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More than just words: why social collaboration needs executives to lead by example

By Angela Ashenden posted 07-21-2015 07:31


Senior executive buy-in and commitment is often cited as a vital element in the success of a social collaboration initiative, but I've found that the reasons behind this aren't always comprehensively understood, meaning that often it doesn't quite go far enough to be worthwhile. Of course, any project that requires adoption by multiple departments within a business ideally needs the support of top-level management; without it, you risk your efforts being undermined by corporate politics (particularly where your initiative is seen as simply a vanity project for a particular individual), or simply being brushed aside because a) a senior leader in another department doesn't recognise the value in what you are trying to achieve, or b) because middle managers and/or employees don't perceive the initiative to be a serious corporate initiative and therefore worth the effort.


However, with social collaboration initiatives, getting senior level buy-in is about more than simply getting an exec-level stamp of approval for your plans to give them credibility (and get sign-off for your budget), and it's more than having an exec-level mouthpiece to promote what you're trying to implement. Both of these are important factors, but more than just a figurehead, what you need is active commitment to enabling and driving change - starting with changing their own behaviour.


As you look for the right leader or sponsor for your initiative (see Who should lead a social collaboration initiative?), and prepare your arguments for why this is a necessary investment for your business, remember to emphasise the importance of them leading by example. As I've written before, social collaboration adoption success is not just about getting people to use a new tool, it's about getting them to change their established behaviour, and this can be extremely difficult to achieve, especially where it's not clear to them what you want them to change to, for example. By working closely with your sponsor and other senior execs to help them understand what's involved in working more openly and interactively, encouraging them to not just post on your social collaboration platform, but also to respond to others' posts, and to engage in dialogue wherever possible (both online and offline), you will give them the confidence and belief in the initiative that will drive more passionate and convincing advocacy, and ultimately more adoption across the business.


Here are some examples from my case studies showing the importance of active, exec-level engagement, as well as (in the case of Philips) ideas to help encourage and nurture advocacy among your leaders:

  • Education organisation Pearson's CEO, John Fallon, was part of the company's community evangelist group in his previous senior management role at Pearson. Fallon was quick to encourage his leadership team to use the company's Jive-based social collaboration platform, Neo, rather than email for group discussions, and upon becoming CEO, he shared his new organisation structure with all staff via Neo, including videos from the new board members, FAQ’s and other background information. He invited staff to submit questions via the platform, and this had a significant impact on Neo usage that day, with the average length of time spent on the platform far exceeding the previous average.

  • The Director General at the European Commission's DG Connect provides strong leadership on the department's Jive-based social intranet, CONNECTED, promoting its use widely, and helping to get buy-in from staff and Unit Heads alike. He himself blogs 2-3 times per week, with staff regularly commenting on his posts. His most successful blog post, which focused on forthcoming changes within the commission, attracted 300 comments.

  • To drive leadership engagement and adoption of the new Socialcast-based platform at Philips, the social intranet team launched a campaign at its Philips Leadership Summit, where 300 executives were attending in person and an additional 450 attending virtually. Having already assigned the company’s top leaders a “digital buddy” to assist them, a custom Socialcast-powered app was created for the event which provided all the meeting materials, and included a private group where attendees could post and comment. A gamification feature was used to score them on the quality of their posts, based on the comments and likes they received from others, and a leader board showed how they ranked among their peers. The leader with the most points at the end of the summit received a t-shirt declaring them the most digital leader of the summit. As a very competitive group, this worked very well, giving leaders an opportunity to take the time to work out how it worked, to learn from peers, and to experiment in a non-business critical but also a non-threatening environment.  Importantly, their use of the platform continued after the event as well.

Is social collaboration on your organisation's agenda? Whether the answer is yes or know, we'd like to hear from you! Take part in our Social Collaboration Adoption survey, and we'll send you a free copy of the survey report!

#socialcollaboration #strategy #Adoption #Collaboration #casestudy


07-23-2015 12:46

Thanks for your comment John, I look forward to reading your whitepaper on the topic!

07-22-2015 12:58

this post re senior exec buy-in and commitment mirrors a lot of discussions we had last month at the AIIM ELC meetings re collaboration – that collaboration is a function of BOTH technology and culture, with a heavy dose of the latter. Watch for the white paper (if I ever get around to writing it!) in early September.