Don't let CEO Engagement Kill your Enterprise Social Network

It's a tenet of implementing Enterprise Social Networks that success requires not just executive leadership commitment, but also engagement. Ironically CEO and executive over-engagement can kill ESN initiatives as effectively as lack of engagement. Learn why and how to avoid CEO sabotage.

How CEO kill Enterprise Social NetworkCEOs and senior executives firing missiles into employee's established work processes destroys enterprise social network implementations. And it does not take long, about a year, before the ESN is condemned by employees to the yet-another failed "corporate" initiative. However this is particularly ironic because CEO and executive engagement is generally seen as a must. But it can be over-done.

ESN implementation requires careful use case planning

Along with the appropriate engagement of senior executives one of the other well-known tenets of enterprise social network success is that the chosen technology links into the workflow and processes of the people doing the work. That is, that it is not yet another place to go, but is part of what they use on their screens hour to hour.

When planning an enterprise social network strategy a key to success is the clear definition of the initial use cases. They need to be ones which have a clear baseline, a clear need, well defined processes which can be linked to social technology functionality, can support an active community management process, and can resource content and other development activities. They also need the support and engagement of their line executives and staff of course.

It takes quite a bit of work to identify potential use cases and then research and prioritize them and then to work through the details of the chosen few as above, and in relation to IT integration and support.  The focus is on details and on making these initial use cases a success in order to progress others.

Horizontal ESN use case needs definition

The vertical use cases are precisely scoped and measured. There is also an associated consideration of enterprise-wide engagement and how wide and how deep that should be in order to bring the general familiarity and benefits to the entire employee base - the horizontal use case.

The idea of finding experts and "knowledge" is part of the accepted mantra of enterprise social networks and thought needs to be given to how to manage those expectations without distracting from the vertical use cases. This is usually discussed in terms of access rights and the scope of the employee profile. We want employees to see their management and leaders in the system, to be able to interact with them on a light touch basis and vice-versa, and for them to have searchable skills and interests in their profiles.

Going beyond this may be possible, and the challenge in expanding this horizontal scope is in ensuring that focus in not diffused from the key vertical use cases.

We certainly want the CEO and executives to be visible and engaged, however their over engagement can do more harm then good.

How the CEO shatters the work processes

As an enterprise social network rolls out we are dealing with two classes of people. One group has had their workflow carefully considered and is having the social technology integrated into that workflow to the extent possible. They are those people in the vertical use cases. The other group of people are carrying out their jobs as usual, and has been made aware of some kind of "social media thing which IT is doing". They might view some communications and educational material, or read about it in the internal newsletter. Their adoption and and adaption of the social tools will vary widely depending on a very wide range of factors. The latter group are part of the horizontal use case.

Now ironically the CEO and senior executives will likely be very engaged in the horizontal general use case, because in fact they don't really have a business process to attend to and are focused on communications. It's ironic because the senior team are likely more engaged than everyone in the horizontal use case except for the enthusiasts and those employees in the vertical use cases (since the vertical overlap with the horizontal).

What are the consequences?

Typically the CEO the leadership team are going to have goals related to customer service, Net Promoter Score type of measures, internal efficiency (costs), market share and safety. What now happens is that they start spotting things and take to their internal social media to "find someone" and get them to "sort this out".

Typical cases are the CEO hearing a complaint on the radio during his morning ride to the office, hearing about an issue while out visiting the troops, or worse while out visiting a customer, and blasting off a "tweet" to get this fixed. 

Ultimately these messages hit the people doing the job - whatever function that might be. They might even go direct in the "spirit" of cutting through layers, silos and hierarchy which is a key reason the CEO and executive team have signed on to the enterprise social networking system.

Remember the two classes of people defined above? If these blasts hit one of the vertical use case teams then they can probably deal with it reasonably well, because they have the social technology integrated into their work flow. They may be thrown by it coming from so high above, but they'll have a chance of sorting it out.

But the number of people in the vertical use cases is a small subset of the total employee population - those in the horizontal use case. Actually the horizontal use case is not really a use case but a generic and uneven adoption of the social technology, and a whole lot of low or no usage as well. Note that this is the actual way Yammer works, through so-called "organic adoption" in an unplanned way with no defined use cases.

When the "social media" blasts from the top hit people in the latter group they cause mayhem. Firstly the social technology isn't part of their workflow, so there is a punch flying in from somewhere out in left field. Secondly they are buried in their own daily morass and probably even working on some of the issues which have escaped out to the attention of the CEO and senior executives e.g. someone tweeting that they've had trouble dealing with a particular issue. Thirdly, they are working to a set of triage rules and prioritization rules, and they have a wider view of the customer or issue which allows them to direct the appropriate level of resources. Fourthly, they have to apply these rules because they simply don't have the resources to do anything else.

The consequences - they get kicked from pillar to post jumping out of their established processes and priorities to respond to squeaky wheels which have been picked up and sponsored by the CEO etc.

The result - they are going to everything in their power to kill this pain in the butt called the internal social network. And they do kill it, because ultimately the unwashed masses are more powerful than the CEO in relation to the effectiveness of the ESN. 

And note that this is most often the way Yammer dies, because it relies on a horizontal organic adoption process which leaves those doing the job most open to random missiles from above which explode in the midst of their daily work processes.

CEO engagement requires process and planning

The active engagement of the CEO and leadership team is important for enterprise social network adoption. But they need to constrain their operational interventions until the whole organisation is effectively using the ESN in their workflows.

Here are three recommendations for the CEO for the first 2 years:
  1. Do not oil the squeaky wheels by firing off across the network, with the exception below;
  2. Have a clear understanding across the leadership layers that you expect the same behaviour of them; and,
  3. Communicate across the leadership layers directly, and ask them to handle issues you raise in the usual "pre ESN" way with their teams.
By following these simple rules the CEO and executive team should manage to avoid shattering their enterprise social network implementation. CEOs need to learn how to engage in an appropriate way and not an enthusiast's way.

How do you think a CEO should best engage during ESN adoption?

Walter Adamson 

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