IBM on the Social CEO

Technology is top of CEOs’ lists of forces disrupting their business, and it is technology with a distinctly social flavour, according to an IBM survey of 1,700 global business leaders published this week.

The report is a must-read for anyone interested in business strategy, social business and related fields – you can download it for free by registering here.

Some the useful insights I noted were:

Technology is top of the list for forces of change

Over the past few years it has moved to the top of CEOs’ list of concerns…

…?since this CEO Study series began in 2004, technology now tops the ?list of external forces impacting organizations. Above any other external ?factor — even the economy — CEOs expect technology to drive the most ?change in their organizations over the next three to five years.

While CEOs are invigorated by the opportunities, they also fear falling? behind, given the pace of technology change. “The biggest risk we face ?is technological,” explained one CEO of a French industrial products ?firm. “If we fail to anticipate a huge technology step, we might go out ?of business. ?

…and the technology is for social media

?The view that technology is primarily a ?driver of efficiency is outdated; CEOs now see technology as an enabler of ?collaboration and relationships — those essential connections that fuel ?creativity and innovation… Technology is creating entirely new ways of connecting innovators inside and outside organisations, altering organisational composition, structure and span of control.

Erosion of command and control approach 

Attitudes are changing to how much control is needed in organisation, with a growing awareness of the importance of openness and devolving or diffusing power in organisations to allow them to be more innovative and agile.

CEOs acknowledge the need for continued operational control – to reinforce regulatory compliance, drive standardisation and avoid waste. However, most CEOs believe they have adequate controls already in place, and, generally speaking, they don’t see a growing need to control. ….it’s the opposite end of the spectrum — the trend toward openness — that CEOs believe will have the greatest impact on their organisations. They anticipate demands for even more transparency, and the competitive need to open up their organisation to collaborate more internally and externally.

It all reminds me of John Chambers of Cisco’s “Damascene conversion” from command and control to networks thinking…

Values and vision are the best defence

Clearly, openness increases vulnerability. The Internet — especially through social networks — can ?provide a worldwide stage to any employee interaction, positive or negative. ?For organisations to operate effectively in this environment, employees ?must internalize and embody the organization’s values and mission. ?

The report goes into some detail about how to take action on this in a section headed: “Replace rulebooks with shared beliefs”.

For some time we have been talking about leading with principles being the best way to develop successful use of social media in organisations (see the principles we developed with Nokia for instance) – it seems that this approach to governance is one which will be the template for how organisations behave more generally.

It is instances like this – where lessons learned in social media are applied more broadly in organisational change – that reinforce my sense that social business is a useful concept, and one which will remain useful for some time to come.

Digital literacy will be good for your career

Developing personal experience and skills with networks and social media is something we believe in passionately (see the Superskills talk I gave at TEDx Brighton last year). The skills that CEOs see as most valuable in people are all either enhanced or directly connected to being digitally literate:

Across industries and geographies, CEOs consistently highlight four personal characteristics most critical for employees’ future success: being collaborative, communicative, creative and flexible. Given their intent to create greater openness, CEOs are looking for employees who will thrive in this kind of atmosphere. ?

The implicit message from CEOs is: if you want to get ahead, improve your digital literacy.

CEOs need to be personally digitally literate

That’s not to say that CEOs are digitally literate themselves.

Though CEOs frequently mentioned dipping their toes into social media ?waters, few claim to be personally immersed. This arms-length involvement ?puts CEOs in a precarious position. They are making critical judgments ?about a disruptive technology without much firsthand knowledge. ?

This is major issue in our view. Brilliant Noise has developed digital literacy coaching for senior executives not as a core service but as a way of helping boards make better decisions about digital and social media strategy.

Social media expected to be more important than call centres within five years

Social media is expected to rise in importance as a customer interaction method in coming years…

Currently, social media is the least utilised of all customer interaction methods. However, CEOs predict it will push past websites, call centers and channel partners, and become the number-two way to engage customers within the next five years… ??

The expectation is that traditional media will become less important over time. This supports our “market correction” theory – that budgets will need to move from paid media and other areas into inbound media and social over the next few years.

Everyone is waiting for everyone else to get moving in social media

One of the big blockers of this shift, however, is hesitancy to take the plunge and “get some skin in the game”, as the saying goes. Partly due to the personal inexperience of CEOs and senior decision-makers, everyone wants to see the case study, the competitor moving first. Even those who are in theory ready to invest deeply in social struggle to work out how to do it…

Believers are even unsure where to start. In the words of one Australian healthcare industry CEO, “Social media has grown faster than industry knowledge on how to use it.” And a life sciences industry CEO from Switzerland frankly admitted, “We are all scared to death about social media within our industry. We want to start with it. But we’re all just looking at each other, and nothing material is happening.”

Perceptions of social media differ dramatically across industries

Although most CEOs think social media is important there are whole industries that feel it is not for them.

Interestingly, views on social media vary widely across industries. A higher percentage of CEOs in education (77 percent), telecommunications (73 percent) and retail (72 percent) expect social media to be a key channel for customer engagement. In industrial products, only 34 percent of CEOs believe social media will play a significant role — the lowest of all industries; insurance (51 percent) and electronics (52 percent) are below the overall average.

Are they right or are they laggards, in the diffusion of innovation model terminology? Time will tell.

Anyway, bravo IBM, thanks for sharing this useful and fascinating study…

:: You can download the IBM CEO study, Leading Through Connections  for free (requires registration).

:: Also worth checking out is the Storify collection of Tweets, links and extra information (like the infographic above) around the study, by Karl Roche.