Paul English describes how Grant Thornton used an
online crowdsourcing event to engage their people
globally in order to help shape the firm’s future.
In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice
Found There, the White Queen offers Alice “Jam tomorrow”.
This phrase continues to be used today, to describe a rather
pleasant event in the future, which is probably never going to
happen. When I first tabled the idea of the Grant Thornton
Global Jam, this was more or less the reaction it received. Lovely
idea, never going to happen. Not in a month of Sundays.
On stage at Grant Thornton’s global conference, sharing the
Jam results in front of 1,000 senior leaders and an online audience
of many thousands, the Global CEO admitted that when I
first presented this idea, he didn’t think it could work. It was a
big risk, but we’re a little entrepreneurial here at Grant
Thornton and it got the green light.
Less than six months after offering Alice Jam tomorrow, we
had 40% of the 38,000 people in our global organisation registered
and actively involved in an online crowdsourcing event –
sharing their views on how we live our brand and where they
would like the global organisation to go in the future. This was
the Grant Thornton Global Jam, which happened over three
days and nights in September 2014.
Brand activation and global strategy development are interesting
challenges at the best of times, but particularly complex
when faced with 700 offices in over 130 countries. The emergence
of new social platforms, meant that for the first time, all of
our people could connect simultaneously. We could shorten the
distance between the leadership and the front line, between
regions and cultures. We could give everyone a voice in their
future and we could listen. For this reason the Global Jam was
billed as ‘Shaping our future together’ and we meant it.
There were three objectives for the Global Jam. Firstly, as we
moved into a new five year strategy planning cycle, we wanted to
gather ideas and insights for the future strategy of the global
business from the bottom-up as well as top down. Secondly, we
wanted to engage and energise our people around our global
brand and collect powerful stories and examples. Finally, as an
organisation made up of member firms across over 130 countries,
we wanted to create a truly global experience that demonstrated
the power of being part of something bigger and that
served as a catalyst for further global collaboration.
How did the Global Jam work?
Key facts and figures:
- 127 countries participated – 96% of all Grant Thornton member firms
- 10 member firms succeeded in having all 100% of their employees register
- Over 14,000 registrations, nearly 40% of total global workforce
- 13,000 comments were posted
- CEOs and Partners were proportionately the biggest contributors
- The 18-30 age group was the most active in terms of total contributions
- 86% of participants said that it helped them to feel part of a global organisation
- Over 500 tweets to the hashtag #gtjam14
The Grant Thornton Global Jam was an online event delivered
using IBM collaborative technologies. The system enabled users
with a validated email address to register through a public URL.
The web-based user environment had a strong social media feel,
with many similarities to Facebook and LinkedIn. Each individual
participant had a personal profile and presence, with the
ability to join and participate in various forums and chat
sessions built around some core themes such as macro forces
and geo-political trends, digital innovation, the competition, our
brand, our clients, our people and our role in society.
Each of the forums had a Grant Thornton senior leader (eg.
Global board members and CEOs from different countries) as a
host and people really embraced the opportunity to engage
directly with them. The Global CEO, Ed Nusbaum, was prolific
in his contributions and became a focal point for questions and
debate in whichever forum he visited. Ed later confessed to
being addicted to the Jam and to sitting up through the night to
keep going across different time zones.
In addition, to inspire thought-provoking debate and to
provide an external point of view, we were able to involve senior
executives from our clients and prospective clients, industry
bodies and corporate social responsibility partners as VIP
guests, often as hosts of chat sessions.
It was fascinating to see common themes emerging and
similar comments being made whether respondents were in
Botswana or Belgium, Moscow or Mexico City. This crosscultural
component was hugely powerful and created great
energy, particularly at more junior levels where exposure to
international colleagues may have been less common.
As discussions and comments intensified around certain
issues, hot topics would bubble up and the system would flag
these as ‘emerging ideas’ for review by a panel of senior leaders
after the Jam concluded.
IBM were a great partner throughout, in terms of the robustness
of the technology, but also for their own expertise in
running global collaboration events online. Interestingly, the
discussion around the Jam cropped up in unrelated coffee chats
with Marketing and Brand leaders at IBM, Mike Bernard and
Scott Stockwell, to compare challenges and different ways of
Making it happen
The Global Marketing & Communications team were both
excited and a little intimidated by the scale and profile of the
task at hand but the project team came together admirably and
work streams were allocated and a dedicated project manager
brought in on contract. Timing was challenging as we needed to
have the event completed and the results analysed by the time of
Grant Thornton’s global conference event in October in
Montreal. We had 14 weeks to turn the whole thing around.
Communications started from the Global CEO to the
Managing Partners/CEOs of the 130+ member firms around the
world, emphasising the strategic importance of the project and
the opportunities to engage their people. Tough task because a
‘Jam’ is not a familiar concept to senior accountants.
Given the global/local challenge, we made a decision early
on that it would require a nominated champion in market to
really make this work. In the end, the project team managed to
recruit 146 Jam champions to drive local participation and
registration through the provided URL. Promotional toolkits
were developed with Global Jam branded materials and teaser
videos and the champions took these and adapted them locally.
Regular Global Jam news alerts were also sent to registrants,
keeping interest high and the Global Leadership Team along
with the Regional Heads tracked registrations in different countries
to provide encouragement and support where necessary.
Prior to and during the event, #gtJam14 generated 500+
tweets and attracted the attention of journalists, resulting in
post-event press coverage. Twitter provided a wonderful visual
storyboard for the Global Jam as it evolved, with images of indiindividuals
and teams jamming being posted at intervals across all
of the different time zones.
Results of the Global Jam
The results were stunning, especially given the short-lead time,
the diversity of the audience and the fact that Grant Thornton
had never done anything of this type before. Participation was
beyond all of our expectations across age groups, levels of
seniority, gender and geographic regions.
For those of us working in professional services, what is
perhaps the most remarkable fact is that we had disproportionately
high participation from the most senior levels, with
member firm CEOs and Partners posting a quarter of all
comments and ideas.
We wanted to elicit ideas from across all age groups, but we
were particularly keen to ensure that ideas were captured from
Millennials and Generation Y and in the end, the 18-30 age
group was the most active overall.
What the numbers do not capture is the goodwill and positivity
that the event created. As one simple example, this is an
email sent from a junior PA to the CEO of Grant Thornton India,
an action which in itself indicates the empowering effect of the
Jam: “Thank you Sir for the opportunity to Jam albeit for three
days (only!!!)… it felt so good to be connected with the Grant
Thornton family globally for the very first time. Every moment
of the jamming was so precious and I wish that I could live it all
We talk a lot about collaboration at Grant Thornton, it is one
of our core values and genuinely reflects how we work with each
other and how we work with our clients. In fact, many leaders
regard our collaborative mindset as Grant Thornton’s secret
sauce, so seeing the global organisation come together in this
way was not a surprise too many. Behind the curtain though, the
great results were driven by relentless work from the project
team and from the champions in market.
What happened next?
The best ideas were collectively agreed by Jam participants and
by a group of senior global leaders. The results were announced
at the Global Conference in Montreal, just six weeks after the
Jam finished and the plans to take the ideas forward were
streamed live to the global organisation. Several of the most
popular ideas came from the Clients and Markets sphere,
ranging from innovative models of client engagement to social
The Jammers with the top rated ideas were flown to Canada
to receive awards live on stage from the Global CEO. It was
hugely powerful to see junior people on the stage alongside
CEOs, holding their own and confidently talking about their
We’re often challenged as marketers to be bold and to be
innovative but there are often a thousand reasons not to do
something and a queue of people to pour cold water on ideas.
Which brings me back to Lewis Caroll:
Alice: “This is impossible.”
The Mad Hatter: “Only if you believe it is.”
Paul English is Global head of Marketing for Grant Thornton.