When I’m speaking about the digital transformation in front of leaders and decision makers at conferences or in seminars, one thing always strikes me:
These tough men and women with years of experience and impressive resumes, having paid a lot of money to attend the event to hear new ideas, sit in front of me scared and insecure.
At first I thought this was because they belonged to the generation of Digital Immigrants or even to the Digital Deniers. That they were just dismissing my passionate speeches as the fervor of the young. I was evangelizing on how the world was changing, how social media culture and technologies would conquer the workplace, on structures and processes that companies needed to put in place to be prepared. And I figured that it just needed some time for the CEOs of yesterday to arrive in the tomorrow.
Well, years have passed and tomorrow has come. And with it the realisation of marketing departments, PR teams and customer service organizations that social channels are great tools to achieve their business goals with measurable impact. There are tons of internal social collaboration technologies available and there are some great best practices on how to implement them. The workforce is more and more comfortable with using social technologies throughout their every day and even the Digital Deniers have set up their Facebook accounts in the meantime.
Naturally, when I speak in front of a crowd of leaders now, I expect a profound change in attitude from 2009 to 2014.
The chicken CEO
And I’m sorely disappointed. I still, in the year 2014, see before me upper management – men and women of real format – that are scared of what Social Business means for them. Of course, outwardly, they would never admit that their animosity towards Social Media culture, technologies and especially internal Social Collaboration is born from personal fear. I hear the old arguments of “maceration of work-life-balance”, “information overflow” and “my employees would not be comfortable communicating in this manner” flung at me. When what I see in their faces is something much closer to the truth: CEOs are afraid of Social Business because it means they can’t hide behind their titel any longer.
What do I mean by that? To become a true Social Business, you have to make sure you evaluate yourself 360° and implement social technologies where it makes sense. It almost always makes sense to set up external social channels to interact with your external stakeholders and internal collaboration tools to improve efficieny, transpareny and accountability.
What’s neccessary for a successful transformation into a Social Business is not just the independent set-up of external and internal social channels, but a coherent and integrated Social Governance model with a revamp of Internal Communications at the heart of it. And this revamp strikes very close to the management comfort zone.
The Mask Comes Down
Traditionally, the CEO or members of upper management would have their internal comms associates draft employee mails and prepare their speeches to a T. Most organizations were so hierarchical (especially in Germany), that mere mortals never really got a glimpse of the big boss unless he or she was up on stage at the quarterly employee meeting, where they read out the prepared talking points about numbers, wins and losses and some unbelievable motivational line for everyone to get behind the next quarter.
In a Social Business, this needs to change. Management needs to lead by example. That means showing face and most importantly, showing character. No CEO should have their Internal Comms Manager draft a two-line Yammer update for them. Social Media tears down barriers, tears down borders.
This transparency scares a lot of CEOs. They are used to hiding behind prepared statements. They are used to having their own offices with a shut door and two desks that anyone that wants to talk to them has to get past. But those times are over.
Employees want to feel they know who they are following. They want to give their hours, their passion and their knowledge to somebody they feel deserves it. And that feeling only comes when they get to know who is leading them.
Hello, my name is…
What exactly does this mean for managers? In the brave new world of your Social Business, you as a leader need to make sure you actively and most importantly authentically engage in your internal communications structures. You need to hold yourself to the high standards you would expect of your own manager and live those as transparently as possible every day.
- You should have an internal communication format like a video blog or personal blog. You should make sure it really reflects your character, your knowledge and your passion. It’s okay to have someone cross-check for typos. But you need to take the time to write or get in front of that camera. Don’t be phony or pretentious, just be yourself.
- You should actively participate in internal collaboration tools. If you expect your employees to share what they are working on, to connect with each other in a more direct and efficient manner, to discuss openly and to come up with constructive feedback to pressing issues, then that’s what you need to live as well. No one will expect you to answer a question on Yammer within five minutes, but if you expect everyone else to use the platform, you need to use it, too.
- You should go all in – don’t just communicate about the lighter topics on your blog or on the internal social platforms. Leaving out the really important and often uncomfortable topics deminishes the value of the social approach and diminishes your integrity. Performance review changes coming up? A wave of firings? Company had a tough quarter? Set up live Q&A hours on your social platform, be frank and authentic on your video blog, do a round of kitchen chats.
tl;dr: In a truly Social Business, CEOs can’t hide behind the title any longer – they need to lead with character and authenticity. Internal communications formats with a personal component such as videos or management blogs can help.
Picture Credit: SplitShire.com