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What Does It Take To Be A Leader In Social Business?

A recent study of Fortune and Global 250 companies found that only 10% of CIOs are actively involved in social activities. Can non-social CIOs affect social business change?

What Does It Take To Be A Leader In Social Business?

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How important is leadership by example? Culturally, we respect people who “walk the
walk,” so leading business initiatives by example would seem pretty important.

It
is surprising, therefore, that a recent study of Fortune and Global 250 companies
found that only 10% of CIOs are actively involved in social activities. The study, carried out by enterprise social
software vendor harmon.ie (see
disclaimer below), used a formula developed by social scoring expert Mark
Fidelman (an executive at harmon.ie). The formula incorporates social activity
levels taken from Twitter, SocialMention.com, LinkedIn, Google+, and Alexa.

The reaction to the study has sparked a debate that centers
on the following two questions:

  • Do executives need to participate
    in social business initiatives, or can they delegate leadership roles to domain
    experts?
  • Is the transformation to a
    social enterprise different than other technologically related business initiatives?

Clearly, leaders of companies can’t be experts in every
detail for which they are responsible. Delegation and empowerment are critical
tools for the effective operation of any organization, and the larger the
organization, the more important these become. On the other hand, it is very
difficult to analyze the success of an initiative if you don’t understand the
complexities of what is being undertaken. This argument can made for any
technologically related business transformation, like ERP, CRM, BPM, Y2K, or any
other three-letter acronym (TLA) initiative of the last 20 years. As a matter of fact, many CIOs who were not
experts in these technologies were able to complete initiatives successfully. So what is different about the transformation
to social business?

I believe the transition to social business is fundamentally
different. This time, change is not merely concerned with the introduction and adoption
of new operational business systems (which itself is incredibly difficult).

No, this time, people are being asked to think
fundamentally different. They are being asked to change how they behave at
work, how they get the information they need to do their jobs, how they share
information with others, and how they seek out new ideas and expertise. This is really difficult.

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Accordingly, social leadership by example is
especially critical for success. This
kind of change can only happen when backed up by actions. When employees see a CIO (or CEO) blogging,
participating on Twitter, or posting updates on an activity
stream
, they understand the company is serious about change…from the top
down. On the other hand, when employees
are being asked to change, but they do not see any public presence from
management, what’s the message? The
message is clear–this is just another passing management fad. Resist long
enough and it will eventually pass, like a lot of other failed initiatives.

Can CIOs relegate social activities to subordinate experts? I think not. Doing so would send a message that social tools are either too complicated
for non-specialists (or anyone over the age of 30), or that it is not important
enough to be part of an executive’s day. It’s the “do as I say, not as I do” message that every parent knows does
not work.

Other commenters to the study asked whether it was enough for
CIOs to be active on internal networks, or whether they also need a public-facing
presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, etc. I think that if a CIO really believes in the power
of social, this question is superfluous. A social CIO will seek out public
forums because they understand the power of sharing information and belonging
to professional networks. They won’t need to be coerced into participating.

What do you think? Can companies become social without active
executive participation? Do CIOs need to
be active on public forums to be social?

Tell me what you think in the comments; you can also email me at dlavenda1@hotmail.com or tweet me at @dlavenda

–Author David Lavenda is a high tech marketing and product strategy executive who also does academic research on information overload in organizations. He is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.

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*Disclaimer: The author is an executive at harmon.ie.
The views expressed here represent the author’s alone.

[Image: Flickr user Daniël Silveira]

About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission.

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