In this third post in my series of advice on how to build a successful enterprise social network (ESN), I discuss the following important tip:
Get executive buy-in and participation.
My company’s experience in this regard is a tale of two leaders – very different in their connection to our ESN and the resultant impact on the reputation and spread of ESN use in the enterprise.
For the first two years of our ESN, we had zero participation from our then-CEO. He was aware and philosophically supportive of the endeavor, but he never posted a word. I’m told that he did on occasion go there and browse around, but he never engaged in any discussions, nor did I ever hear him reference our ESN except in the context of one video Q&A session where he answered a question from someone who submitted his question via the ESN. Questions for consideration had to then be forwarded to a special email address to be considered for inclusion in those to be answered via video.
During that first two years of ESN use at our company, we had steady, good adoption and growth, but the largest representation was from the lower third of the org chart. The middle of the org chart was a mixed bag of some managers getting it and enthusiastically using it and encouraging their people to do so. Other managers and the top of the org chart produced nothing more than crickets chirping when it came to ESN participation with some middle management actively discouraging their people from participation.
Then in late 2011 we got a new president who was on a one-year transition plan to also become CEO upon the retirement of the previous CEO. Our new president/CEO demonstrated an entirely different outlook toward and willingness to participate in our ESN which, as you might suspect, has opened the eyes of many middle and senior leaders to its purpose and usefulness over the past two years.
Our CEO holds quarterly leader meetings to which about 6,000 managers are invited. It is a mixed-format event that allows for some to attend in person and thousands of others to attend virtually. Since August 2013, the Q&A portion of those meetings has been handled via our ESN. Leaders are invited to join a town hall on the ESN and are encouraged to post questions there as well as discuss any relevant matters brought up at the leader meeting. Our Director of Associate Communications and I sit on the front row of the in-person event and she feeds questions to the CEO and others on the platform that come in via the ESN. We also have a couple of people designated ahead of time to post the ongoing narrative of what is happening in the meeting to the ESN town hall to capture the key points and document them, thereby allowing all associates in the company the benefit of knowing what is shared among the leaders.
For the last few months, our CEO has also encouraged use of the ESN in his monthly video conferences with leaders at the VP level and higher. Someone from my team literally has a seat at the executive boardroom table along with other senior leaders to help manage the Q&A portion of the meeting and, again, to capture the narrative of the discussion for the record and for continuing conversation.
For the last couple of years, our CEO has also periodically posted to the ESN, including photos of his visits to regional offices or from his bike rides or other activities. As you might suspect, these always go over well as the community appreciates the humanness and casual relationship he easily establishes with others at every level of the org.
Not surprisingly, the sound of crickets chirping from previous skeptics in middle and upper management has largely been replaced due to finally seeing someone above them in the org chart use the form of communication well. It’s pretty hard to continue the unenlightened claim that there is no good business use of such a tool when your CEO consistently demonstrates otherwise and encourages you to do the same!
Not all top leaders are inclined to social media, be it internal or external. You may need to offer to do some reverse mentoring, sitting down one-on-one with them to help overcome fear of the technology. You may need to coach them through a specific, short-term use of it for a particular initiative to help them dip their toe in the water. Nobody should expect a permanent, major behavioral and lifestyle change from their top leaders overnight, but it is reasonable to expect gradual and regular involvement at some agreed-upon level.
The value of such executive participation cannot be overstated. It shouts to the enterprise that this technology has business value, it’s worthwhile, and that using it is an expected form of communication for all levels of the org. It puts others who may be apprehensive about it at ease, giving them the OK to dive in themselves.
We even have one VP who is bold enough to schedule periodic open office hours on the ESN, letting everyone know a date and time he’ll be at his desk and in an open town hall, ready for anyone interested to come and pose a question or strike up a conversation about anything. That kind of transparency and access to leadership in a 50,000+ employee operation sets a tone for good leadership that many others would do well to model.
We still have some holdouts among leaders in the org. I don’t expect 100% buy-in and participation from everyone – at least not yet. But we’re light years ahead of where we were just a couple of years ago. We’ll continue making progress, building on the strength of a top executive who gets it and is completely supportive of our ESN efforts, and who demonstrates that by his own personal participation.
Can you have a successful ESN without top leaders being involved? Somewhat. Ours certainly grew rapidly in those first two years without it. But we would have grown more and faster in that time with the previous CEO’s active participation.
Work hard to make sure this third important piece of advice on building a successful ESN happens in your org…
Get executive buy-in and participation.
Earlier posts in this series: