Does change have to come from the top?

I’ve been reviewing the literature on change management recently for a client and Kotter still rules. His seminal 1996 book, Leading Change, and its eight-step framework is still the textbook – and it’s a fundamental amongst the change management specialists I know that, as he suggests, ‘change must come from the top’.

But is the same true for improving organisations’ social media profile and performance?

At one level, it depends whether you consider an effective response to the increasing ubiquity of social media and social networks to be a strategic issue, one requiring genuine organisational change. If you don’t, then look away now… you’re on the wrong blog.

But how to implement? While refreshing my acquaintance with Kotter, I came across two relevant connections, one from Forrester and the other via a LinkedIn discussion.

The role of the CMO

The Forrester connection (kindly flagged by my friend Marylee Sachs, author of The Changing MO of the CMO) is a July 2011 report by Chris Stutzman and colleagues for CMOs and marketing professionals. The title, Become Social, is a bit of a giveaway as to their viewpoint. The summary states:

CMOs indicate that, in the age of the customer, collaboration and influence through social networking will have the biggest impact on their organizations in the next three to five years. However, only 16% of CMOs think that it’s necessary to become proficient at social media themselves to be successful leaders.

The report goes on to say that successful CMOs use social media to:

  • inspire employees by practising what they preach;
  • sustain momentum and communications with all of their employees;
  • recruit hard-to-find talent.

Start small or top down?

The LinkedIn connection came in a discussion started recently by Kirsten Hodgson of KScope Marketing in New Zealand on whether law firms should ‘start small and grow from there or take a top down approach’. I don’t think this question applies just to law firms. It applies to all firms that consider themselves novices (the majority according to the early findings from our own survey).

Much will depend on whether, given the nature/culture of the firm, a ‘stealth’ change strategy will work or a ‘big bang’ is better. In most firms it’s probably smart to start small with willing adopters. But if any trial (central/corporate, single brand, multi-brand, or combo) is to succeed, it must also have some blessing – at least – from above, and a wider business objective, or the experiment may just be seen as a waste of time.

However, if only 1 in 6 CMOs really get hands on, as Forrester suggests, what is the figure for CEOs? And if that is the reality, change cannot be dependent on all of them becoming active social media practitioners.

 Making a start

For those seeking to make a start, three important questions keep cropping up:

1. how to find and empower individuals in the business who combine keenness to participate in social media with something valuable to say…;
2. how to define what constitutes a successful trial; and
3. how can senior management  facilitate change even if they don’t want to be hands-on personally?

Everyone will have their own view on these but here’s my take.

1. Most businesses have enough people who are social-savvy and can contribute something valuable. They are probably already active privately anyway. But not so many businesses have decided what they want from social marketing so these people are left undiscovered, directionless , maybe even fearful, when it comes to participating on behalf of their company. They need to be empowered, recognised, maybe trained and almost certainly led. It has be part of the job spec.

2. You may get a trial going but it will not lead to real change unless it can be seen, even by sceptics, to have been worth the time spent on it. What’s the objective and how will this help the organisation? It’s an obvious point but just getting stuck in without a clear purpose probably is a waste of time and you will lay yourself open to justifiable criticism. Defining your ‘return on social’ before you start is important.

3. Even though some purists will disagree, I’m not personally convinced that every CEO needs to be active on Twitter or every CMO a Facebook fan to ensure the organisation can become socially agile. It would be nice if they did engage to some degree and if they do it must be personal – nothing is sadder than the CEO blog so obviously written by his PA or a marketing junior. They do need to immerse themselves sufficiently to really understand what’s going on and the potential for their business – and ideally do some ongoing and active listening. And, for sure the CEO and his whole C-suite must treat transformation as a strategic issue and show themselves supportive of the process and its champions.

Change must come from the top but if we wait for all CEOs and CMOs to commit to becoming social adepts before anything happens, ‘social’ change will be a long time a-coming.

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2 Responses to “Does change have to come from the top?”

  1. BrianSJ October 27, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    The video here might appeal http://argentaeurop.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/change-management-in-one-easy-post/ and the text might also be useful.

    • Anthony Burgess-Webb October 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

        Great video! And I like the comments in your blog. Signor Machiavelli had a viewpoint: 
      “… there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.” …;)

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