March 12, 2013
social networking

The Social C-Suite

The Social C-Suite

By Dan Pontefract for CLO Magazine

socialmediaAmong the 47,361 employees surveyed in 120 countries worldwide, Gallup – a research-based performance-management consulting company – pegs the percentage of employees who are engaged at 11 percent. In Canada employee engagement creeps up to 20 percent and in the United States it’s slightly better at 28 percent. BlessingWhite, a competitor to Gallup, indicates only 33 percent of North Americans and 30 percent of European-based employees are in fact engaged in their place of work. To be engaged – whether for Gallup, BlessingWhite or any other HR consulting firm – is for an employee to feel a part of the organization, like she wants to go the extra mile, is willing to stay and will recommend her place of employment – and products and services – to others.

In short, the state of employee engagement is still a troubling if not puzzling organizational predicament. Is the use of internal social media and social learning helping to drive up employee engagement? Should the C-Suite become more involved in social? How does the use of social by the C-Suite affect adoption of social learning in the organization? Is it the CLO’s responsibility?

In a 2012 study conducted and sponsored by Domo and, the researchers found that 70 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs had no social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Google Plus. Interestingly, 26 percent of them had a LinkedIn profile whereas only 4 percent were on Twitter.

BRANDfog – an external consulting firm – conducted a survey in 2012 and discovered when members of the C-Suite began engaging in external social media (like Twitter, Facebook, etc.) there was a correlation to their consumer’s level of trust. The company found that 82 percent of consumers would be more trusting of a company if their C-Suite were active in external social media.

And venerable powerhouse IBM conducted research with over 1,700 CEO’s across 64 countries in their landmark report entitled, “2012 Global CEO Study” where a key theme emerged. 75 percent of CEO’s believed collaboration was the number one attribute that they were seeking in their employee base.

What am I getting at?

If we were to borrow from Winston Churchill, it seems we’re nearing the ‘end of the beginning’ of social in the enterprise, both internally and externally. It’s slowly happening but there isn’t widespread use by the C-Suite. What if we were to see the C-Suite increase their use of social media both externally and internally? Would it address organizational competence? What I believe it comes down to is that the C-Suite should be adapting their leadership style to incorporate social as a way in which to both give back their knowledge to the organization and to endorse collaborative-based practices that enrich the various depths of employee competence. It’s not happening enough, and it needs to change.

I believe there are a few reasons why social inside the organization isn’t happening by the C-Suite. Time management is a big one. If you’re a CEO, CIO, CFO, CHRO amongst other Chief titles, chances are you’re busy and may think you don’t have time to ‘do social’. The Executive Time Use Project found C-Suite members spend 55 hours per week at work. It’s their past leadership style, however, that got them to the C-Suite in the first place, so there is an argument of C-Suite perception to be made that those 55 hours a week has no room to include ‘social’ … wrong as that perception may be.

Fear is another reason. Specifically fear of failure and a fear of being open. India-based HR social consultant Guatam Ghosh said to me, “the C-Suite needs to stop thinking of the boundaries as opaque walls – both internally and externally. Think of them as porous, translucent membranes. Be ready to fail. Remember, it’s a world of flows.” In other words, the C-Suite should get over their fears of failure, openness and tentativeness in order to partake in the flow.

One other issue that may be causing this dearth of C-Suite social participation is the misperception of it being a time waster. McKinsey Global Institute, however, finds the opposite to be true. After analyzing over 4,200 companies, McKinsey found in 2012 that if social technologies were to be used more effectively in the workplace, $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in total value would be garnered by these companies. In fact the report suggested social technologies in the organization demonstrated “improved communications and collaboration within and across enterprises.” Is that really what we call ‘time wasting’? When we’re communicating and collaborating, aren’t we in fact sharing knowledge which then might increase organization competence?

Ryan Holmes is the CEO of HootSuite – a social media management system that executes campaigns across multiple social networks from a web-based dashboard – and who believes (rather obviously) that social media is an important asset inside and outside the organization. In a 2012 Fast Company article titled, The $1.3 Trillion Price Of Not Tweeting At Work he penned, Holmes stated, “Social technologies have the potential to free up expertise trapped in departmental silos. High-skill workers can now be tapped company-wide.” I asked Ryan what the overarching benefit of social is for the C-Suite and he said, “I believe that social media is the new water cooler, in the sense that more and more people are talking, sharing stories and generally bonding through social channels like Facebook and Twitter. In this way, social media is like an ongoing team building exercise. When C-Suite members join that conversation, they become more in touch with their employees and only then can they use those channels to drive internal engagement.”

This leads us nicely to the three corrective actions the C-Suite must now take.

1)      Get Social

2)      Utilize CARE

3)      Be Real

Get Social

There is no excuse. The C-Suite must get on the social train. As a first step, the C-Suite must ensure the organization is well equipped to utilize social technologies inside the organization. Ask your employees if there are any tools like blogging, micro-blogging, video sharing or photo sharing being used inside the organization. If not, draft a cross functional team, including the learning team, to begin bringing these tools into the organization. Afterward, the C-Suite must begin utilizing these tools to connect, collaborate and communicate with its employee-base. The C-Suite can start easy with a few micro-blog posts (think Twitter) and then eventually graduate to full-blown blog posts and video sharing snippets. Share knowledge. Recognize someone. Better yet, they can point to fabulous external sources of information and learning. The next step is to think about using external facing social tools, but they should focus first on their own internal engagement, knowledge sharing and silo-busting inside the organization. I asked Alan Lepofsky, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Constellation Research, Inc what the benefits of ‘being social’ were for the C-Suite and the organization and he honed in on openness. “Traditional organizational structures are removed,” said Alan, “and executives can have conversations with people they otherwise would rarely have the opportunity to interact with.” Alan believes bi-directional conversation is an important cultural trait in the organization and the C-Suite should begin to use social software to communicate important company information – such as sharing their corporate vision and strategy – or to solicit process improvements and innovative ideas. “Just like in personal relationships, communication is the key to success – and an organization that communicates well is one where you’ll find happier and more motivated employees,” said Alan. In my opinion, Alan is right and the C-Suite simply needs to ‘Get Social’.

Utilize CARE

In my book, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization (Wiley) I introduce something called the Participative Leader Framework. Within this model is the CARE principle where I argue a leader must demonstrate the holistic behaviours of being Continuous, Authentic, Reciprocal and Educating (CARE) throughout the organization at all times. This principle can be adapted to the use of social tools inside the organization by the C-Suite as well. Once tools like micro-blogging, wikis, video sharing, virtual worlds and blogging are up and running inside the organization, the C-Suite not only needs to utilize the tools, she has a responsibility to continuously post and connect to others, while being truly authentic in her contributions. She must reciprocate and not merely lurk. Perhaps the CLO might even institute a way in which to measure levels of reciprocity in the organization? Who is contributing versus merely consuming?  At all times she should be using social tools as a way to educate those around him. IBM Social Business Strategist Rawn Shah, (and blogger) believes ‘responsiveness’ and ‘supportiveness’ are also key attributes. Both align nicely to the CARE principle outlined above. Shah said to me in an interview, “the C-Suite needs to be ready to respond to employee questions regardless of rank in a timely manner whenever possible. It shows they are willing to pay attention to detail and the needs of employees.” He went on to say the C-Suite should choose “to support individual employee’s messages shared in public or widely seen internal social spaces when they help to promote the activities and messages of their area of business.” Shah indicated this would demonstrate an unsolicited level of support and endorsement. It sounds pretty good to me.

Be Real

If the C-Suite is on the social train and can employ CARE, responsiveness and supportiveness attributes, there is also the need to ‘be real’. Kevin Akeroyd is the Senior Vice-President of Field Operations at Badgeville. He thinks social media and the C-Suite are important for one another, so long as those occupying the Chief seats keep it real. Kevin says, “social isn’t going to be enough unless the C-Suite invests the time in engagement and motivation mechanics to help drive overall happiness at the company.” In his experience – through the companies he works with – reputation and status will only go as far as the C-Suite’s ability to be clear about what they’re doing, their level of openness, transparency and ability to keep it real. It’s hard to argue with that. The last thing the C-Suite should be doing is having ghost bloggers or micro-bloggers inside the organization. If they’re on the social train, it better be their voice that is participating and it had better be ‘straight talk’. If the C-Suite thinks it can get away with being a robot or if they believe their internal communications team can act or speak on their behalf, it’s going to come across as real as the Loch Ness monster.

In Summary

According to a study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte released in May 2012, “55 percent of shoppers share their purchases on Facebook” while “98 percent of shoppers say that online customer reviews have a major influence on their decision to purchase a product or service,” It went on to report that “68 percent of shoppers rate and review products on a regular basis.” When I look at data points like this, I mentally muse about the organization. What if the C-Suite increased their participation with internal social tools like blogs, micro-blogging, commenting and videos to mimic what consumers and shoppers are doing? What if they openly encouraged their employees to behave in this manner as well – transparently and freely inside the organization? Would we see better spikes in employee engagement, collaboration, knowledge sharing and organizational competence? I think this is something every Chief Learning Officer out there needs to take on as a challenge. CLO’s could become the social change agent for the entire C-Suite.

I’m willing to go out on a limb and argue – as is Ryan Holmes – the more participative the C-Suite becomes with social media and employees the more engaged the organization will become. And once the organization is engaged, levels of trust, competence, intellect and productivity will swell. That can only be a good thing when it comes to customer satisfaction and profitability, right?

Originally published to CLO Magazine.

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