Transformation
slack on slack

How our IT team builds on our platform (and yours can too)

VP of Business Technology, Stephen Franchetti, shows how customising your Slack workspace can improve your employees’ everyday work experience

Author: Stephen Franchetti1st December 2019Illustration by Robert Samuel Hanson

Every company has squeaky wheels. One of ours was the humble signatory form: each new employee has to sign a stack of them, it’s a dull process, and someone from the legal team usually has to chase down the completed document to make sure that it gets to the right place. All of that ties up precious time.

This wheel needed some grease. So our legal team came up with LegalBot, a Slackbot that follows up with cheeky but good-natured reminders about outstanding legal tasks – freeing up the team to focus its efforts somewhere more productive.

The idea for this feature didn’t originate from management. Instead, frontline members of our legal team suggested it through Slack on Slack, a programme that we created for employees to share ideas on how to build new internal tools on top of the Slack platform.

Slack on Slack is a core part of how we use IT to drive business growth. By leveraging and building on our own platform – using bots, apps and integrations – we’re able to improve the working lives of our employees. And if your company is working in Slack, your IT team can do the same.

What should an IT team build on Slack?

Many IT departments function with a top-down approach, which can make delivering new solutions a clunky, slow-moving production. Often, it means missing small, incremental changes that can significantly improve employees’ day-to-day workflow. We’ve found that if you’re willing to open a direct line to your employees, you can generate game-changing suggestions.

In our case, we created a channel called #slack-on-slack, where people can submit their ideas. This begins a two-way conversation from which we can learn first-hand what problems frontline workers are seeing and their ideas for solving them.

We’ve established clear criteria for the kind of projects that we’ll take action on. Specifically, we’re looking for something that:

  • Impacts a large internal audience
  • Streamlines workflows, e.g. makes approvals easier or brings multiple applications and processes into one simple experience
  • Can be a reference point for customers and partners on how to create a simpler, more pleasant and productive Slack experience

When employees have an idea that ticks these boxes, they’re encouraged to come our way. The quickest way to do so is with a /slack-on-slack slash command (built using Slack’s own Workflow Builder), which pulls up a form with the following fields:

  • The problem
  • What we do today
  • The proposed solution
  • Any additional bonus benefits that could come with this feature

Having clear milestones for what people can expect once they submit ideas is key. It could be a conversation, a request for more details or a decision about whether we’ll move forwards with the feature. It’s all about realistic communication: people shouldn’t expect their ideas to be built the day after they submit them, but they should also know that six months aren’t going to pass without them hearing from their Business Technology partners.

Achieving accountability at scale

You’ve opened the floodgates, and the ideas are pouring in. Now what? Feature requests are tough to pull off at scale, which is why we rely on the people who submitted ideas to be part of the ideation and delivery process. This is important, because it ensures that they’re serious about the proposal and will help to drive its adoption.

’Focusing exclusively on big wins means that momentum is invisible to frontline employees. We need their grassroots support so that they keep sharing ideas and know that there’s a reasonable chance that we’re going to do something about it.’

Stephen FranchettiVP of Business Technology, Slack

 

#slack-on-slack isn’t just an anonymous ticket box. Any project that we take on starts with a face-to-face meeting with the submitter, and we work together to ideate and build the concept from first principles. When the feature is nearly ready to be released, it’s time for the submitter to start planning how to reach the other people on this journey: who will be affected? Do they need training? Are there any metrics that you can gather? If the Business Technology team has put in the effort to bring a request to life, we want to make sure that it’s actually going to be adopted by those who need it most.

Balancing big and small ideas

When it comes to prioritisation, it can be tempting to focus only on high-effort, high-impact projects that please management by demonstrably driving the business’s bottom line. We of course need to get the kind of executive buy-in that puts resources towards this effort, but these projects demand a great deal of time and patience. Focusing exclusively on big wins means that momentum is invisible to frontline employees. We need their grassroots support so that they keep sharing ideas and know that there’s a reasonable chance that we’re going to do something about it.

With that in mind, we’ve found it’s important to deliver quick wins that make a real difference in employees’ daily lives. For example, is there a three-hour process that we can automate down to five minutes? This balance makes it possible for IT to juggle the potential rush of feature requests that arrive when you set up a public channel like #slack-on-slack.

Bringing our employees’ ideas to life

For a concrete example of how this process has played out within our company, let’s take a look at some of the concepts that we’ve implemented to not only save our employees time, but to brighten their workdays too.

1. LegalBot: what was once a humdrum task, signing legal forms, now reinforces Slack’s culture while also improving the percentage of our forms that get returned on time.

2. Scaling help desk support: our growing global employee base inevitably means more IT support tickets. We found that 80% of the tickets submitted to our support desk are repeatable in nature: forgotten passwords, access to software, etc. To free up our helpdesk agents to address thornier issues – and get quicker fixes for our employees – we built AskBot. Available 24/7, AskBot leans on AI and natural language processing to automate repetitive requests, such as provisioning software.

3. More accessible metrics: how do you ensure that everyone in a growing company has the data that they need for agile decisions? For us, the answer was to bring that data where our people do their work each day: Slack. Using our new UI framework Block Kit, along with our data warehouse and an integration with Looker, MetricsBot now delivers performance metrics to a company-wide Slack channel on a daily basis.

4. Automated sales deck assembly: account executives spend a huge amount of time making decks from scratch. Specifically, they have a pool of hundreds of approved slides and manually select which to pull for a specific customer before each meeting. Extrapolate that across our entire sales department, and there’s no telling how many hours of productivity are lost. So, our sales team asked, could Business Technology create a ‘generate deck’ button inside Slack and have it assemble a deck based on the customer’s segment, industry and customer-specific Slack usage metrics?

Admittedly, this is a large project that will require a host of integrations. But it will not only make life better for our account teams, it will provide significant, compounding value to the company at large.

Build your own ‘on Slack’ programme

We’ve laid out what’s worked for us, and we hope that it provides some actionable ideas for how you can get your company’s flywheel spinning. As you explore what’s possible for your own team with Slack, here are a few essentials to remember:

  1. If you’re willing to open up the floor company-wide, you’ll gain valuable insights about how to improve employees’ lives – resulting in fewer lost hours of productivity.
  2. Customising Slack to the specific needs of your business should be a collaboration: employees submit their ideas, iterate with IT and then lead the onboarding process with their teams when the feature has been built.
  3. You’ll need to strike a balance between showing quick wins to maintain employee engagement and delivering high-effort, high-impact projects.
  4. Above all, focus on ideas that leverage Slack and its APIs to reach your business goals.

We think you’ll find that this process creates a waterfall effect that extends throughout your organisation. What will your employees do with their new-found time? Could one team’s requests work for others? By empowering your employees to share their ideas, you’re giving them agency to improve the company from within – and your customers will feel the difference.

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