A new, old approach to switch leaders on to social

By Belinda Gannaway @contentqueen, a collaboration consultant at digital transformation consultancy NixonMcInnes

The majority of large organisations already use internal social networking sites, or are in the process of rolling out one. Businesses that move in the direction of a more social culture – where information is shared and conversations are open - can expect to see gains in efficiency, agility and innovation.

The problem is that for more connected and collaborative ways of working to deliver maximum value, business leaders need to change how they work – and how they are seen to work. And that can be hard.

The challenge
This generation of senior managers and business leaders has been brought up in a culture where they control the message; ‘conversation’ is one way; information is shared on a need-to-know basis; and the whole self is rarely visible. 

So how can you disrupt decades of conditioning and get leaders used to networking via internal social platforms?

A tried and tested method is AIDA (awareness, interest, desire and action), an advertising engagement model which is used as a way to understand where people are and what they need to embrace change. Like any model, it has its limitations, but it is a good starting point.

Awareness and interest
Most people are more or less already at the awareness phase when it comes to social tools. The challenge here is to move leaders from knowing about the internal social network, to being actively interested in what it can do for the organisation, and more importantly, how they can use it to deliver against their own goals.

The trouble is, unless their first introduction to the concept of social inside the business is calculated to deliver the right impact, they may have filed it in the box marked ‘for other people’. Case studies showing how social tools are delivering results in other organisations are all well and good, but unless there is a clear ‘what’s in it for me?’ leaders will switch off.

To break through the noise, look for a personal as well as the business case that clearly links the internal social network’s value to what it is your target leaders are trying to achieve.

That might be innovation, agility, a way to recognise and engage employees. A way to understand the sentiment inside the organisation. Whatever it is, craft your messages accordingly and demonstrate how their use of these tools can help leaders deliver on their goals.

Think in terms of conversational collaboration – i.e. sharing messages and seeking input – as well as more structured collaboration that impacts business processes. One large publisher, for example, managed to cut one of its regular senior management team meetings by a day, by getting leaders to record their presentations as videos and sharing them in advance. Colleagues can watch these and share their questions on the platform ahead of the meeting, giving time for those in the know to get the answers. This sort of process change can have a real impact on people’s ability to get their job done.

So you’ve caught their attention and they want to know more. The question now is, how do you make what you share compelling enough to move leaders into the action phase? The biggest objections – often disguised as questions - you’re likely to face are:

  • What do I say? (sub text: What do I have that is valuable to contribute)
  • How do I say it? (sub text: I hate teenage speak)
  • What if no-one follows me? (sub text: I’m going to be wasting my time)
  • How do I find the time? (sub text: This is just another channel)
  • Will everyone expect me to answer them? (sub text: I’m going to get swamped by demands on my time)

Take time to understand what is really being asked. Maybe they’re not as on board with the philosophy of the internal social network as you think?  A discovery workshop is a good way to help leaders find their own answers to the questions in a safe environment.  Again, focus on the comms benefits - what would they like to say to whom - as well as the process benefits.

So, they’re ready to go. Giving leaders a safe space to start – either during a soft launch or in a private group – can be a great way to get them used to the tool and social norms. Lots of organisations use reverse mentoring where digital natives mentor senior leaders to help them explore.

Give your leadership team plenty of support and feedback to help them see the value in what they’re doing. This will also help build momentum and bring more people on board – including other, more reticent leaders.

Social is a journey, it’s important you give your leadership team confidence to learn and build as they go. Not every leader is going to go on this journey. For some, it just won’t seem relevant or the obstacles will just seem too big. And that’s fine. But follow the steps above and you should get some of your senior people on board, and that will do a lot to build trust in the organisation and help it benefit from more social ways of working.

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