'Chief Collaboration Officer': Hansen's CxO Challenge

Morten Hansen asks 'Who Should be Your Chief Collaboration Officer?' in his blog on the Harvard Business Review (a website which has become a sort of business Oprah self help style site recently).
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Morten Hansen asks 'Who Should be Your Chief Collaboration Officer?' in his blog on the Harvard Business Review (a website which has become a sort of business Oprah self help style site recently).

I like Hansen's sober and sensible book 'Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results', one of the few books that doesn't put the cart before the horse with hyperbole about the 'social web', generational change, confusing digital marketing with business organization and miscellaneous other ephemeral buzzword bingo hoopla.

Hansen is honest about the fact that most cross-unit collaborative efforts end up wasting time, money, and resources and attempts to address how managers can avoid the costly traps of collaboration and instead start achieving the desired results they need.

In his most recent blog post Morten proposes

Companies need an executive responsible for integrating the enterprise — a Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO). Increasingly, companies are embracing collaboration as part of their strategy to grow, by cross-selling products to existing customers and innovating through the recombination of existing technologies. But this won't work unless employees work effectively across silos — across sales offices, business units, sales, product development, and marketing.

And who's in charge of such an effort? 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.

It's an interesting perspective: many Enterprise 2.0 movement practitioner/evangelists would argue that they are fulfilling this role as community managers, in positions without the power of a C suite job but with air cover from a sponsor.

What I've found, both as management of a global collaboration environment and subsequently working with companies on collaboration strategy, is that the political vacuum between business units can be immense. Depending on how a business is constructed, being in the trenches attempting to drive 'adoption' of 2.0 technologies between business units can be a brutally hard place. The challenges run the gamut from turf wars, through 'not invented here' syndrome and management who already have a full plate of responsibilities and who don't need another challenge, through to the 'weasels in the woodwork' cynicism of the survive-at-any-cost folks in the workplace.

Understanding why, when and how to drive business performance using a blend of modern technologies with the layers of existing licenses and tools requires strong strategic understanding and tactical skills to execute successfully, and Hansen's understanding of a holistic approach is important.

The theory is great, but the reality I've been experiencing has far more to do with identifying business inefficiencies, desires and goals, and creating a level playing field on which all participants can interact. This type of negotiation often gets into the semantics of terminology. I was in a meeting recently where it was the word 'collaboration' that was a sticking point, not the business objectives. By creating an internal term for the initiative and a specific consistent lexicon of terms which clarified and demystified objectives in specific context to that company.

If we are talking about rolling out change holistically across an organization, there needs to be a substantial 'there's something in it for me' factor for all participants along with clear business goals. The 'buy some shiny new software and hope it gets adopted' approach can work, but enduring success and scaling up out of its original role can be very challenging indeed.

Hansen suggests a key CxO take on the role - The current CIO, COO, CFO, head of Strategy or HR. In my experience he's right, generally speaking one of the roles takes the lead in responsibility for driving the goals and reporting to the business. It's not unusual for there to be rivalries between these roles however, and diplomacy and King Solomon like CEO decrees are a typical result of this - sometimes this is the very problem greater collaboration is trying to solve...

Add in the complexity of these Cx0 roles for each region, business unit, continent and/or acquisition and you quickly get to Cisco levels of complexity, something Hansen knows all about. The rewards and efficiencies for getting this right can be very exciting and rewarding, but the flip side is the perception of power on the executive chess board the momentum of wiring up greater synergies can appear to bestow on the leader.

In reality those that facilitate collaboration are typically skillful concierges and enablers rather than power brokers, but their rivals and enemies don't see them as that.

The challenge of the back of the cereal box style 'How To' & '10 Ways To' posts on a site like HBR is that they tend to trivialize how substantial this type of business activity is. Social media marketing business penetration of media (there seems to be a Twitter/Facebook follow button in every village newspaper and burrito joint these days) further confuses since this is what many in management see as a significant productivity drain, not gain.

This short video produced by Constant Contact, the email marketer now branching out into social media, shows how effectively you can push out specials, coupons and deals through the social networks and email. Great stuff if you're selling burritos in Boston ...not so much if you have five thousand employees there who like to shop online for lunch, and they're all looking for a deal from their fan friend at the burrito place instead of working...

The CMO tends to speak this language fluently and understand the power (and shelf life remaining for enthusiasm for it) among her prospects. Her seat at the big strategy table is important but can skew perceptions of what business goals you are driving towards. Add in a CEO whose family are constantly texting and Facebooking and you're dealing with some difficult perceptions of how useful the 'social media phenomenon' is.

Straightening all this out and getting incentives and governance in place to drive business performance is very doable, but it takes more than giving Bob the job to get it done from his CxO level seat....

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