Our social journey at the European Commission

Following up on my promise to Steve Ressler during a webinar I organised with him at the Commission, please find here a first temptative to share the story of our social journey at the European Commission. This is a collective blogpost. We write here in our personal capacity.

How our social journey began
(Benedictus Nieuwenhuis)

Yammer in the Commission started back in March 2010.
In my on-going appetite for new social media channels and tools, I came across Yammer and decided to give it a try. Instantly I had the feeling that this could be of potential interest for our work in the Commission. Don’t ask me why but as I had been involved in this area ever since the setting up of the EUROPA server back in 1995, I knew perfectly well which tools and systems were NOT working . A simple platform which combined functions available in Twitter and Facebook but closed from the outside world where Commission staff could exchange best practices, information and help each other out was perhaps the Holy Grail we had been waiting for so long. Independent from the silos in which we work and no overly complicated IT-systems with too many obstacles.
That was something to try out.

Now, more and more other colleagues join the system and the number of topics discussed grow in number and – especially – in diversity. We have set up something that fulfils a real need.

Now it is in safe hands in our Human Resources Directorate-General.

Digital is not the aim, it is our mean to achieve our organisational goals
(Julie Guégan)

Our administration was established in 1958 to oversee and implement EU policies by proposing new laws to Parliament and the Council, managing the EU’s budget and allocating funding
enforcing EU law (together with the Court of Justice), representing the EU internationally, for example, by negotiating agreements between the EU and other countries.

There are today: 32,666 members of Staff, 28 nationalities, 24 languages.

Our Headquarters are in Brussels. We have Representations in all 28 Member States and diplomatic “Delegations” established in most other countries of the world..

We are a rather new administration, and a very networked organisation. For us, going Social is a natural evolution.

Today, we are aiming at a place where Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing and Innovation become a reflex in a high turnover environment and in a context of reducing costs. Digital technologies make the “do” feasible and as described by Benedictus above, we use the Yammer technology as a lever for the cultural change. Today, we have more than 11.000 colleagues on it !
But we also have Jive and Sharepoint. We experiment with the use of these platforms and we slowly demonstrate across all our services the benefits that these platforms can bring to transform the way we work, communicate, share knowledge, engage with our main stakeholders, and much more.

However, it is not enough to offer the best technologies, we also need to offer guidance, training and communication on how to best use them.
We are well aware that the highest performing organisations are those who are most collaborative and on the same page when it comes to technology and employees are empowered to find solutions using the digital tools available to them.

So, we launched last year the Digital Competence Programme, which consists of a series of learning activities. The objective is to fill the competence gap to ensure that all Staff members of the Commission are ready to grab the opportunities of the digital tools and are keen to contribute to build a Social Commission, more open and more efficient which supports innovation now and in the future. Digital is not the purpose. It is the mean which allows us to achieve our organisational and cultural goals.

Developing our digital competence is recognised vital by both our President, José Manuel Barroso and our Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič and we put a lot of efforts into it. More and more colleagues join us but this social journey is far from being over and we learn everyday from our experiments.

About my involvement in social platforms at work in general and how they can help to make a difference.
(Maria Podlasek Ziegler)

Recently I was invited to speak at the HR TECH Europe event in Amsterdam. I first hesitated; I do work neither in HR nor in IT departments, and not even in communication units that usually deal with collaboration platforms. In addition, I am not any expert in social media since I started using them only some months ago. But on second thought I came to the conclusion, yes, this is exactly the way of thinking which should be avoided: defining narrowed fields of responsibility and getting stuck in self-created silos. And yes, when looking back at my own professional path I considered that there were so many interconnections between what I have done and what the social media are all about. And so I accepted the invitation to Amsterdam and shared my thoughts there.
In fact, I started my professional path with setting up a small company, a Polish-German publishing house based in Warsaw. My motivation was to contribute to a better neighbourhood between Poles and Germans after the disaster of the WWII. There were some painful chapters and many taboos in the common history which had to be revealed after the communism in Poland fell down and an open dialogue was possible.

Later I learned that the so called small and medium sized enterprises are the most competitive and innovative ones, with a high productivity rate. They create most of the jobs in Europe and are backbone of the European economy. Later I learnt about Muhammad Yunus’ new human capitalism vision. I learnt that the so called social enterprises, which aim at solving societal problems, reinvest any profit in reaching their goals and apply an open, participatory management style, are an emerging sector which was not even hit that much by economic crises.

Few years ago I changed jobs. From a small (social) enterprise operating in Poland and Germany I changed to a big multinational organisation which employs some 30 000 people. I started working at the European Commission and my first job involved setting up support structures for businesses crossing borders like the Your Europe Business portal and the Enterprise Europe Network. One day I presented our activities to small business owners in Malta, who spoke after this meeting about the ‘human face’ of the Commission – as I was told by the local chamber of commerce.

I changed jobs again within the Commission and have been dealing with non-formal learning now which means learning through personal experience outside schools. I manage a programme for young people in Europe, and our project promoters are mainly small social economy entities active in education. They are social innovators and pioneer new approaches in learning and teaching. This new way of learning and teaching prepares young people for coping with modern challenges of the globalised world – also at work – while maintaining a happy, meaningful life. Similarly to the management philosophy of social enterprises, the methodology in non-formal learning is based on participation and peer learning, on partnering and coaching rather than one-way communication in hierarchical environments.

And this is where social media can play a role and can help to make a difference. We have Yammer at the Commission which involves some 11 000 colleagues and this number is constantly growing. Within few months since I have been using this platform in my work so many things have changed. I widened my network, I know now people from many fields of expertise without having met them face-to-face. Surprisingly, some colleagues from Directorate General for Competition in the EU Internal Market shared knowledge in the field of education. In this way I could discuss new concepts or watch amazing videos so relevant for my work. I have already used this knowledge when drafting articles for instance. And we have started on Yammer activities which involve external stakeholders, European social enterprises or national public administrations. But what is even more important, you suddenly see this organisation in a totally different light, you see individual people which it is composed of, their expertise, their thoughtfulness, their human qualities. You see them in a natural setting, so as they are. (Such tools are very sensitive detectors; they reveal any false tones and can easily unmask people who are not authentic.) You discover the strength of such a multinational organisation resulting from the diversity, which may offer 28 solutions to a problem instead of only one. And you know many of the colleagues share your concerns, views, and you can have stimulating discussions on this and maybe introduce together some changes, step by step. You know you are not alone and this provide you with an inner power.
I extended Yammer to Facebook and use it in collaboration with colleagues from the network of national agencies which implement our EU educational programme in 35 European countries. We created a closed group on Facebook and can influence and enrich our work and ourselves by sharing.
In addition, I am involved in such a closed group on Facebook with our stakeholders – European citizens: organisations and young people that participate in our programme. In this way I have an easy access to them, and they can contact me directly. We exchange information. I post messages about things seen from my European perspective; they tell me what happens on the ground. I ask questions and they send me requests to find a partner in Poland for a democracy project or to get support for an initiative in Naples against deprivation of young people by Gamorra. What is amazing, a number of them – and also of my colleagues from agencies – joined my private Facebook profile and I can almost feel how our relationship is gaining new features, becoming deeper, meaningful by the time. Now I have friends on Facebook from all over Europe! And I hope in their eyes the European Commission is getting a ‘human face’ too, they do not only see it as a ‘bureaucratic monster’, like it is often presented in the national media. And so we can work together on this great project which is called European integration since I strongly believe that the future of the integration – leading out of the current crises – is in hands of the emancipated and empowered European citizens themselves.

Our evolving Corporate culture
(Nick Heenan)
The rapid growth of our internal social network to 11,000 people or around one-third of staff shows that it meets a real organisational need. Don’t get me wrong. The development of personal networks of contacts has always been very important for organisational effectiveness. Over time, as people move from job to job and take on different responnsibilities, their personal networks expand to ever widening circles. What is more natural then, but to support these contacts with a more modern internal “social (online) network” that makes it far easier and almost effortless to keep in close contact with people in different buildings, and even in different towns and countries?
Working in an organisation that is based on traditional formal heirachies within separate DGs – we are often quite surprised to discover how many people hold similar jobs to our own, or encounter similar problems or challenges to getting things done. A cry for help on Yammer quickly attracts a strong response from people willing to help and to offer advice based on their own experience. Idle chit-chat on current affairs can often lead to an innovative new initiative, or cause a change of approach on an existing policy by the responsible Commission department.
In general we seek to employ the brightest and best brains of Europe, sometimes as specialists in a specific field, but more often having a broad experience that can be brought to bear on a variety of different fields. Collectively, we share a passion for Europe, and the personal drive to make meaningful contributions to the Institution using our individual expertise to the full. Within the Commission we already have more than a thousand people trained as “facilitators” of a more partipatory and open approach to leadership, encouraging staff to engage, and to deliver their full creative potential irrespective of their formal role or “job” within the organisation.
Coupling these factors with the widespread use of an internal social media network, a significant change of culture is emerging. This presents on the one hand some immediate challenges to those that have yet to embrace it fully, but on the other hand has already yielded significant and tangible improvements in our performance and effectiveness as a single, coherent Institution.

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Awesome post

Julie – put up a photo in your profile – People always love to see faces (blogs w/ photos in bios are more read on Govloop – kind of interesteing 😉