Nowhere to hide for leaders – why CEOs must be up front and personal in the Digital Workplace

May 18, 2012 Updated: July 29, 2022 by

It’s always amazing to find how the leadership of some organizations simply do not involve themselves in the Digital Workplace, or its main constituent channels. These CEOs are effectively anonymous there, either by being invisible both to employees and to customers, or heavily disguised behind the words of their corporate communications departments.

Yet the Digital Workplace offers a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership, have meaningful dialogue with employees and connect with sections of the workforce that might be hard to reach. leadhip vivea4 difE Leadertheir ow mehough aith employees and clients. It seems that the old fashioned corporate CEO hideaway has been overturned with a more modern approach.

One example cited in Paul Miller’s new book “The Digital Workplace: how technology is liberating work” is Ben Verwaayen, who used to hold regular live online question and answer sessions over the intranet, when he headed up BT. These sessions were only held once a month but they were highly effective, reaching out to all employees. Interestingly when Verwaayen moved onto become CEO at Alcatel-Lucent, he then instigated a “2.0” program which used a variety of collaboration tools and to help unite the newly merged company into a unified global entity. Other active CEOs cited in the book include Marc Benioff from and Tom Glocer, who used to be at Thomson-Reuters.

The book covers how all three of these CEOs

“have embraced technology and have not shied away from entering as peers a dialogue with those whom they lead. It might feel like Marc, Tom and Ben are ‘just one of the guys’ but the truth is that no one ever forgets they run the show and, in Marc’s case at least, also owns the show! If anything their power (rather than control) is extended by being people being able to witness for themselves how they think on their feet. Control is harder to retain, but leading through power, influence, impact and reputation is far more effective than trying to control.”

So from truly global enterprises to small start-ups, we believe CEOs need to be present online in some form or other. This offers positive outcomes on multiple levels, including maintaining competitive advantage and helping to retain staff.

In the style of our general manifesto, we’ve gathered what we believe are the key priorities for how leaders should look to lead within the Digital Workplace.

The manifesto

  1. Leaders must recognize the Digital Workplace as a strategic priority. This means no longer being reactive to changes in a piecemeal way, but setting the agenda for their organizations by embracing new ways of working.
  2. Leaders must work directly in the Digital Workplace to experience and understand it. Getting used to the technology and associated working patterns is the only way to talk about it with authority.
  3. Use your real voice. Authenticity and transparency are regarded as virtues in the Digital Workplace. Employees greatly respect honesty and will ignore anything they perceive as bland corporate communications.
  4. Be visible in the Digital Workplace and lead by example. Organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on social intranets or micro-blogging tools. Being seen using the tools is by far the most effective way of endorsing them.
  5. Use the Digital Workplace as a forum for open dialogue about real issues. The Digital Workplace is a two-way communication channel and provides an amazing opportunity to gauge employee sentiment, as well as demonstrate the openness of your company’s culture.
  6. Use the Digital Workplace to lead during a crisis. The Digital Workplace comes into its own during a crisis and employees look for authority, guidance and reassurance, often in real time.
  7. Be consistent externally as you are internally in the Digital Workplace. Messages which go outside the firm are also read inside the firm.
  8. Get the rest of the C-suite active in the Digital Workplace. CEOs are impossibly busy, so realistically very senior management presence online needs to be spread across different functions speedy with your responses. .
  9. Use the tools at your disposal. There are some great tools using video or real-time interaction which can help get your message across to a global audience with high impact and low cost.
  10. You don’t have to be overactive in the Digital Workplace. There’s no need to be micro-blogging furiously or blogging every day to have impact. Too much activity can have a negative effect, for example a monthly online Q&A with staff may be enough.

What do you think? Have we missed anything out? Are our expectations for a busy CEO unrealistic? Are more leaders entering the Digital Workplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

About the author

This is a guest post by Steve Bynghall. Steve was the content producer for “The Digital Workplace: how technology is liberating work

Categorised in: Digital workplace, Internal communications

Steve Bynghall

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG.

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