Why Social Employees Follow Social Executives
With the movement toward social business models currently underway, how can executives not only get their employees to use social media, but to use it for the benefit of the organization?
For our upcoming book, The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work, Mark Burgess and I interviewed several leading companies to learn about their social adoption process and how these changes affected their workforce. Companies such as Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Dell, Cisco, IBM, and Domo each had unique solutions to the social media puzzle.
Regardless of the specific approaches they took, the initiatives in all of these success stories centered on creating cultures of engaged, proactive employees through improved communication and specialized social media training.
The following are some key takeaways to help social executives on their social journeys.
1. The why matters.
Social employees are happy to do what is asked of them, as long as they understand the reason for the task. As Don Tapscott said in the afterword of Jacob Morgan’s The Collaborative Organization,
The baby boomers were satisfied with knowing what decision was made, but today’s young employees want to know why. They’re not insubordinate; they just recognize that understanding the reasons behind the decision can make the difference between success and failure in implementation.
This attitude is actually quite helpful to an organization. By understanding the why of a task, the social employee will be able to contextualize the task as part of a larger objective. As a result of this, the employee might even be able to adapt a more efficient process for the task—clearly making this a win-win for the company.
This process applies the spirit of Simon Sinek’s mantra: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” In this case, however, the customers are the company’s employees. They are the ones who need to be convinced in order to buy in to the process.
During the company’s social adoption process, Cisco developed the “WWHW Wheel” as a means of building employee buy-in for the planned changes. The wheel, which stood for what, why, how, when, indicated the different stage of buy-in company managers were as they discussed new initiatives.
Cisco executives knew where their managers were on the WWHW Wheel by the kinds of questions they were asking. For instance, if they were still asking basic questions about the change itself, those managers were still working to grasp what the change was. As soon as the managers began asking for the reasoning (the why) behind the change, then executives knew that those managers had moved to the why portion of the wheel. By monitoring where their employees were along the wheel, executives were able to tailor the pace of the conversation to the group, allowing them to build broad support for the planned changes by fostering a deeper understanding of those changes.
2. Walk the talk.
Executives must remember that social business means increased transparency and visibility. Social employees are far more likely to adapt target behaviors if they see the C-Suite leading the way to change. So, just as businesses work to build social employees, they must also build social executives. In just a few years, we fully expect to see social media competence as a prerequisite for executive-level jobs.
CEO Josh James at Domo embraced this challenge with gusto when he announced the #DomoSocial program out of the blue in May of 2012. This innovative program mandated employee adoption of social media over the course of several weeks.
The reasoning behind the program was that it was more beneficial for everyone to learn how to go social all at once. By undertaking the process as a group, employees would talk to each other about what they’d learned, supporting each other when inevitable flubs were made in the adoption process. James had a very visible role throughout, transparently modeling the behaviors and ideas that he wanted his employees to emulate, and regularly posting the program’s progress on his blog.
While in Domo’s case their CEO had perhaps a better grasp of social media’s benefits, with many other organizations the reverse is often true. In other words, a company’s employees usually have a better understanding of social media than their executives do. These employees are a valuable resource to executives working to build their social media skills.
For instance, many of the companies we spoke with also had some type of reverse mentoring program, in which employees would work directly with their superiors to model effective strategies and skills. Not only did this give executives an in-house resource to build their own knowledge base, it gave employees a chance to make a name for themselves among the senior ranks.
3. Ideas are a shared responsibility.
Social business has allowed for the design of dynamic new collaboration processes. Sharing ideas and information has never been easier. Greater access to information, resources, and tools within a company creates many internal crowdsourcing opportunities. The executives we spoke with were constantly astounded by the way individual talents would shine through and build off of each other through the process of group collaboration.
At IBM, this kind of open communication led directly to the development of the enterprise platform Connections by way of the company’s Technology Adoption Program (TAP). It also led to the development of the company’s social media policy. When it came time to formalize IBM’s relationship to social business, executives understood that many of their employees already had a nuanced understanding of social media engagement through their own online experiences.
Clearly, this knowledge was a tremendous resource to waste. To capitalize on this pocket of expertise, IBM set up a wiki and invited all its employees to contribute their thoughts on what the company’s social media policy should be. Eventually, a document emerged that IBM’s Ethan McCarty called the company’s Magna Carta. So successful were the company guidelines, in fact, that many other companies have asked IBM for permission to adopt that policy as their own.
It was apparent to us that strong executive leadership was essential to building a sustainable social employee culture. The social executive is a catalyst for a company, leading employees by example by modeling the company’s mission, vision and values.