Employee resource groups (ERGs) can do a lot to create a greater sense of belonging at your organization. But the folks who volunteer to lead these groups may find themselves in need of help when it comes to utilizing perhaps the greatest tool at their disposal: Your internal employee community platform.
As a community strategist within large organizations, Lori Harrison-Smith has trained employees to help them get the most out of these platforms.
She has also managed two large migrations, both from Jive, and that has led her to have a (in her words) cynical perspective on the resources made available for these migrations, by both companies and the software vendors themselves.
Lori and Patrick discuss:
- Doing something for an employee vs. showing them how to do it themselves
- How much the ERG leaders she’s worked with have dipped into moderation
- The short timeframes given to internal community migrations
What’s really driving an internal community migration deadline (22:59): “When [an internal employee community] migration is happening, [companies are often] trying to save some money while they’re at it, and they’ve got this deadline. It’s usually a contract signature that is driving that deadline. There’s never enough time. It’s like, ‘We need to get off of this because the contract expires in November.’ It’s May when we’re having this conversation because that’s when everybody started looking at the balance sheet.” -Lori Harrison-Smith
Instead of adjustments to their platforms, vendors can push “change management” (31:52): “With the different [internal community] vendors I’ve worked with, I’ve always had great relationships with them. The people have always been great and nice, but there’s just these struggles as a community manager because I’m hearing what the employees are saying. I’m hearing them talk about the pain points they’re experiencing. Then you go back to the vendor, and a lot of it is, ‘Well, change management. You just got to get them used to this new system.'” -Lori Harrison-Smith
The downside of big dollar value community software contracts (33:57): “Maybe [the consolidation in the community software space is] a case for lower-cost platforms and open source solutions that may seem a little harder upfront but ultimately allow you to be a little more nimble internally as opposed to the sunk cost that makes you feel like you’re in a relationship you could never leave because you need to get that money back out of it.” -Patrick O’Keefe
About Lori Harrison-Smith
Lori Harrison-Smith’s career began in advertising, where she worked as a copywriter and editor. She found her real passion, though, when she transitioned to a role where she launched and supported an 8,000-strong employee community. Since 2011, Lori has held community roles within large organizations, leading platform updates and migrations, developing content and engagement programs, advocating for user experience, and guiding and supporting employees around communication and knowledge sharing.
She is currently the collaboration network manager at VMware, following community roles at Motorola Solutions and Steelcase.
- Lori Harrison-Smith on LinkedIn
- VMware, where Lori is the collaboration network manager
- Employee Resource Groups Create a Sense of Belonging, Foster Engagement by Stephen Miller for SHRM
Paste the transcript here. Final transcript should be proofed, with relevant mentions of individuals, companies and resources linked. All names at the start of transcribed portions should be full names and color-coded as such:
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for making Community Signal a part of your day. On this episode, we’re joined by Lori Harrison-Smith, collaboration network manager at VMware, to talk about empowering ERG leaders to build online communities within a company and why internal community migrations aren’t as well supported as they should be by both companies and vendors. A big thank you to Phoebe Venkat, Jules Standen, and Jenny Weigle for supporting our show via Patreon. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle for more info.
Lori Harrison-Smith’s career began in advertising where she worked as a copywriter and editor. She found her real passion though when she transitioned to a role where she launched and supported an 8,000-strong employee community. Since 2011, Lori has held community roles within large organizations, leading platform updates, and migrations, developing content and engagement programs, advocating for user experience, and guiding and supporting employees around communication and knowledge sharing. Lori, welcome to the show.
[00:01:12] Lori Harrison-Smith: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:13] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure. At Motorola Solutions, you worked as an enterprise community strategist and part of your job was training employees who were taking on the role of managing a community of fellow employees within the company’s internal community platform. An easy-to-point-to example for me at least would be Employee Resource Groups or ERGs.
For those unfamiliar with ERGs, I’ll quote from an article by Steven Miller for the Society of Human Resource Management, “ERGs, also known as affinity groups, are led by employees and made up of colleagues with shared experiences. Although affinity groups began forming in the 1960s when black workers at Xerox organized to discuss race-based tensions in the workplace, growing acknowledgment of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, DEI, has shined a fresh spotlight on ERG’s role in the workplace. Members volunteer their time to organize, hold, and attend meetings.” I thought that was a pretty good definition. Do you think so?
[00:02:01] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes.
[00:02:01] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay. With that in mind, was it essentially the case that an employee volunteering to lead an ERG was essentially volunteering to manage an online community?
[00:02:10] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes. They did not always realize that they were volunteering for that part of it. Their passion is what drove them to be a part of the group and to take a more leadership role. They probably weren’t thinking about all of the details of communication and that end of things, but, yes.
[00:02:31] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. You got right where I was going at. Were they usually aware of the commitment? Because it’s not unlike people that I’ve talked to for a long time who really love a thing and want to start a community about a thing. What I’ve said before is, it’s great that you love that thing, and of course, this is an apples-to-apples. You have that hobby, you have that passion, you have that interest, but when you choose to manage a community, you are in some ways taking yourself away from that thing because you are picking up this new hobby. In ERGs or it might not be online community specifically, it might be, “Hey, you’re now organizing this group,” and I hope you like that hobby because you just got a new one. Right?
[00:03:07] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes. There was a very coordinated effort from the top of our DEI team to organize all of– at Motorola Solutions, they were called business councils instead of ERGs. They wanted to empower the business councils to effectively reach out to the different employees and to be successful in recruiting more people to join, to plan, to attend events. Our community ends up being the place where a lot of that work can happen because it’s known as a destination for employees throughout the company to find out the latest things that are happening.
Of course, in all companies, it’s not the only place a lot of the times, but it was certainly a centralized destination for people and that was the goal, was to have these communities available for them to tell their stories and for the employees to connect with what they were connecting with their heart for all attentive purposes, and being able to meet people that you shared the same perspective with, or if you were just trying to learn more about the topic and just have a conversation.
The communities, you could– depends on the platform you’re using, but your groups, spaces, places, they’re these little areas that you have where you can have those conversations. That was a big part of what those teams needed to do to get attention within the employee population.
[00:04:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Folks volunteer.
[00:04:50] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes.
[00:04:50] Patrick O’Keefe: They realize volunteering includes the scope of this thing, an online community of sorts, internal social network, internal community, whatever vernacular you prefer.
[00:04:58] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes.
[00:04:58] Patrick O’Keefe: How did you bring them up to speed on the tool and using the tool effectively?
[00:05:02] Lori Harrison-Smith: Well, it depended on how they came to me initially, but it was usually through a meet or a Zoom call, having some time set aside, and there were varying levels. This is true of anywhere you go, the technical part of it, and how comfortable they were with it. I might have a frantic person email me and say, “I need my homepage of my community updated. Can you do this for me?” Then there’s that like, “Okay, yes, I could easily do this for them and I sympathize with their predicament, but I need to teach them to do it so that they can move forward with the future state of their community.” Other people just jump in and just start digging around and learning things,
There would be these sessions. We had a help center. If they didn’t know to contact me directly, if they didn’t know I was the person, they would go in the help center and request training. You could do it that way, or like I said, email me, and then I would just schedule an hour of time. Sometimes, depending on the person, they might get it within 20 minutes, and then we had the meeting all settled. I had the same setup at the company I worked at before, so you’re using different tools depending on the company and the technology they have.
For moving things around, the widgets that people often have built into these products, so if you’re creating a homepage, you have to curate things, you have to make sure there’s visibility of certain things that you need. You have to choose all these different widgets. The complexity can be what also takes time and effort to figure out because it could be very easy to go in and create a post, You click a button, write what you need to do, put it out there.
Part of the responsibility of being a community manager is you have to know how to organize information and curate it. That’s built into me because that’s what I love about community management, is figuring out how to put things on a page and helping people get what they need, and ingesting things as you get feedback.
If somebody’s primary job is a product designer or an engineer or a lawyer, they don’t want to mess around trying to figure out the best way to communicate and arrange the information on the page. That was a big part of it too, as I was teaching them the tech, but I was also teaching them best practices for how to do this going forward and to be adept at thinking about what you need to communicate and making sure it gets visibility. You have people following your community and there’s different aspects.
Sometimes we’d have multiple sessions. I had one person who moved to our company from a place where she had used SharePoint extensively. We were using a completely different platform and she could not connect the dots. It was so different. So she started scheduling monthly meetings with me. I didn’t mind, she just had the time, I’d walk her through, and she might also ping me if there was something more urgent.
I would get online with her to solve something quickly, but it’s always going to serve me better in my role if I’m helping them to learn it because then they can solve the problems themselves going forward. If I go and do it for them, it becomes impossible and you just set yourself up for failure because then everybody wants you to make that happen for them. When you’re at a company the size of Motorola Solutions or anybody, even over a few 100 people, you can end up with a lot of community manage.
[00:08:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Right. Doesn’t scale.
[00:08:46] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes.
[00:08:48] Patrick O’Keefe: How in lockstep were you with the DEI team? When someone volunteered to take on a business group, was it a case of like, “Here’s onboarding, here’s the training that you came up with,” or, “Lori’s available for questions about this,” was it part of their onboarding as a leader to at least become familiar with you and the resources that you had created?
[00:09:07] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes. They were always pointed to me because I had actually helped the umbrella DEI team set up their page. We had a new DEI leader come in and I had to help her learn it. She actually was one of the most fantastic leaders. She drove so many conversations through that DEI community. She understood the power of having the posts out there and interacting with employees.
Not all leaders feel like that’s necessarily a priority because they’ve got so many things going on and they don’t think, “Oh, I should be talking to employees.” They’re like, “Oh, I have this priority and this thing’s going on. I’ve got a meeting. You do it for me,” or whatever. She was very active in posting and felt very aware that her page needed to be in a certain shape. She had people on her team that I worked with to help them do that. Then they were the ones who were interacting and working closely with the business councils that were assembled underneath that umbrella, and then my name would always come up.
People would say, “Oh, so and so told me that you could help me,” and I– “Yes, that’s me.” There were a couple of times when we were trying to start some things that had been transitioned over from another platform. We worked with a couple of other teams where they saw what the other business councils were doing and they just wanted us to copy that page. It works in some cases, and in other cases, it doesn’t because it depends on how many events your council is pointing out on a regular basis, would you want the calendar widget at the top? If you’re not hosting that many events and then it’s blank, events aren’t there, those kinds of things.
They did cooperate with each other and look at their own style of design and layout and say, “I think I want to use that.” Then I could help them, I could easily copy the other person’s page or I could offer some advice to them like, “Maybe this widget wouldn’t be as useful, so we’ll just get rid of that for you,” and that kind of thing.
As much as you give people the resources, the different documentation, even the videos, I’ve had videos produced in the past, lots of people don’t like to look at that stuff. I have never figured out the key to training people effectively as a whole. I just dodge and parry and try to figure it out from person to person how it’s going to work. A lot of times it was me talking them through it on a call, they just felt more comfortable that way. Then they knew they would have those documents refer to that now that they got the lingo and the vernacular down, do you know what I mean?
[00:11:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
[00:11:46] Lori Harrison-Smith: It can be very hard to navigate those things. I myself am trying to learn Qualtrics for some of the data that I’m building out in the backend for a network that I’m responsible for currently. The Qualtrics help center is very, very robust and it’s intimidating to me. I remember what it feels like for them, right? You can be in their shoes and say, “Yes, it is challenging sometimes.”
[00:12:11] Patrick O’Keefe: The first who reads the docs, we love that person.
I think that the tech part of the job is probably like a substantial portion of this responsibility. There is an online conversation part of it, that people side of it. I was curious how much people stepping into this role found themselves moderating any online conversation or at least reading conversations to check for quality, to check for what was in the conversation like, ultimately, they’re responsible for these groups.
[00:12:42] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes.
[00:12:43] Patrick O’Keefe: As it’s clear from the definition I quoted earlier, ERGs, business councils, discuss sensitive and deeply personal matters by their very design. Those can be very challenging conversations even for an experienced full-time community professional to handle. Did you do anything in that area or how did you equip those leaders to approach that responsibility?
[00:13:06] Lori Harrison-Smith: That’s a great angle that I did not necessarily consider when I was training them on it. I was training them to keep an eye on things like the idea of getting your community set up, and then you’re just like, “Oh, I’ll post when I need to, and then I’m busy and I don’t have to worry about it because the next time I need to post, I’ll just do that.” I always reminded people that this is a place for people to come to ask a question and to start a conversation. Be sure that you have your notification set, so when somebody is interacting within that community, you’re aware of it.
It is your space, it’s your purview. I did guide them to– my preference is you don’t let a question go unanswered for even more than a day, I’m always a bit uncomfortable. The reality is, sometimes it has to take a little longer. They had the understanding that there would be other people posting in there. Sometimes people would come to me and say, “I want a generic account. I want it to just come from our group and just post something out there as an informational thing. I’m not necessarily trying to start a conversation.” Then I would backpedal to start from, “If you want to community, a community is about engagement. It’s about bi-directional conversation, that kind of thing.”
You have to be comfortable with it and you have to be transparent with your person. Also, you don’t ever own a community solo. It’s usually a team effort. I always told people there was a form that they needed to fill out. Because of the way the software worked, they couldn’t just start a community. They had to– I had to request for it. In the form, I would walk through the questions to think about before you actually submit this form. One of them was definitely, this is not a one-person job, you should always have at least one other person co-managing with you so that you’re not just putting it all on your shoulders because we’re all busy people. They would all be able to see the comments coming in, they would all understand the things that were happening. Indeed, we had somebody post in our LGBTQ community about being uncomfortable being himself at work.
It was a very personal, honest, soul-bearing post. The team jumped in right away, and they were so warm and welcoming to him. Those were the kinds of things that I would use as examples to others. You look at what’s happening over here, these are the kinds of things that could pop up in your community, your role is to be there to support them. I think just in the general atmosphere of being part of the business council, and being committed to leading in that way, I feel like that’s part of who you are anyway, it was never a hard sell. They seem to be very open to that.
[00:16:11] Patrick O’Keefe: It would seem like that’s also the sort of area where HR standards and workplace policies might factor in as well, they might flag something to HR or depending on the organization and how it’s set up. Was that the case where there’s employee policies and handbooks, and that’s an assumed thing that like, “These are the overarching standards within the company, and obviously, these groups will fall within these sort of overarching, professional and business standards”?
[00:16:34] Lori Harrison-Smith: Sure. There was an acceptable use policy, I believe it was called social media guidelines that were internal based. Then we had the external ones as well that would give people guidance on how to share on Twitter and Facebook and things like that, and how to not represent the company because that careful line you need to walk when you’re making your opinions known and things like that. Then there was the version internally.
We also had guidelines for the community itself. I was very insistent, I got pushed back at my original company for not doing the guidelines in such a way that they were the legal language that the acceptable use policies were, but I wanted it to be in person speak, I wanted it to be conversational, I wanted it to be warm and welcoming. I wanted it to be, “This is a community for our employees. This is why it’s valuable and this is what you’ll get out of it. Just keep these things in mind.”
I can’t remember the exact wording, but that whole thing about sensitive topics and being respectful of other people’s opinions and things like that was covered in those guidelines. We only ever had HR get involved. When the COVID vaccine mandates went into place, there’s a lot of sensitivity around that. I heard from my previous teammates that discussions were happening on their platform, we had discussions pop up, I actually worked with the DEI leader on that, with the HR team, and with our legal person, so that we wouldn’t be putting legalese in there and having HR calling people, and we wanted to have the conversation, be respectful within a community.
For the most part, in my experience, the people in the community, the employees themselves, kind of police each other. When somebody would say something maybe slightly inflammatory, someone else would come in, and kind of like, “Hey, think about what you just said. Your name is attached with it. You’re at work. Let’s keep it cool.” Working with them, we worked through some of those issues.
That is the most controversial thing that ever happened though. With the business councils themselves, it was generally a lot of positivity and learning, especially when the DEI chief came in. She wanted people to learn more about the different holidays, the different people impacted by things that maybe you didn’t know. They were looking for that kind of engagement. What are you learning about? What was new to you in this post that you’ve never heard before? Trying to pull those tidbits out from people. The conversations were generally just really positive.
[00:19:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Were you successful in making your community guidelines not be a legal document?
[00:19:22] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes. I just explained to them because it is a community, it’s welcoming, Motorola was really open to it. It was 2011 when I launched my first community at my previous company, it was new. Nothing like this had ever existed. People had all of these concerns that would pop up because of it being an unknown territory. That was a little bit of a pushback there, but again, when you take it back to employees, and how they interact with each other, they’re generally respectful.
It’s when you have anonymous kinds of things that you allow that I think those kinds of problems can happen. We did have an anonymous feedback in our previous internet. It wasn’t a social internet, right? It was like your old-fashioned, click a link, and they would click a button, and they could anonymously share feedback, and it would go to someone’s email address. Then you would follow up to get an answer for them, for example. They wanted to replicate that in our social internet.
They wanted a place where you could be anonymous and we’re like, “No. First of all, the software doesn’t allow that. Second of all, we want to keep things honest and straightforward, and open. If you do have a concern that wouldn’t be something that would belong on a platform like this, then that’s where you might email and share that with somebody out of the public realm, for example.”
[00:20:51] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, I’m glad you’re successful because it’s really how it should be, at least in the US, especially in the US because we have Section 230 for now at least. The standards that are defined within community guidelines generally aren’t legal things. We are empowered to moderate in the US because of the law and we can remove something because it’s all caps or because it’s all in bright red.
I want to talk about migrations because it’s a fun topic and I think you’ve got some really interesting things to say based on your experience and I want to dig into it. You’ve managed two large internal community migrations. Correct me if I’m wrong, I believe it was Jive to Igloo and Jive to LumApps. Am I correct?
[00:21:50] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes, In both cases.
[00:21:51] Patrick O’Keefe: We just don’t like Jive. Oh, forget Jive. Who even owns Jive these days? I don’t know. What? Jive X, Jive this? I don’t know.
[00:21:58] Lori Harrison-Smith: That’s the problem. We got bought and things changed.
[00:22:01] Patrick O’Keefe: Private equity. We’ve talked about it on the show more seriously, just how community professionals’ jobs can be at stake because these companies don’t support their products enough, or someone else makes a decision, investment goes out, buy-in is in the product, you spend this money, and it doesn’t work because of all number of reasons, and who is left holding the bag? Often it’s the poor community or associate manager who didn’t make the decision in the first place.
Let’s talk about migrations. Before the show, you told me that “companies aren’t as willing to put resources against internal projects as they are external, so there’s no deep dive into personas, journeys, and effective change management” at the organizations that are having this migration happen where they’re moving their employees from one platform to another. Why is that?
[00:22:44] Lori Harrison-Smith: Well, I just feel like there’s always this emphasis on what’s happening that people outside of your company can see. In large companies, maybe it could be in small companies as well, but I just also feel that when migration is happening, they’re trying to save some money while they’re at it and they’ve got this deadline, it’s usually a contract signature that is driving that deadline.
There’s never enough time. It’s like, “Oh, we need to get off of this because the contract expires in November.” It’s May when we’re having this conversation because that’s when everybody started looking at the balance sheet. That’s another story, right? The whole ROI. It’s hard to measure that on an internal community versus maybe an external community where there’s support and you can tie it to questions getting answered and things like that, but both of the migrations that I was involved in were probably four months, about four months long. That’s not a lot of time.
As a result, you can’t do a deep dive. You can’t do what you need to do to make sure that the end user is being considered in that process, their voice. Ideally, they would’ve been part of helping us maybe realize what a new version of this platform could look like. Instead, you’re signing contracts, which takes a very long time. I learned. Going through the supply chain people, procurement or what have you, all of that stuff, looking at the contract 20 times before everyone stands by, all that stuff takes time. That cuts into your deadline too, but then you’ve got all the data that has to move over, what form does it move over, doing all the testings.
You’re running through all of the versions of that. It’s just time crunch, stress, and rush. I just don’t feel like vendors in that timeframe, they can’t do a deep dive. I don’t know if all of them know how to do a deep dive. I don’t mean to be cynical, but–
[00:24:43] Patrick O’Keefe: Please be. This is a cynical podcast.
[00:24:47] Lori Harrison-Smith: [chuckles] There’s so much involved in understanding a customer that you need to spend more than just coming in for a three-day workshop and going through your plan step by step. You’re really not getting the meat of it.
[00:25:02] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
[00:25:03] Lori Harrison-Smith: You’re relying on the experts who work at the company to help you out with that, but in my community management experience, internally, I never had a big team. I had myself, an IT support person, I eventually got an intern who turned into an associate community manager after a couple of years, but you just don’t have the ability to do user research. I’m not a user research expert.
We had someone on our external team who came into our team for a couple of days and helped us do a few guidelines on how to conduct user experience calls, and how to pull out what people were saying, put them on a board with all your sticky notes. Arrange your sticky notes by theme. We pulled a lot of tensions out of that, but we didn’t resolve the tensions.
One of the big tensions you face a lot of the times in a global company is global news versus local news. When you started the company, you think, “Oh, people are going to want to know everything that’s going on.” They’re going to be based in Atlanta, for example, but they’ll want to know what’s happening in Paris because why wouldn’t you want to know what’s happening in the other areas? Well, there’s plenty of people who do want to know that. They just want to go to the system, they want to go to the community, and find only news related to Atlanta and only news related to their team. They want to live in their little silo, the one that we’re always trying to break them out of.
We uncovered some of those tensions, but it wasn’t enough to help us with the UX of the whole site. Then we were going by the vendor’s expertise to drive that who didn’t know a lot about us. It worked. It was successful. We launched in both cases, we launched on the day we said we were going to launch which is a miracle from what I understand. Generally, the feedback in both cases was pretty good, but I feel like we could have done better. I just feel like there are a lot of areas where you just miss things, and then you spend a lot of time doing “clean up” later on. Trying to backtrack and do something you wish you had done earlier. Migrations are complex. [chuckles]
[00:27:21] Patrick O’Keefe: When I hear this, I think about product development. Having built external consumer-facing products before, I know that they go through rounds, iterations, and user research, as you mentioned. I haven’t had a ton of experience with user research folks, but the ones that I have, I think tend to be overtaxed with their duty they already have, which I think is true of a lot of people, but seems to be true for UX research in particular.
To pull someone in for a couple of days, it’s an inconvenience almost. It just isn’t that demand for it to receive the same rigorous processes and maybe it’s just because, as you mentioned, people are going to see it that are customers. It’s just going to be our employees, and we pay them anyway. Tough noogies.
[00:28:02] Lori Harrison-Smith: [laughs] Tough noogies. I think that is a bit to do with it. What people see of your company from the outside isn’t always what’s on the inside. You do worry more about PR, and how customers or others that are viewing your company. Especially if it’s product based, most of the companies I’ve worked with would be more B2B versus B2C, but if you’re working with customers out there that are a brand that everyone is really into, Legos or something like that, you want the perfect experience because that’s the essence of your brand and how people see you.
If your online community isn’t well run and doesn’t work well, people will talk externally and talk about it. Whereas I don’t know that employees necessarily go and talk to their friends about their experiences with their work communities. They might, [chuckles] but it’s just another tool, a tech tool that you use in your job, but I say this to people all the time, I used to work for Steelcase, an office furniture manufacturer, and there was a lot of discussion.
We had beautiful offices, just gorgeous. One of the things that they would sell to our customers, companies who were buying office furniture, was how do you attract and retain your talent? Well, if they’ve got a beautiful space to work in, of course, they’re going to love their jobs, but if they don’t have the right tech, they’re not necessarily going to be happy. I’m sitting in a chair that I bought when I worked at Steelcase, it’s super comfortable. If my tech’s not working, that doesn’t matter anymore because it can’t do my job.
If these tools, it could be your community, it could be your project management suite. It could be anything that your employees need to do their jobs during the day. If there’s friction, they’re going to be mad. They’re going to at least talk to each other about it. Tools then don’t get used or people just complain about it all the time, and IT gets complaints, and there’s just this general dissatisfaction. It doesn’t have the same impact as maybe the external world complaining about it.
I do think it has an impact on whether employees are satisfied with their work and if they’re considering jumping ship for some reason. These things, they do play a role. There’s so many things that play a role in whether you’re satisfied as an employee.
[00:30:29] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to talk about the second part of this, as you alluded to a little bit, of vendors because you also told me that “vendors can boast all they like about their processes and implementation strategies, but I haven’t been blown away by the insights they provided during these transitions.” It sounds like there’s a story or two there. Can you elaborate on that?
[00:30:45] Lori Harrison-Smith: I think it goes back to a little bit of what we were talking about earlier where they don’t do their due diligence because they come and they sell you this product. When I was looking for the first migration and I was looking at requirements and this huge document, and I was comparing three different products to see which one would closely align with the experience we had before.
I knew it wasn’t going to be exactly the same. You’re asking questions of them and they’re like, “Yes, we can do that. Yes, we can do that.” They send the RFP back with these answers. There’s always some subtleties behind it. “Yes, we can do that if this happens,” and they don’t include the if. It’s not like they’re baiting and switching. That is not what I’m saying. Sometimes the path to that yes is not smooth. It’s not the best user experience. A lot of these companies are small. They don’t have a huge staff of people and they don’t necessarily have their own user experience people.
[00:31:45] Patrick O’Keefe: By the time you’ve sold, you’ve closed the deal, you talked to the sales staff, you may have talked to already half the company. [chuckles]
[00:31:51] Lori Harrison-Smith: Yes. With the different vendors I’ve worked with, I’ve always had great relationships with them. The people have always been great and nice, but there’s just these struggles as a community manager because I’m hearing what the end user, what the employees are saying. I’m hearing them talk about the pain points that they’re experiencing.
Then you go back to the vendor, and a lot of it is, “Well, change management. You just got to get them used to this new system.” I’m like, “You’re never going to have the perfect amount of time and the budget to make it exactly what it needs to be. You can’t promise people that it’s going to be like this solution.” “We have all the strategy behind it and we’ll make this work for you,” and there’s just a lot of marketing stuff that gets thrown in there.
I guess going back to the whole cynic idea, I become a bit of a cynic, and like you were saying earlier, a lot of these companies end up getting bought. You finally get people, they use one system for six years, you get them on a new one, and then it’s this huge transition to finally get them comfortable with it. Then that company gets bought. There’s not a lot of consideration made for how does that impact the way people work and how do you make adjustments in that environment?
I don’t really know that anybody has the answer for that. The way that tech companies buy each other and just change everything all the time, you’ve got to always keep that end user as the person you’re trying to design for. I don’t know that they necessarily do that, right?
[00:33:23] Patrick O’Keefe: I think it’s a good case for keeping that investment in check which, of course, everyone’s watching the budget, but I think sometimes when we get in those sales calls and those demos and we hear things, we think about, “Oh, well, this sounds so great. Of course, we can commit six figures, whatever it is, to this product, and they’re going to be there for us and it’s going to be great.” Maybe there’s a way to look at it where history has shown that a lot of these companies change hands by another company, merge with another company, and then that product is depreciated, and that data is not as well supported, et cetera.
It’s a very common story. Maybe it’s a case for lower-cost platforms and open source solutions and things of that nature that may seem a little harder upfront but ultimately allow you to be a little more nimble internally as opposed to the sunk cost that makes you feel like you’re in a relationship you could never leave because you need to get that money back out of it.
[00:34:15] Lori Harrison-Smith: I love the word nimble. When you were talking, it made me think about just the idea that in both cases I was moving from Jive, which was an established platform of, in both cases, six years at these companies. In Jive, you followed your colleagues. If you were my colleague and I followed you, I would see the things that you were posting just like you do on other social media sites.
If you were responding to somebody else’s post, I’d say, “Oh, look, Patrick got involved in a conversation with somebody and I’d like to hear more about it,” whereas the other systems we were looking at it, almost all of them didn’t let you follow people. It’s such a weird concept to me. One of the arguments that was made during one of the vendor presentations, we didn’t go with this vendor, but then it ended up being an issue anyway, was we don’t let people follow people, but they follow topics because that’s what they’re interested in.
If you’re interested in design thinking, which was a big thing at my company, well, you’re going to want to follow people who do design thinking, and what if the person in that role switches over and does marketing now? You don’t care about marketing, and I’m like, “No, no, no. It really is about the people. The people are the connections you’re making. Communities are people. Should this person, Patrick, change roles, I still probably want to hear what Patrick has to say because it’s more about who you are, not necessarily the topic.
If you were to switch rules and start talking about stuff that I was not interested in, I could then choose to unfollow you, but in most cases, it’s more that I made this connection with you and you’re a person who shares things that I’m interested in. That never changes whether you’ve changed roles or not. They couldn’t change their systems, they couldn’t work to make that happen, and it didn’t matter how often our employees complained. They would never prioritize it on a roadmap. They’re like, “This is just the way our system works.”
It’s like, “Can’t you see the value in something that large? It’s not a little teeny feature we’re looking for. We’re looking for a bigger issue here to be solved,” but it is weird because I feel like, I don’t know if this is on the record, but when Jive went away, a lot of people– even today, I just had a conversation with another community professional that I’ve been friends with for a while, and she’s like, “I miss Jive,” because you just knew how to use it and these other tools are just not as maybe intuitive. I don’t know what it is.
You go and you go to the next one and you learn it, and you just deal with it, but it is interesting the way that, like I said, “This is what we want to do.” “Okay, yes, you can do that. Then there’s all these caveats. I don’t know if that would change. It’s just something that I’ve struggled with within that realm before.
[00:37:05] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t talk to a lot of people who say they love the vendors they work with. Sometimes they do, but more often than not, it’s a case where– sometimes the best way that we can feel about someone, a vendor in this case, is at the very start of the relationship and it goes downhill from there, but I hope that that is not how people feel about this podcast and that as you came into it, you’re feeling just about as good as you leave. Lori, thank you so much for making some time for us today. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.
[00:37:31] Lori Harrison-Smith: I’ve enjoyed talking with you as well and with Patrick. [laughs]
[00:37:35] Patrick O’Keefe: Of course. He likes to be heard. We have been talking with Lori Harrison-Smith, collaboration network manager for VMware. You can find her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/loriharrisonsmith. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. Until next time.
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