Social Perspective: How the Textron Family of Companies Is Becoming Hyper-Connected through Enterprise Social

Textron is an American family of companies that includes Bell Helicopter, Cessna Aircraft Company, and E-Z-GO in the manufacturing and aerospace development industries. It began as a yarn maker in 1923, and has grown to approximately 33,000 employees in 25 countries, serving many technically advanced markets. Over the course of the past year, Textron has transformed its approach to employee engagement, collaboration and communications through the use of multiple social tools, including SharePoint 2010, Lync 2010, and proprietary apps powered by Microsoft technologies.

Recently, Microsoft had the chance to talk with Adele Suddes, Vice President of Communications at Textron, about the company’s use of SharePoint 2010, the ongoing evolution of their social efforts and how keeping a focus on social successfully supports the company’s business objectives.


Q: Why is the enterprise social trend a significant one for Textron?

A:  It all comes down to two factors for us: Speed and the outcome for our customers.

When you consider the fact that Textron has 33,000 employees across 25 countries, the competitive advantage that is available to us by tapping into the knowledge and skills that those employees bring to bear is incredible. The more we’re able to stop people from reinventing the wheel, free up their time and give them a venue to say what works and what doesn’t, the more we can focus on bringing good solutions to market. 

I am also a firm believer that the more minds you can put behind products and services, the better outcome you ultimately provide for your customers. If employees have a venue where they can put an idea out there and have others morph it, that idea can suddenly go from so-so to awesome. 

However, this doesn’t happen without social, especially in an environment with people across geographies and industries. Social has allowed us to see how ideas can be shaped and rise to an incredible level after they are exposed to many minds.

Q: When and why did you first start thinking about social tools for the Textron family of companies?

A: It’s really the global economy and pressures experienced by businesses today to get things done faster with fewer resources. Those realities force you to find innovative ways to get a job done, and tap into every resource and turn over every rock. For us, the thinking was always how do we use social to leverage the skills and experiences of all of our employees so that we are able to bring better outcomes to our customers.

We built an employee portal to link business units together globally, called the Enterprise Resource Information Center, or ERIC. It’s more than an intranet. We used all the portal power that’s available through SharePoint to make it deep and personalized. This portal delivers all Textron information, and also delivers localized content because it instantly recognizes each employee by name, by business unit, location and other attributes.

The portal has been extremely popular, and has had a big effect on connecting employees and breaking down silos. Right from the start, we made the social tools a prominent feature of the portal, making it a two-way communications experience for our employees.

Q: Before adopting social tools, what challenges were your employees facing in terms of communications and collaboration?

A: Our challenge has always been in communications. What can you do to unify all employees so they see the value of being part of Textron as a whole? And this includes connecting, sharing learnings, best practices. It may not always occur to employees that there is a lot to be learned between so-called different companies, but the truth is that making those connections opens untapped reservoirs of knowledge. 

Q: How did you approach making the decision to deploy SharePoint for your company’s communications and collaboration infrastructure?

A: We’ve used Microsoft technologies for years, and SharePoint was widely used across Textron. It was a no-brainer for us to leverage that familiarity with employees instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

The increasing presence of the Millennial generation absolutely guided our line of thought as well. What they want and need must also be reconciled with what they expect, which is social. When we launched our latest version of ERIC, we knew we had to include another layer of collaboration tools to meet that need.

Q: What anecdotes can you tell about this deployment? Did you get user feedback on the technology? Did anything surprise you?

A: Social tools have really taken on a life of their own in the past year. In less than twelve months, we’ve built a chain of collaboration where people no longer think it's weird for a helicopter guy (Bell) to share an idea with a power tools guy (Greenlee). 

And we’ve gotten a lot of “wow, I didn’t know you could do this with SharePoint!” comments. There has been lots of feedback about the different applications we’ve built using SharePoint as well. We can tell by the app usage rates they’re a success.

We suspected the first layer of apps would be popular when they first launched, but adoption has taken off. The “What If” app that we built on SharePoint is an ideas forum that automatically links to an employee’s MySite profile. MySite has especially taken off in the last six months, and I’d say at least sixty percent of employees have completed their profiles. The “Kudos” app, also built on SharePoint is an opportunity to provide visible recognition for a job well done. This is a great chance for our executives to see the good work being done across all business units.  

Q: How are employees responding to the opportunity to share ideas and knowledge? What is key to fostering their continuing involvement?

Since What If launched, we’ve gotten over 2,000 ideas from employees and over 10,000 accompanying comments. Those numbers are a tribute to SharePoint and how flexible it is as a technology that developers can work with, letting us add functionality as employee needs evolve.

For example, we have a menu item on the What If app that displays real-time stats for all ideas and their corresponding stage of progress. An employee can see how many ideas are in the submittal stage; how many have been assigned to somebody for review ahead of possible implementation; how many are in progress for implementation; and so forth.

Employees need to know what is happening with their idea. If it falls into a black hole, the idea will die on the vine and discourage that employee from participating further. We’ve been very deliberate to make sure there is a process in place to kick ideas to the next level. If an idea receives five likes and three comments, the crowd has spoken and the idea is advanced.  

Initially the focus of the What If app was how to remove bureaucracy and challenge the status quo. The next level is to work across our business units to proactively show them how to post challenges and request solutions. This is not just to solicit ideas to better existing or even create new processes, but to post their own specific business unit challenges for resolution.  

Q: What do you believe has been key to your enterprise social success? What advice would you give other leaders looking to implement social tools in their companies?

A: We were very active around the launch period to educate employees about why the technology changes were implemented. We put up posters, hosted executives at town meetings for each of the business units, created short videos, sent out many emails­­ Like anything new and social, not everyone will jump in and try it immediately. We ran a focused campaign through the launch phase and sustained the message in creative ways to keep employees engaged. We also made sure executives became very visible in the platforms themselves, not only by championing the process but also sharing ideas with employees. It’s best to launch social with a specific program that pulls people in, where the support of leadership can be seen by all – and then build on it.

The world outside is changing and you can’t bury your head in the sand and not acknowledge the changes. It is a major risk if companies take that path because there is no way you will attract top talent from younger generations if you don’t stay on top of social trends and tools. Go and recruit at any college campus. One of the first questions you’ll hear is “what social tools are being used at your company?”

And as you implement social within your organization, be sure to look at the cumulative impact. You cannot put a price on the resulting speed and better decision making that results when employees are able to quickly find the right person with the right information when they need it.

Stay tuned for more insights this week about other enterprise social network industry trends. In addition, we invite you to take a look at our new Microsoft Business Newsroom for more information on this and other business news from the company.

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