"Office 365 fits our corporate vision since it promotes collaboration and innovation. That allows us to move forward, driving productivity, competitive advantage, and customer satisfaction.
— Wilkie Wong
Chief Financial Officer, Esquel Group
Weaving in Social to Improve Productivity
The Hong Kong-based Esquel Group is a vertically integrated supplier of cotton textiles and apparel. The company began using enterprise social to unite different geographies and lines of business.Watch Now
Esquel Group: An Opportunity to Do Better
Yammer enabled Esquel Group's senior leaders to turn feedback about long canteen lines into an improved experience for employees.Watch Now
The Hong Kong-based Esquel Group is a vertically integrated supplier of cotton textiles and apparel. “Our supply chain extends from cotton farming and spinning to garment making and then on to labels and trims,” says Chief Financial Officer Wilkie Wong. Esquel has retail operations as well, but the core of its business is making cotton tops for companies such as Ralph Lauren, Nike, and Lacoste. “If you’re wearing a cotton shirt, there’s a good chance it came from Esquel,” Wong points out.
The company began using Yammer to connect its far-flung operations and varied businesses in 2011. “The network quickly grew from a sharing platform for a few dozen people in the IT department to a few hundred people across the enterprise,” Wong says. “As people posted questions, answers, and ideas, Yammer became an important internal communication tool. We use it for everything from morale boosting to problem solving.”
One reason for Esquel’s embrace of enterprise social networking is its desire to unite different geographies and lines of business. “It’s easy to invest in systems and processes, but it’s difficult to find ones that help you build a company culture,” says Edgar Tung, Managing Director of Human Resources and Group Organizational Development. “But Yammer does just that.”
Esquel’s enterprise social network mirrors and reinforces the company’s commitment to accessibility and transparency. “We want people who’ve joined us fresh out of college to have access to senior management,” Wong says. “A platform like Yammer is perfect for us, since a new employee can post something on Yammer and it shows up on our CEO’s screen.”
“The moment a new employee starts posting on Yammer, they become part of the Esquel community,” Tung says. “People from different functions and countries say hello and welcome their new colleague. And things build from there when the new hire sees all these very constructive discussions going on. It’s an excellent way to learn about—and get involved in—different parts of our company.”
He adds, “You might say Yammer is doing HR’s job. We don’t have to worry as much about new employees, because now we have help from everybody else in the organization.” The network also helps Tung and the rest of the HR team gauge employee satisfaction. “In the past, we used questionnaires, but they’re not really all that illuminating,” he says. “A social network is a much more accurate and immediate way to know what people are thinking.”
Since Esquel’s workforce communicates in an array of languages, Yammer’s translation capabilities come into play. “We operate in nine countries,” Wong points out. “It’s been immensely helpful to have a platform like Yammer connect us all together, no matter where we are or what language we speak.”
The connectivity Yammer brings to Esquel doesn’t just support a cohesive company culture, it makes the most of both institutional and individual knowledge—which gives the company a competitive edge. “A lot of great ideas come from the bottom up, and in an industry like garment manufacturing, most of the crucial activity takes place on the production floor, not in headquarters,” Tung says.
Esquel management not only values the insight it gets by listening to updates from its production facilities, it acts on that feedback. “When people post complaints on the network, we’re afforded the chance to turn those complaints into innovation,” observes Andrew Ling, Group Director of Information Technology. “That ability to listen to our workforce—and act in response—is a key benefit of the network. It makes us a far more adaptable organization.”
One of those opportunities to listen and innovate arose just a few months after the company began using Yammer. A worker in Esquel’s garment operation posted on the network, pointing out that she and her colleagues had to wait in a long line to recharge the staff cards used for buying meals in the company canteen. Yammer didn’t just identify the problem, it helped solve it. “Within two weeks, employees suggested more than 40 different great ideas,” Ling says.
A Yammer group was set up to decide which suggestion would work best, and four months later, a solution was in place: a kiosk that instantly transferred funds from payroll to the cafeteria card. “We closed the loop by inviting the colleague who made the initial complaint to be the first to reload her card at the kiosk,” Wong recalls.
Yammer has become a major change agent for Esquel. “The network helps us facilitate and manage change, because we can reach out to a lot of users in many different places all at once,” Ling says. “When we’re promoting an internal initiative or introducing technology, we post on Yammer. Not only does that get the word out, we get valuable feedback, too.”
“I’ve read that by 2020, knowing how to use internal social media is going to be a key management skill,” Wong says. Clearly, he and other members of Esquel’s leadership haven’t waited for that date, since the company’s far-reaching Yammer network is three years old.
“Typically in industries like ours, when labor becomes more expensive in one country, the response is to move to another one with lower labor costs,” Wong observes. “Our philosophy at Esquel is quite different. We don’t believe in moving when labor gets more expensive. Instead, we try to improve productivity to offset labor-cost inflation. Higher productivity justifies the increased cost of labor, and everyone benefits.”
The company’s enterprise social network has been a prime mover in that drive for productivity. It not only enables efficiencies, it helps replicate them across the company. “One of the challenges we’ve had is that an innovation adopted in one site often isn’t rolled out in others,” Wong says. “Yammer helps us avoid wasting time and money reinventing the wheel.”
Another way Yammer boosts productivity is through staff retention. “The textile and apparel business is labor intensive, so reducing turnover significantly enhances our productivity,” Wong says. “By keeping our workforce connected and engaged, Yammer improves staff retention.”
Esquel is moving to a cloud-based mobile model that will hold all of the company’s core applications and information. “Office 365 solutions like Yammer, Lync, and SharePoint allow people to work together in new ways—and prevent information from falling though the cracks,” Ling observes. “People will open their laptop, tablet, or whatever device they’re using and everything they need will be in a single window.”
He adds, “The major benefits we see from Office 365 are mobility and collaboration. Both of those are key to increasing the productivity that makes us more competitive and defines success in our industry. Not only will we gain a lot in terms of efficiency, we’ll have considerable savings: approximately $2 million a year.”
The company’s Yammer network supports its ambitious Office 365 rollout. “One of our biggest groups is devoted to Office 365,” Ling says. “We started by inviting more than 100 end users to act as ambassadors. They try out features, post tips, and act as changeagents within their departments. That kind of peer-to-peer education is very effective—and alleviates our IT team’s workload.”
The technology will be intuitive and the focus will be on Esquel’s core resource: its people. “By working like a network, we break down functional and geographical silos so that staff and management are aware of what others are working on—and how they can help one another,” Wong says.
Tung cites the example of using Yammer to brainstorm about the perfect white shirt. “Staff in the fabric mill can post their ideas on the ideal material, people from manufacturing then add perspective on the perfect cut, and so on,” he says. “The more that people exchange ideas and subject expertise, the more successful we are as a company.”
A case in point involves Esquel’s quality-control process. Instead of doing things the old-fashioned way—using measuring tape to ensure that sleeves, collars, and the like match specifications—an employee in the quality control department used Yammer to float the notion of an electronic ruler. The idea, which has been refined by discussion on Yammer, is currently under development. “Instead of taking measurements with a tape and writing numbers down, staff could capture measurements electronically, which would be faster, easier, and more accurate,” Wong explains.
Wong sums things up this way: “Esquel is proud to be a non-traditional company in a traditional industry. Office 365 fits our vision since it promotes collaboration and innovation. That allows us to move forward, driving productivity, competitive advantage, and customer satisfaction.”