Viva Engage: Realising Strategic Value through Discovery

The Viva Engage hot-takes are in. The two prevailing themes are excitement and confusion. Viva Engage is the future of engagement right in the heart of Microsoft Teams. Viva Engage is a new Facebook clone. Once again this signals the death of Yammer, even though it is Yammer. Yammer will be renamed, deprecated or otherwise mysteriously be second class. It’s the beginning of a premium licensing offering. We are living a Shakespearean Comedy of Errors. As promised in my own hot-take, I will now dig deeper on my thoughts on the strategic potential and possible roadmap for Viva Engage and Yammer.

The TL:DR is it’s a positive step to enabling discovery of knowledge and human relationships in the context of work, but the big question remains ‘what next?’ The short answer is ‘Next is up to us to embrace and facilitate change, not wait for the technology.’

Time For Something New

For reasons of sales model, philosophy, and proposition, Yammer started on the wrong foot in the Microsoft ecosystem. Despite many efforts, Yammer has never quite recovered from its outsider status. Yammer initially made many enemies among Microsoft IT pros as a product that sold itself to people outside your organisation’s technology organisation – grey-market IT that sat outside the carefully managed IT stack.

Yammer also focused on personal relationships and a capability to tame the chaos of human nature into useful discovery. If you were raised in a world of tightly controlled access, carefully managed metadata, and a preference for information over knowledge, and especially data over people, then Yammer was disliked. Add to that misunderstanding that Yammer’s potential to reduce emails, especially distribution lists, meant that it was somehow going to replace email and the dislike was intense.

Do not regard me only as a winter-wife,
A peddler of homely comforts.
Indeed I am also your girl of spring –
Dreams possess and inhabit me.

Jean Starr Untermeyer, Discover me again

With time and greater M365 integration, Yammer has found a sustainable spot on the agenda for many in the Microsoft ecosystem. Years of Yammer have delivered important capabilities connecting Yammer into the Microsoft ecosystem, but emotions are emotions and resistance remains however much intellectual arguments are made to the contrary. This becomes a challenge when employee engagement could not be more important as we grapple with this part-hybrid, part-office, dynamic workplace.

At the same time as Yammer has grappled with its place in the Microsoft ecosystem, the frustration with enterprise social solutions like Yammer has been rising and some of the fiercest advocates have been moving on. Too many clients believed utopian dreams of organisation transformation. Too many advocates became frustrated when people would not support the necessary change and adoption work or thought change could be forced.

Microsoft Viva Engage in Microsoft Teams is a new start. It is still Yammer under the hood, just surfacing the capabilities in a new context and with a new name. The same features are available outside of Teams in Yammer on web and the app. The two will have the same groups and same conversations. For now, they will have the same feature set. Another name is a moment of confusion. So why is this a moment of potential?

Context & Discovery Matter

How is your work enabled by discovery?
Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

All our work depends on context. Context is critical to the way we understand what we do, how we interact with others, and what we achieve. There is no context-free work. However, in many Microsoft Teams Groups and channels you would struggle to see context. Every message, document and interaction is immediate and self-contained. We struggle to discover the point of what is being shared, the critical context. We struggle because often these environments are stripped of the human capacity for discovery and relationships. They are task- and data-centric. That can be as simple as the group is closed, the conversations is all shorthand, or all the information is structured to a logic that makes sense to others in the flow, but not a new person. In a busy hybrid work day, do we have time to hunt for context? Or do we move on disappointed that we are left out?

Our work communities are where that enabling discovery of context occurs. Discovery in and through human relationships at work (not all technology enabled) is how we create the environment, context, and culture around our work. Viva Engage is a chance to bring that deeply into the single pane of glass work experience that is Microsoft Teams. Leveraging the Viva platform employee experience branding makes sense because it gives discovery in those communities a new context and a new meaning that Yammer with all its history may not always deliver.

Yammer too often and for too many has been seen as another place away from work. We have all heard the “why do I need another place to check?’, but we have also seen the frustration of those who say “It’s just people I’m not interested in sharing messy conversations and pets”. There is nothing wrong with Yammer as a place for you to discover your fellow employee’s thinking as it evolves, whether pets or other complicated displays of humanity. Nothing is gained by pushing the human chaos and diversity of our organisations away or pretending it doesn’t exist. We should be interested in our colleagues as work is a collaborative endeavour. We don’t manage information better in a sterile world, we just lose the chance to learn value of the diverse human knowledge and experience that creates important context. As Melanie Hohertz, a Yammer MVP and legend of the Yammer community, said to me in a private conversation:

“Yammer can help us make sense of change and even grieve together. Don’t we need that more than ever? I need to see colleagues’ smol dogs, okay? The world is stressful and I want to feel at home in my workplace.”

Mel has a great point. Microsoft Teams is explicitly designed as a context of work, if not the context of work. It is a workplace. Let’s bring employee engagement, new work relationships, and greater discovery into that context through Viva Engage. If organisations are going to invest in creating new employee experiences through Viva, then let’s ensure discovery from and with our fellow colleagues is part of our target employee experience. Let’s embrace the strategic value that employees can bring through discovery. Discovery is at the heart of the Value Maturity Model, which is framed around connection, sharing, solving, and innovation. I am excited too that the move with Viva Engage opens a new roadmap to think differently of how we supply the context from colleagues in our work.

Thinking Systems, Loops & Scaffolding

When I look at the Viva Engage announcement, I don’t fear Yammer going away as a product or a brand. What I see is the potential to start changing the systems of our work, which is the only enduring way to make change in organisations and to better realise our potential. When you invite and empower discovery, you open the opportunity for your employees to become more curious, to work in much more agile ways and ultimately to take ownership and shape of the ongoing changes to their work. The best outcome of Yammer, and now Viva Engage, is that discovery, and its attendant human curiosity, leads to scaled agency and change.

Just as Microsoft Loop hints at the potential of the dynamic creation of work canvases to support new and different ways of working, I can see a potential for Viva Engage to bring the discovery potential of work relationships, work communities, and knowledge into and around the flow of work. Most people work who use Microsoft365 work with Outlook and Microsoft Teams open all day – the inner loop of work was always available to hand. Dedicated Yammer uses have always done the same because discovery is a continuous process before during and after each task of the day – being able to call on collaboration’s outer loop is a productivity superpower. Viva Engage offers the opportunity to ease the transition from inner loop to outer loop work. Whether we are gaining information, capability or resources through Viva Engage interactions they will now be at our fingertips in Microsoft Teams and Outlook. Perhaps like Microsoft Loop, we will see these features even further afield in the Microsoft365 stack in future.

Scaffolding new ways of work. Not fitting them into containers
Photo by Igor Starkov on Pexels.com

I wish for a splintering of the one-size-fits-all app or website for community because it was always a forced limitation. We just don’t interact with other humans that way, if we are given a choice. Remember Yammer’s web and app experience was born in the same year as modern smartphones. There are so many more contexts for work now. Making people go to a one-sized solution for discovery, collaboration, and community meant that for too many people the noise outweighed the signal. Teams, groups, communities of interest, advocacy groups, business units, specialisations, and communities of practice are all different things.

One response is to accept that it doesn’t suit all and focus only on the small cohort of power users. Yammer has always done that exceptionally well and the power users, the Yammer family, are infinitely loyal as a result. However, there has always been a bigger potential to bring discovery to those who don’t automatically get the potential, to help more people to be more curious about their peers, to connect, share, solve, and innovate. In our part-hybrid and part-office world, this is more important because to borrow a Donald Rumsfeld line “we don’t know what we don’t know”. If you don’t know how or where to start looking, how can you find anything?

One-size-fits-all collaboration fails because work, collaboration, discovery, and community don’t come in standard sizes. More was lost than was gained by fitting things into the single site, a single group structure and one feature set. Let’s hope, as Viva Engage evolves, the focus is more on scaffolding work, collaboration, discovery and community than fitting it into a template on a webpage.

Unrealised Potential

Discovery matters in our new mode of work, because it is the vehicle through which people align themselves with purpose, come to a practical understanding of the organisation’s strategic intent, learn, change and adapt their way through work, not just as individuals, but as teams, groups, and ultimately a whole organisation. I have said before that Yammer (and hence now Viva Engage) is a strategic tool for coordination of talent and capability. For organisations to optimise their performance in this environment of distributed work, shortage of context and rapid change, this discovery and coordination capability is ever more important.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Microsoft will continue to invest in AI, data, and the power of information solutions to make information accessible and easily leveragable in work. However, if you believe that human skills, human knowledge, and human potential reaches beyond the ones and zeros of the information age, then you will want to match that Microsoft investment with the development, coordination and expansion of your organisation’s capabilities to connect, to share, to solve, and to learn and innovate. You will want a team of curious, connected and change-owning people. Viva Engage and Yammer will be the foundations of that investment. However, the technology will only take you so far. The technology will surface interactions to your employees. Supporting the technology with investment in change, community management, and the development of new ways of working and process changes is essential to achieve the potential value of Yammer and Viva Engage. To start, your people need to understand the strategic value and purpose of their work, the value of sharing, and it needs to be psychologically safe to participate. You will then need to foster a system of work that supports increased transparency, accountability, and change agency. That level of performance at work demands more of your leaders than it demands of your employees, because it will confront your leaders with interactions that they have never before encountered and take them beyond the domain of the safe familiar traditional hierarchical management skills. A little servant leadership goes a long way in the future of Viva Engage.

Viva Engage is Yammer rebadged and promises an exciting potential of ongoing investment by Microsoft to realise new ways of engaging and supporting your employees to do better in their work. Realising that potential will demand more of organisations, employees and their leaders to embrace change to the systems, processes and capabilities of work. We will see if we are up to the test or Viva Engage remains an intriguing curiosity within Microsoft Teams.

Day by Day
They travelled emptier of the things that they knew
They improvised new habits on the way,
but lost the occasions, and then lost them too.

Thom Gunn, Discovery of the Pacific

4 thoughts on “Viva Engage: Realising Strategic Value through Discovery

  1. Let’s cross our fingers and see how this pans out.

    Like you, I saw it as an opportunity (I thought, “finally is this going to be a turning point?”)

    However, at the same time I do have my turns towards skepticism – especially like you mentioned that some people have turned away from the idea of any change like this in transforming our workplaces. I’m in the same position. At the edge, the precipice of whether I continue on the message for change, communities, working out loud….

    Or, whether to pack it in and retire early to my books and knitting?

    I’ll reference your post when people ask me about information because the post I wrote recently about it was more like an initial rant that later became more like a plead. 🤣

    1. Helen, thanks for the comment. Technology can only take us so far and this is more repositioning and rebranding than a tech change. That said, I’m hopeful that people embrace this as a moment to make changes and to invest in people.

      1. Let’s hope. It’s time to think beyond the tech and instead shine the light towards leadership’s roles in role modelling and shaping organisational culture where people feel comfortable – and are rewarded – to engage, share and learn.

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