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Warren Tomlin from IBM Canada (IBM Canada)
Warren Tomlin from IBM Canada (IBM Canada)

LEADERSHIP LAB

It's good business to let your business go social Add to ...

My parents visited recently and were concerned – in the way only parents can be – at the way I worked. It was not what they had expected for a leader inside IBM.

Not only was I working from home the day they arrived, but I seemed to be all over the house, sending texts from the couch, talking on a conference call in the den, instant messaging from the kitchen island, e-mailing, switching seamlessly between e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn and instant messaging, with almost indistinguishable lines between my personal self and my professional self. It all seemed so informal. And let’s not get started with what they thought about the 11:30 p.m. conference call.

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My parents had experienced a front-row view of what it’s like to lead high-performing teams in today’s era of social enterprises. Social enterprises – organizations that embrace the tools and culture of social media to enable and promote collaboration – are the inevitable result of technology and demographics coming together. They are flatter in hierarchy, yet can be more responsive, more flexible and higher performing. And most important, they require a different type of leadership.

Here are some of the leadership qualities required to drive a high-performing social enterprise.

Accept the shift

You need to acknowledge there is a fundamental shift in the way people work, the result of enabling technology and changing demographics. Social employees expect to have the right tools, and they expect flexibility in how and when they work.

Build trust

Technology is the enabler of a social enterprise, but culture is its core. IBM uses the term “work-life integration” rather than “work-life balance” because the reality is for our people – and specifically people entering our work force – the lines between “work” and “non-work” are blurry. Team members are accustomed to continuous sharing of ideas on social platforms and often those ideas are related to a work project or a work relationship. If someone needs flexibility during traditional working hours to attend to a personal matter, as a leader you have to trust that that person will provide full value at other times during the day. Trust that you have hired the right people and that they are motivated to perform at a high level if you’ll just let them maximize the way they work most naturally.

Encourage transparency

Transparency reinforces a culture of honesty and integrity. As a leader, you and your organization are getting the benefits of an “always-on” employee. Perhaps you have seen an employee check into a yoga studio at 2 p.m. on Facebook. You have to be confident that your most engaged employees are often the highest performing – and often, also the most transparent.

Don’t judge

Related to transparency and trust, employees in a social enterprise don’t hide their activities because they are confident in their work-life integration. They know they may be finishing their project at home at night, and the yoga break during the afternoon will enhance their total effectiveness and engagement. They will be your team members most effective at finding and sharing information and the ones most likely to succeed.

Be accessible

New graduates entering the work force are accustomed to continuous sharing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks. They look for the same open and social experience internally with colleagues. To them, texting, posting and sharing is a natural form of communication, compared with e-mail, which they see as overly formal. They are rarely disconnected, and that means their leader can’t be disconnected, either. The social enterprise is flatter. My peers text me, my direct reports text me, their direct reports text me and members of other teams instant message me. It becomes more about getting the work done well, quickly and efficiently. A leader cannot allow an old-world communication style or structure to become a hindrance to a modern, high-performing team.

Know when to focus

I can be on a phone call and have several chat windows open, responding to quick inquiries that keep a team or individual moving forward. That’s practical. You just have to know when it’s okay to multitask and when it’s time to really focus. As social as an organization or individual becomes, one of the most important characteristics of the best leaders is the ability to dive deep – turn down the noise and turn on the do-not-disturb flag when concentrated effort or focus is required.

Becoming a social business is good for business. Companies that invest in social business see a business value, from driving growth to improving visibility on projects.

The world will only continue to grow more social, and as talent enters the work force that knows no other way to behave, our enterprises will become more social. It’s changing the way we learn, share knowledge, communicate, recruit, train, market, sell, fulfill orders and interact with our clients.

Across every dimension we will be more social. It is our job as leaders, and as good stewards of an enterprise, to be flexible and enable new employees to realize their greatest potential. As experienced leaders, it is our responsibility to teach our future leaders, while at the same time, be open to learn something ourselves.

Now if I could just teach this to my parents so I don’t have to hear “So, what is it you do?” again.

Warren Tomlin (@warrentomlin) is an IBM partner and the leader of its Canadian interactive, Web/portal, mobile, contact centre and social business practices (@smarterplanetca).

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