Because, ESN

I want to share a story about culture, but it has nothing to do with change management or HR or executive sponsorship. It has to do with ice cream and social networks. It is not about pivoting the organization or exploding hierarchies and power structures. It is about meeting people where they are, as co-creators of your culture.

A couple of weeks ago, the office manager opened the freezer in our office of 200 people and saw some ice cream that needed using up from a previous event. She knew exactly what to do. 15 minutes later, one of the social committee posted to the office group of our enterprise social network:

Ice Cream party, 2pm, Kitchen.

Be there. Why?

Just because…

<add cute photo of dog holding an ice cream>

Once upon a time, the social committee was a very serious undertaking. It was a committee with a capital C. There were meetings, and minutes, and decisions, and investments. It was hard work. It was difficult to recruit for.

One day, we decided it was time to speak like human beings to each other, with trust and camaraderie at the heart of each interchange. We let people communicate widely and tightly, and to comment and invite and (self)organize. We gave voice to individuals and teams and communities. We launched an ESN.

Soon thereafter, the social committee started Just Because… parties. Why? Well, just because. Not everything needs to be over thought and uber organized. Not everything needs to be signed off and project managed to within an inch of its life. No. Some things can just evolve, happen, unfold. These two things – the ESN and the Just Because… parties – are not unrelated.

One of the committee posts a short, happy, vaguely event/weather themed note to the network. Colleagues begin to Like it to keep it front of mind to others in the network over a couple of days. Closer to the time, someone might poke the thread with a reminder; the conversation ripples around the office. On a day (like every other day) when everyone will confirm that they are “really busy,” the idea that they can slip down to the kitchen for some ice cream with their team seems ok; it is not asking much. Very simple and understated, very light and inviting.

The first person to arrive takes a photo of 5 types of ice cream on offer and posts to the thread: “Hey, if you don’t hurry, this will be GONE, especially the double choco mint!” Around the office you see people stand up and move to the kitchen, a light exuberance in their step.

This is the culture at my house, post-ice cream
This is the culture at my house, post-ice cream

The Just Because… parties create “many lightweight interactions over time.” This is how networks prosper and strengthen. This is how emergence occurs. This is how culture is built.

Much of the time, if we really want the people around us to engage, perform and grow, we just need to get out of their way. Some tools and processes enable this; most do not. An ESN is one that does. Its touch is light, its impact large and deep yet really quite understated. It is simple to use and to scale; its returns outperform any and all small investments required to keep it ticking over.

By 2.10 pm the first “Thanks for the ice cream yo!” message gets posted. Slackers get a hurry on. They find maybe 30% of the office in the kitchen, some mingling, some passing through, ice cream on their mind.

On the way back to my desk, alongside my boss and my teammate, we comment: “Well that was great. Such a simple idea, such a great way to say hi and get together and feel connected.” We share a collective marvel on how easy it is to build community and re-energize for the day (FTW!). We praise the social committee, and add a comment to the ESN post just to ensure that thought is captured and the kudos duly reflected. Doing so is so easy and simple and light that even the busy people can manage it.

The event passes off with minimal effort; the office gets back to work with minimal fuss. The recurring thought in my head: so simple, so easy, so light, so valuable. Maybe it’s just the ice cream haze talking, but our ESN is making a positive difference in our lives (as well as our social committee, of course).

How would this play out without the ESN to empower and engage and to surface and iterate through? All office email! Posters! Calendarizing! Approvals and sign-offs! Follow-up spam email reminders! Debriefs and lessons learned!

A recent online meme that explains random behavior and action and thoughts is: Because, internet. I like it because, well, just because…but today, replete with ice cream I say: Because ESN.

←This Much We Know.→

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