How smart CEOs use social tools to their advantage
Advances in digital technology and their use in organisations carry huge promise to empower people at all levels. Social media a nd collaboration tools not only open the door to faster and more extensive knowledge-sharing, they also facilitate level- sk ipping conversations, si lobusting and self-organisation.
But without an organisation-wide understanding of what’s good for the business and what’s not, these powerful tools can be dangerous. Empowerment – in whatever form – requires alignment around purpose, strategic intent and the boundaries within which decisions can be made.
Savvy CEOs use f ire to f ight f ire, effectively employing digital media inside their organisations to create the
kind of alignment and shared purpose they need. In our research, we find that smart leaders do these three things:
TUNE INTO GLOBAL CONVERSATIONS
It may s eem odd to r efer to t he daily torrent of emails, t weets and posts as conversations, but they are. Collaboration software and mobile apps make it possible for these conversations to connect practically ever yone in the organisation – and to distribute information and authority much wider than ever before.
Rather than be paralysed by fear about who has access to what, savvy leaders recognise t hat i nformation can empower employees to move the business closer to customers, decisionmaking can be accelerated when vital data is not held hostage (or lost) and visible conversations can prevent wasted effort and even spark innovation.
For example, Microsoft IT leaders take their organisation’s pulse using analy t ica l soft ware t hat monitors t rending topics in their Yammer collaboration space. According to Microsoft, the goal is to absorb and respond to real-time sentiments.
Smart leaders listen a head by inserting questions that stimulate or redirect the conversation. Salesforce. com CEO Marc Benioff actively participates in conversation threads in order to stir the pot and keep current on the ways programmers and customers test the limits of his company’s products. His goal is to establish a presence that reliably represents who he is and what he stands for so that in the decentralised world of autonomous teams, people can formulate strategy, make decisions and deal with ambiguity.
LEVERAGE GLOBAL NETWORKS
CEOs need to choose the most effective inf luence channels through which to create alignment. Interestingly, it ’s here that an old and venerable feature of organisations – informal networks – takes on new prominence with social media. When researchers conduct social network analyses, executives often cannot name even half of the “central connectors” (people to whom others turn for information and advice, in other words, the influencers) in their organisations.
In the digital enter prise, t hat unknown other half could t urn out to be critical to establishing new directions about purpose, intent and boundaries. Soon, leaders will be able to see and tap into inf luence networks inside their organisations using tools similar to those available on Facebook and LinkedIn.
As well as knowing who’s who in an organisational network, leaders need to be alert to the blind spots that may exist in their own personal networks. A study of a multinational pharmaceutical company revealed that leaders in its US subsidiary’s networks were skewed to ‘ familiar’ faces: people from similar functional backgrounds, hierarchical levels, and cultural and gender groups. Their net works kept divergent or controversial news from getting in and hindered their ability to get important messages out.
DEEPEN THE DIALOGUE
It is well understood that a leader’s ability to articulate strategic priorities in a compelling way can mean the difference between moving fast in a common direction and spinning in place. However, traction depends on the richness and the accessibility of the leader’s thinking. One emergent use of social media is a new sort of leadership mind map – essentially a model of the CEO’s key ideas accessible to any corner of the organisation.
Popularised in the 1980s, mind-mapping was designed as a visual technique for i ndividuals to array topics of interest. Now, programmers are replacing hand-drawn diagrams with digital illustrations connected to databases that can be easily accessed and queried.
Until now, the biggest drawback to mind-mapping has been the amount of time it takes to build a ‘ brain’ and keep it current. However, semantic software and unstructured data analytics tools are making it possible to scan speeches, memos and blog entries to automate the creation of mind maps and, by extension, to create leader brains that employees can access and explore.
The implications are clear: s avvy leaders make the most of digital technology to galvanise their organisation around a shared understanding of the busi ness. When leaders use social media to tap into the conversations within their organisations and identify those that generate the most energy or emotion, they can allocate their attention and their interventions with greater impact. When leaders are able to engage with social networks, they will be able to interact with their organisation the way a symphony conductor does – in real time with nuanced or direct i nter vention depending on what’s needed. And when leaders can share how they think about a problem – with many people at once and without even being there – everyone in the organisation has a better understanding of where the organisation is going and why.
POPULARISED IN THE 1980S, MIND-MAPPING WAS DESIGNED AS A VISUAL TECHNIQUE FOR INDIVIDUALS TO ARRAY TOPICS OF INTEREST. NOW, PROGRAMMERS ARE REPLACING HANDDRAWN DIAGRAMS WITH DIGITAL ILLUSTRATIONS CONNECTED TO DATABASES THAT CAN BE EASILY ACCESSED AND QUERIED.