Hey Gurus, Leave those C – Suites Alone

















(many thanks to the wonderful illustrator, animator and cartoonist Simon Heath for this graphic)

Q: What’s the biggest barrier to embedding social media in your business
A: Getting buy in from the C Level

How many times have you heard that over the last 3 or 4 years? Loads of times, and it’s still being trotted out. Last week I was at a Digital Shoreditch event where a distinguished panel (of suppliers who also happen to be industry commentators) said much the same thing.

You need to get buy in from the C Level. Make the business case. Show them ROI. They sign the cheques and need to see proof.

I call bullsh*t!

In my experience most of the C suite are just fine with this. A lot of them like the online celebrity status it brings them, the opportunity to talk about their business (and have it talked about) and they place trust in the managers they appoint to make the right calls on usage, content and guidelines. Social networking platforms are conversation channels – no-one ever called the C suite a barrier to putting in a phone system, did they?

Middle managers are another thing entirely. In common with a number of owner managers in smaller businesses, many that I have met see it as a hindrance. They don’t like the transparency and immediacy it brings, the hierarchical flattening that comes with it, and the fact that those they manage know more about it (and are more adept at it) than they are.

They often have no time and little inclination and wrongly fear that their charges will spend too much time on it and will therefore fail to deliver the outcomes for which the manager is accountable.

So what’s the main barrier then?

It’s the structure. If you’ve got a traditional post-industrial age corporate structure of owners/directors supported by the usual hierarchies of management (senior managers, middle managers, junior managers) then the line managers who have the responsibility and accountability for ensuring things get done inevitably like to manage processes. That’s why e-mail is so prevalent… it’s all about managing activity and giving direction, with its cc capability giving visibility to the managing and direction.

Not everyone likes to learn new tricks that take them out of their comfort zone, especially when they have a position of responsibility.

So if you want to influence them here are three points to take into account next time you need to jump the barrier.

If you make people use it they’ll use it badly. You can’t force it, mandate it or set KPIs for it else they will do it wrong. Its conversation and you want online conversationalists. Broadcast messages are the preserve of those who don’t understand conversation.

You can train people in how to best use the platforms but if they don’t naturally get it then it won’t happen for them. It starts with hiring people who are comfortable using them.

It’s evolution not revolution. From letter to phone to telegraph to fax to e-mail to mobile, business always adapts to shifting ways of communicating…particularly when their customers and clients start communicating with them using those ways.

What’s the cost of NOT doing it? How many times do you hear ‘we’re not ready for that?’ or ‘it’s a fad that won’t take off’? Most businesses learn the lesson when it hits them in the pocket…the question isn’t why should you use the platforms but what are you missing by not using them.

If you think you’re not ready then don’t bury your head in the sand, because I’ll tell you who are ready…current, former and lapsed customers/clients, and current, past and future employees. And no doubt a lot of your competitors too.

And remember, anyone who says ‘we pay people to work, not to play around on social media’ has little understanding of how the platforms work, how people use them, and how they can be used to positive effect in the business…so show them.

There’s no better way than to start with the following slides from Paul Taylor at Bromford Group, a business in the social housing sector that gets it. Maybe because they have a CEO who favours hiring people with a digital footprint because ‘all future leaders will need a positive digital footprint…without the ability to communicate across all platforms they won’t survive as credible leaders

As Paul says in his latest blogThe medium is irrelevant. The conversation is everything

8 thoughts on “Hey Gurus, Leave those C – Suites Alone

  1. YES. Twice recently I’ve been called in to see what the problem was with organizational use of social media tools, and twice I’ve found that the CLevel was quite fine with it. The bottlenecks in both cases were caused by middle managers. In once case this was a case of flagrantly ignoring a very clear written directive from the very top. And in both cases there was also a problem with mid-level IT inexplicably allowed to wear governance and legal hats.

    Great post.


  2. Couldn’t agree more. At one of my old companies we tried to implement some internal social type sharing software (this was long before there was a name for such a thing!). The C suite weren’t just bought into it, it was actually their idea! The people who did the actual doing in the company were bought in and up for it, the middle management layer casually obstructed at every opportunity…….two months later the project was labelled a failure and it was several years before that company tried anything similar again

  3. Excellent article, especially this: “It starts with hiring people who are comfortable using [social media platforms].”

    But you forget that companies adopting email wasn’t the slam dunk it appears in retrospect. The same cultural shifts that are developing with the use of social media in companies also took place with email. Perhaps even more so, as this is the first time that internal messaging went from analog to digital. Some of the protests I clearly remember:
    “My message is just, like, out there! I never know what’s going to happen to it after that.”
    “I never know if my message arrived and was read.”
    “I prefer typing my memos on paper. It gives you time to think and reflect.”
    “I’m just not good with computers.”
    Etc. etc. etc.

    Major cultural shifts always look simpler in hindsight.


    An old timer

  4. Since we don’t know much about engagement (the value, the definition, the target), is it any wonder that front-line managers see little value in it and regard it as a BARRIER to their actual work? In our first book, we asked a simple question: “How much damage has been done by the book ‘First, Break All the Rules’”? Based on how much money organizations spend on poorly designed surveys and expensive, non-impactful consulting, the damage is quickly rising. ‘I have a best friend at work’ is a credibility killer.

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