Open Leadership – Empowering Employees and Customers : Expert Advice from Charlene Li (Altimeter Group)
Here are Charlene’s thoughts on Open Leadership, Social Media and Employee Empowerment :
The Dell case study is the subject of lot of Social Media books. A Dell laptop caught fire in a Japanese fire many years back and a video of it circulates till date on YouTube and other media portals. Dell, at the time, was not equipped to respond to the PR nightmare that followed. After that Dell engaged in extensive introspection and created a powerful Social empowerment strategy for it’s employees.
Charlene talks about three key aspects to developing an Open Leadership enviroment : Strategy, Leadership and Preparedness.
Today’s leaders need to “Learn” about what is happening in employee circles and customer spheres. This requires “Dialog”. Best Buy has created twelpforce – a twitter support group about 2500 strong to provide support to customers.
The Social Strategy involves an Engagement Pyramid :
The Engagement Pyramid indicates various levels of Open Leadership possible in a firm.
DellOutlet drives sales with Dialog on twitter – this channel is used to announce promotions. Web announcements and brochures are other ways to promote new products but they do not engender any user feedback whereas the same promotions on twitter drive user feedback and sharing. Similarly, Kohl’s retail chain encourages its customers to share their purchase experiences on its user portal.
This is all about enabling Dialog.
The next idea is “Integrate” support in your business. One firm has 85% of its employees engaged in customer support forums. This leads to good customer satisfaction. Starbucks invites ideas on www.mystarbucksidea.com. Almost 100 customer ideas from this portal have been implemented.
This means that top leadership needs to have the confidence and humility to give up Control and empower it’s people. This also requires authenticity and transparency. Sunguard CEO said that it would be arrogant for a CEO to think that he or she can make better decisions than the thousands of people below him/her. Sunguard CEO implemented Yammer in his firm – the intranet equivalent of twitter.
Premier Farnell (a manufacturing firm) runs the “OurTube” portal for its employees and engineers – this portal allows the engineers to share ideas and best practices. Salesforce.com – the premier online CRM firm, uses its own Chatter platform for internal communication and sharing.
The question is how to get started on the path of Open Leadership. Charlene lays out a five step process :
#1 Align Social with key strategy goals for current and next year
Take some risks with Social technology if you have to
#2 Create a culture of sharing
Exercise sharing muscles. Often times, CEO and other leaders must lead by example by sharing themselves. Eg Edelman CEO blogs every single week since 2004.
How to encourage sharing :
- Give sharing a purpose eg. goal, project or event
- Build trust : Limit people you share with, at least initially
- Use video : eg one can use cellphone to record yourself and put it out there
Send it out by email for sharing – email works also – in addition to social networks.
#3 Discipline is needed to succeed
Formalize the Open Leadership process – without definition, people do not know the boundaries and may not be comfortable with this media. rules of atticate, rules of behavior, rules of culture.
#4 Ask the right questions about value
Some orgs use brand metrics or net promoter score – but these are tough and laborious to measure. Whereas social technology is infinitely measurable – metrics is not the key, but relationships are.
#5 Prepare for failure
No relationships are perfect. Google’s mantra is – “Fail fast, Fail Smart“.
It’s about RELATIONSHIPs at the end of day – relationships with customers, relationships with employees and relationships with partners.
Baby boomers – some are active on Social Media even though common perception is that they don’t get it. Millennials – they are new in orgs and hence least secure to brand as Empowered employees.
For a firm, the best people to put out there acting as ambassadors are – folks who are passionate about this stuff – these are often baby boomers.
Q & A :
– How do management set personal and professional boundaries for Social empowerment ? depends on what relationships a firm wants – that will determine the boundaries.
– Another question is to check “Readiness” of firms for Open Leadership. How ready is it to engage ? many departments like legal, investor relations, marketing and others need to provide the clearance for this.
– Why does Apple succeed in spite of being so closed ? Charlene mentioned that although Apple is a very closed organization and is keep its operations and new products very secret, but they still succeed due to their fantastic product quality. But another way to look at it is that Apple has so many passionate fans that act as their ambassadors and advocates. That said, Apple has it’s share of problems etc the Antenna issue in the iPhone 4 caused so much PR problems for Apple.
Open Strategy must focus on RELATIONSHIPs and not on tech platform eg Facebook or twitter or email etc
Companies try to start with content creation – blogs, youtube (90% push, 10% feedback) before they go onto other steps in Openness.
Sometimes firms find that people are not participating in an Open environment – this is a training and prority issue. Charlene says that leaders have to look for passionate staff who thrive on feedback.
– Why Openness can fail : often times when it is not structured. Business requires context and structure to be successful
– Which departments use Social Tech ? 40% of it is in Marketing dept. Increasingly, Corporate Communication and HR depts are using it. As well, HR, Investor Relations, Corporate Social Responsibility depts are beginning to use it.
– Cultural nuances ? Charlene found that cultural nuances effect Social and Open in different countries. Eg in Korea and Brazil – producing content is twice as popular than in USA – people want to create content as there is little of it so far.
China – people are transparent about their salaries, not so in USA. Different cultures share different things but the point is that they do share.
Eventually, Social Technology will be like air – anywhere and everywhere.
Over time : When one locks into grocery store, they will know who I am and what I typically want
If consumers are adopting Social technology, companies need to be there too.
You HAVE TO GO where your customers are, firms cannot just focus on their websites etc.
– What about privacy issues ? Charlene said that there is clear distinction between PRIVACY and PERMISSION. But, society’s norms change quickly about privacy. Eg Caller id was resisted by people before as it was considered invasive of privacy. But now it is mandatory before people answer calls.
One has to constantly test where the public boundary is for privacy.
- What about failures when trying out Openness ? Charlene’s book has one complete chapter on Failure of Openness.
Most CEOs feel their stomach churning when they enter this arena. It takes some time and experimentation for management to develop a comfort zone with Open Leadership.
If one is in job market today, potential candidates are demanding open firms. On the flip side, some people want more structure around Openness. It is the Younger generation that has a preference to continue to be social.
– How about loss of employee productivity using social networks ? Charlene says this is a management problem and not a productivity problem. If a firm blocks people from using social media, people do it anyway on their phones and take long breaks.
Learning about Open Leadership is the MOST IMPORTANT OBJECTIVE as all firms today want to become people-oriented.
Focus Groups and Surveys are hard to do and get responses. It is much easier to search Social Networks and one knows the participants’ profiles and biases.
June 16th, 2011