Guidance & How To, Social & Cooperation, Strategy & Decision-making

Going social? Don’t create needs. Respond to existing ones.

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in November 2014 ……


Most organizations are just starting the journey.

A long road with major barriers.

Two recent studies, Social Business: Shifting out of First Gear from MIT Sloan Management and Deloitte (here) and the other from myself, The Digital Workplace in the Connected Organization, (my 2014 annual report) have drawn very similar conclusions:

  • The internal digital work environment is becoming more social and collaborative, but there’s a very long road ahead.
  • The main barriers are strategic and organizational issues, not technological challenges. And that’s why the road is so long!

There are lots of hurdles to jump.

Different questions, different terms but similar discouraging results.

Each survey proposed a different list of potential obstacles, but the results taken together come down to lack of strategy, conflicting priority and inability or unwillingness to envisage new ways of working.

Decision-making is also major issue: people say there are “too many competing priorities” and “high-level stakeholder politics and power struggles” impact decision-making.

MIT Sloan Management and Deloitte found the top three barriers to be:

  • “Lack of an overall strategy.”
  • “Too many competing priorities.”
  • “Lack of a proven business case or strong value proposition.”

My research gave similar results.

  • “Too much focus on the tool and not enough on people and change.”
  • “Hesitation to rethink processes and ways of working.”
  • “High-level stakeholder politics and power struggles that impact decision-making.”
  • “Decisions based on consensus, slow and long.”

Work with hierarchical leadership, if you can.

Social often threatens hierarchical leadership, which is why we need to work with them.

Leadership needs to get involved. I wrote about emerging leadership in an earlier post,  but now I’m referring to hierarchical leadership. As long as hierarchies exist, participation from people at the highest levels will provide essential momentum. Saying this makes me cringe, but it’s true. Maybe some day, social will emerge naturally. Today however, social often threatens traditional leadership, which is the very reason things will work better if traditional leaders are involved, personally.

The authors of Social Business: Shifting out of First Gear strongly recommend that leaders must “personally participate in social experiments and conversations”.

In The Digital Workplace in the Connected Organization 2014, respondents were asked to indicate their agreement with the following statements.

Watch the percentages drop:

  • 61 percent said they agree with the statement: “Our top management is vocally supportive.
  • 30 percent agreed that: “Our top management acts as role models, participating visibly in the digital workplace.”
  • 24 percent agree that: “Our top management is a driving force behind the digital workplace.”

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, 38 percent agree with the statement: “Our top management is neutral or indifferent.”

Held back by senior management…?

If you’re very lucky, your CEO will walk the talk and take the others along.

The first (and only) time I’ve seen this was 15 years ago when the CEO of a global company decided to no longer provide paper documents to his direct reports before important meetings, but to use their new virtual meeting software solution to upload the documents, announce the meeting times and to actually hold the meeting for those who were not physically in the same location. One of his direct reports did not take this seriously and was the only one who missed a key meeting because he had not seen the message. I was told it never happened again.

Or, your CEO will give a strategic push.

Years later, I was working with a global group where the largest, most powerful division did not want to participate in the new digital workplace strategy workshops because they intended to continue with their own intranet solution. I was told the CEO asked the divisional director if, in that case, did his division want to remain in the group? In the end the representatives from the division were present in the workshops, and after a couple of sessions, got fully involved in the project.

If neither of the above is possible, you need a different approach.

Don’t create needs. Respond to existing ones.

I wish I could say that it does not matter if senior managers are on board or not, but in my experience it does matter. It makes things easier, faster and a lot more fun. However, if this is not the case, you will find yourself looking for other starting points. I suggest the following:

  • Find cases where experimentation is already happening in your organization. It’s much more common than you may realize. Put out your feelers and see what you find.
  • Identify two or three of these cases where there is undeniable business impact. That usually means customers are impacted or operational efficiency is involved.
  • Work with these existing initiatives, provide tools and advice (if they need it) and above all, share stories about them. Narrate their successes. Make sure management hears about them.

Word-of-mouth at all levels will help you build the momentum you lack from the top. You’ll eventually catch their attention.

A network of needs is more sustainable than top level enthusiasm.

Hopefully your walk-the-talk champion won’t walk out the door.

One of my clients said to me at a very low point in his project, a day when he finally realized he had little support from the top: “I’m just waiting for them to retire.” However, I heard recently that things had taken a big upturn. He had found a “champion”, a new senior manager who had arrived from another company. Cross-pollination looked like it would trigger the impetus he needed. We’ll see.

Unfortunately it works both ways. If you have “walk-the-talk” support from a very senior person, you may have a problem if that person walks out. I’ve seen that happen too. It’s hard to recover.

Build a real and sustainable foundation.

If you’ve worked diligently and have a network of people and situations where social and digital are being used in useful ways, you’ll have a foundation to build on that is more real and sustainable than one or two senior-level champions.


Post cross-published on Pulse 26 Nov. 2014.