Developing the Social Management Team

I’ve been around Enterprise 2.0 (or Social Business) for more than 3 yrs now. Since going to my first Enterprise 2.0 conference in 2008, I have been fortunate to be part of one of the most successful deployments of social technology in a large company (Computer World) to date. The approach was not filled with business cases and justification, but instead was largely fed by need and opportunity.

As I work with more organizations, I realize that a common trend is emerging. There is a group of people in the company that are generally not convinced that the social enterprise is the next best thing; Middle Management. While many other parts of the organization have been addressed by practitioners, this audience remains mostly ignored, with many feeling that they’ll just come along if everyone else does.

To be honest, at first, I used to think that Middle Management was the enemy (as depicted in the slide below). But, the more I analyzed the situation, I realized that there are very valid reasons why this group in the organization was not happy and they were completely justified in their thinking. The main reason comes down to focus. As a Manger, Director or Vice President, you are responsible for your team executing, on-time, a set of deliverables. All of these new inputs and information can be a huge distraction. We are totally changing the way communication is being done and information is being shared without giving management the tools and skills necessary to lead and manage in this new paradigm.

The fundamental problem seems to be that many managers feel that one of their key responsibilities is to manage information flow up and down the organization.

At best their ability to do this is diminishing (if it hasn’t been eliminated completely). But, it doesn’t mean that they are no longer needed, but they must adapt and change to maintain relevancy. We can take steps to help them adjust to this new way of working. I’ve come up with some strategies which make the transition easier.

Preparing management to be social

Those of us that understand social tend to think because we do, that everyone does. By having intelligent conversations but not assuming comprehension, you can make connections that will lead to greater understanding without people feeling like you are talking down to them. This is vitally important as you deal with people that are in some cases many levels above you in the company.

Start small with willing participants – Not all management is going to prescribe to this approach. At the beginning, look for people who are interested but skeptical. As you can demonstrate success, more people will embrace your methodology.

Acknowledge the discomfort and validate that it’s normal – Change is uncomfortable. This audience has been successful in the company without being social, so realize they often don’t even see the need to change.

Make it clear that you want to help them This may be the most challenging aspect. As a leader, it takes courage to admit that they need help. Often, they are embarrassed that they know so little about something and feel that it makes them weaker if they admit they need help. Ensure that your help will be held in confidence. Building their trust is the most important thing you can do. Realize that it will take time to happen and don’t try to force it.

Reverse-Mentor in off-line, private setting – Nobody wants to appear stupid in a social network. Creating a situation where they have a person to contact that can help them figure out how to approach a situation is key. It’s best if the person can mentor in person. The one thing you want to ensure is that you don’t try to mentor on-line. Use communication channels that the person feels comfortable with. Ask them how they would best like to work together. As the person becomes more comfortable re-evaluate the needs and adjust as appropriate.

Don’t forget GRC – Governance, Risk & Compliance is something that management is often held accountable for. Make sure to share (preferably in easy to consume form) information about your companies policies around each. This will help reassure people that this isn’t “The Wild West”.

Focus on the behavior, not the tool – Tools are for IT. Business leaders and managers don’t want to have to think about using tools, they are focused on business problems and company performance. Explain the types of communications and then map a flowchart around how to communicate that way.

Talk opportunities, not challenges – By helping to focus on the opportunity of getting involved in conversation can have an impact, it makes the change that is happening less of an obstacle.

Reassure that they are not giving up control – One of the biggest issues is that people feel social is about giving up control. As I’ve written before (link)it’s about getting the best possible outcome and leadership, not losing control.

Don’t dismiss the politics – Whether social or not, every organization has politics. Be sensitive to it, but try to stay out of it and advise based on what you know. If a person shares their political concerns, consider that when making a recommendation. The most important thing here is to never betray the trust that you are trying to establish.

Build best practices – As you work with more leaders, start to document the things that become recurring. Ensure that they are anonymous. This will help keep politics out of it.

Create materials for managing in a social company – After you have done this a few times, start to build materials that will help others get some insight into the approach. If possible work with your learning organization to build a curriculum so that this becomes part of every managers training. Realize that not everyone learns the same way, so try to have the content available in different formats.

Keep it low key and optional – Nothing will make someone dig their heels in faster than making something mandatory. People who seek you out will be much more likely to learn and feel less pressure to do so as a result, resulting in a better outcome for everyone.

These strategies are far from exhaustive. Some may not work given your particular company culture or management objectives. Starting with these and tailoring them to meet your needs you will be well on your way to getting the management team to be an ally instead of an enemy.

I’m really interested to hear what’s working and what’s not. It helps everyone to better accomplish this very important component of your social strategy. What other strategies do you use to help engage your management?

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