a lot of processes in the enterprise and we figured there were six processes that have what we call "collaborative leverage." So collaborative leverage is if you apply the right tool, at the right time, with the right people, and the right process, you get a big win. So the example I give is Intel, if they use a collaborative tool and can get a chip to market month earlier, it could be worth half a billion dollars. So you get a big upside from that. Usually it's cutting cycle time or increasing the quality.
Adam: There is a theory that process is in place to get people doing the right things, but we think that the best use of process is about transparency. The reason for process is to force collaboration and transparency, not to force people to do the right things. It’s the transparency and the collaboration that forces people to do the right things, but in a more flexible way. So at Yammer, for example, we don’t try to track every task.
We think that’s the wrong level of granularity to create transparency. Instead of tasks, we break things into projects. People working on a project team and do all of their work in public Yammer groups so the whole company can see. The process enforces transparency and accountability but we don’t go to the task level because we don’t think there’s any value in that.
A lot of process are instutited just to try and get people better at predicting their time management, and we don’t think that matters as much as making sure they are working on the right things. We trust they are already working as hard as they can.
David: But those processes kind of make up a framework, part of which would constitute a corporate culture.
Adam: We view culture as the output of your process in your organization, not the input. They reinforce each other. You can say you have a collaborative culture but you can’t actually have one if your processes aren’t collaborative.
Editor's Note: Tune in tomorrow for the final installment of the interview. In the mean time, catch up with the first part Thoughts on the Future of Collaboration from Yammer Co-founder Adam Pisoni