The Modern CEO’s Social Business Agenda and Technology Paradox

This post originally appeared on CommonSense.

“Technology can accelerate a transformation, but it cannot cause a transformation”  Good to Great by Jim Collins

About a year ago, I was facilitating a conversation amongst a group of CEOs and C-Suite executives on the topic of Communications. As a conversation starter, I presented the group with the following market trends (stats sourced from IBM’s 2012 CEO C-Suite Study “Leading Through Connections”).

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 8.34.18 AM

This led to a fascinating conversation around the effects of social media and big data on organizations, and how CEOs can harness these trends to drive positive business impact for their organizations. I noted a mix of emotions ranging from excitement to confusion to intimidation in the room. Across the board, it was clear that addressing these market forces is top of mind for the modern CEO. I also noticed an inherent tendency to respond to these forces with tactical, technology solutions – to fight technology with more technology so to speak. I’ve noticed this same tendency with companies that we consult for.

The Technology Paradox

Today’s C-Suite and the organizations they lead are falling into a trap: a conundrum I’ve come to refer to as the “Technology Paradox”. At the core of the issue are two opposing forces affecting organizations, embedded in the market trends I shared with the CEOs and in their and their organizations’ inherent response (1) the external market force of social technologies disrupting industries and the structure of the workforce, and (2) the internal force of organizations reacting with tactical, technology solutions vs. responding with strategic, human solutions.

Technology Paradox

Examples of the Technology Paradox in action:

  • “Everyone’s talking about this new Pinterest thing. Let’s start a Pinterest page.”
  • “We need our workforce to be more collaborative and less siloed. Let’s get everyone on Jive.”

As Jim Collins taught us in Good to Great, “Technology can accelerate a transformation, but it cannot cause a transformation”. So, while CEOs must transform their organizations to adapt to and meet today’s challenges, largely driven by social technologies and their impact on the market, CEOs cannot begin the transformation with technology solutions.

Leading During a Revolution

CEOs have dealt with technological revolutions before – from the two industrial revolutions to the digital revolution and the era of personal computing. Even “social media” itself is nothing new (here is a great history of social media written by venture capitalist, Mark SusterPart 1 – Social Networking: The PastPart 2 – Social Networking: The Present and Part 3 – Social Networking: The Future). But, perhaps what may make today’s challenges different is that CEOs are facing the effects of a confluence of technologies – cloud computing, social media, and post-PC devices (mobile) – that have now reached interoperability and scale. Together, these technologies are democratizing and personalizing information at an unprecedented scale and accuracy, and driving a global social revolution.  Customers and workforces – citizens, even – are not only more informed, but also more perceptive, discerning and cynical of those pushing messages at them; certainly of those underestimating their intellect. It’s critical to understand this context because once one does, it’s clear that, while technology may be driving many of today’s organizational changes and challenges, the answer lies not in technology alone. The answer lies in understanding human behavior and the nuances of each organization’s corporate culture. Technology is merely an enabler.

Thus, as C-Suites respond to today’s challenges, they must think and act through the lens of managing during a time of revolution, and focus on better understanding, trusting and empowering their employees and customers. What are the levers they can pull to drive change? Recognize the innovators and early adopters. Who are the avid guarders of the status quo, and what are the opportunities to change their perspective? Most importantly, how can you communicate in a relevant manner with your various stakeholders and constituencies (from board members to investors to employees to customers), to gain the support of the influencers in those constituencies and motivate change?

Developing a Master Narrative

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Here at W2O Group, we’ve used an ACES model (outline below) to help construct communications plans.

CEO Master Narrative

  • Analytics. Harness the power of big data to drive actionable insights that can drive business impact
  • Content. Develop content that is catered to your constituencies in the formats they prefer, and syndicate that content to the channels/communities in which they consume and engage
  • Engagement. Create relationships and trust by becoming a valued community member (which I’ve written about before here) in the communities in which your various constituencies engage
  • Strategy. Lead with strategy, purpose and desired business outcomes. Incorporate strategy in every step (analytics, content and engagement)

Using this model a CEO can begin to construct an effective narrative to motivate behavior and transformation within her organization and amongst stakeholders.

Below you can find the slides I used to facilitate the conversation amongst the CEOs.

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