In most companies today, senior executives are still responsible for their unit — sales, marketing, HR, division A, division B. Yes, they are told to be team players and work with their peers. But that is often not enough. You need someone to look after the whole, by taking a holistic view of what is needed to get employees to work across silos.While businesses are still coming to terms with how social affects their business -- including how it should be used for collaboration, communication, marketing, customer support, and so on -- the discussion has turned increasingly serious in recent years about whether there actually needs to be a Chief Community Officer or Chief Collaboration Officer. Such a role is reminiscent of the burgeoning new Chief Customer Officer, a role that is gaining steady traction in the last several years according to the CCO Council, with 39 firms with over $2 billion revenue now actually having a C-level executives primarily intended to represent customer needs. For many businesses, having a leader responsible for that oh-so-critical business activity: teamwork, seems like a smart one given the low levels of cross-functional teamwork that actually takes place in many organizations. In the end, good collaboration needs conscious effort and encouragement.
In reality however, lack of broader interdepartmental cooperation and teamwork is felt to be endemic to many workplaces. As I've covered in the past about the challenges of implementing Enterprise 2.0 and fostering collaboration in organizations that don't do it naturally, there are often many reasons why collaboration is hard to do or not happening enough. Consequently, most workers today would probably agree that the modern organization today is all-too-often typified by its silos of function, across which little useful information crosses. This leads to long-term dysfunction and inefficiencies as the needed knowledge and expertise can't reach where it's required. In fact, it is directly across these communication silos where technology solutions have been designed for decades to lower the barrier of communication, of which social software is only the latest example. But having good collaborative technology is not the only the problem. People are.
Who is really responsible for collaboration?Does collaboration really need a dedicated C-level leader? Do they need to be fully imbued with the authority, mandate, and resources to reshape culture and behavior in an organization? And is this role really the best place for strategic use of internal social media to reside? In my research I'm finding that the answer is clearly this: not necessarily. In fact, as we'll see there are many solid bulwarks within an organization's hierarchy from which to actively drive improvements in communication and collaboration using social software. For many classical IT systems, there was often a obvious role in the organization for which it was ultimately responsible. Most IT systems centralize automation and control, yet the opposite is often true of social systems, which distribute and disseminate information and attention using the rules of human behavior, connecting participants to the far-flung reaches of the business. Basically whoever wants to listen or participate. Consequently, there are a few more actors and thus potential leaders, including some unlikely ones, that will determine the success of an Enterprise 2.0 effort. Related: CoIT: The centralization of IT is being challenged in the social media era. In fact, while the HBR article recommends that an existing C-level executive "assume the mantle", successful leadership is likely to come from several quarters at once. As organizations move from a 1990s era environment of e-mail and relatively static intranet portals to a new one of social computing-based communication and self-organizing collaboration, leadership that drives success transformation and change is going to come from most or all of these different areas:
Where Enterprise 2.0 leadership can be found
- Senior Management. In my analysis of Enterprise 2.0 case studies, strong executive leadership is one of the primary success factors for adoption and sustained uptake of social software in strategic, company-wide settings. Effective senior executives set the pace and tone of how companies are run and the best of them lead by example. Unfortunately, many senior executives are either too busy to actually use social software very much or are uncomfortable with using it for a variety of reasons related to issues such as compliance, legal exposure, and professional inclination. On the other side of the coin, studies have shown there is real value in this leadership, most recently finding that CEOs of the most admired 50 firms are more actively engaged online (41%) than companies with mediocre reputations (28%). I don't yet advocate a true C-level Chief Collaboration Officer for most firms (that's for when social has become more entrenched), but a motivated CIO, COO, and or even CFO -- the latter who is often head of company strategy -- will do just fine.
- Middle Management. These days the HR department is becoming more and more involved with social media, at first by dictating social media policy and now more recently becoming involved in how collaborative performance and literacy is instilled in the workforce, including how it is ranked in performance reviews. Corporate communication has also found itself in the front line of social media, though often more externally, yet ends up having the experience and knowledge ahead of much of the rest of the organization and able to assist. Finally, strategic planning and corporate strategy staff have been seeing the Enterprise 2.0 writing on the wall for years now with leading analyst firms such as Gartner listing Web 2.0, social networking, and social collaboration on their top 10 strategic technology lists for at least 6 years running now, most recently for 2011. All of these areas are well positioned for Enterprise 2.0 leadership and are typically already involved in some way, yet often lack of practical experience and the secondary nature of the role can hinder their efficacy.
- Senior Staff. The leaders of existing Enterprise 2.0 project seem to be natural fits to drive collaborative improvement across an organization. So too are the community managers supporting the daily activity of the social intranet and other online communities within the organization. Any designated social computing evangelist is another natural seeming role. Yet despite their primary role in collaboration and relevant experience with the topic, they're often too new and too unfamiliar with the business workings of the organization to truly help other parts of the business adopt social computing methods. Nor do they have the credibility to drive behavioral and cultural change around the way workers collaborate the way more senior managers and executives do.
- Emergent Leadership. Finally, there seem to be effective leaders that appear from unlikely sources. Often particularly gifted communicators and change champions that are chomping at the bit to drive positive change, they use effective communication and the tools themselves to spread the word and lead experiments and inspire others in the organization to try new ways of doing things. By no means common, I've now seen enough of emergent leaders to know that they also can form an important part, even a critical role, in the Enterprise 2.0 leadership spectrum.