Good things come in threes!

A few nights ago I had an unique experience in a London bar, well for me at least!  A group of 2 CIO/technologists, 3 HR Directors and 3 Marketing Directors all declared the same topic as an entry in their respective top 3 challenges.   The terminology used to name the challenge differed at times, but we were all actually talking about social computing.  By this term I mean the demand for employees (often led by the most senior in the company!) to access social media sites from the corporate network and  to connect personal technology devices in the workplace.  Alongside these demands all felt pressured to ensure their company had a clear strategy for social media arena.   The resulting debate was wider ranging and grew more animated as the number of trips to the bar increased!   The senior executive “what is this stuff and should we be doing it then?” refrain generated much debate.  I was in listening mode during this segment but did point people at a recent excellent article published in the McKinsey Quarterly, “Demystifying Social Media” which I offered as valuable educational material.

The longest area of debate centred on the HR sphere, i.e. what should be encouraged or allowed and so what should the corporate policy and associated guidance material therefore state?  The technologists were keen to balance the opportunity with the need to protect corporate assets, brand and information.  The marketers were focused on gaining corporate brand benefits and cost effective social media enriched campaigns whilst managing brand impact.  However, the HR professionals were the only ones that seemed to be feeling that social computing was presenting them with far more pain than gain and  they felt forced into the position of always saying “no”.  This was fascinating as immediately the technologists and marketers all loudly declared that this was exactly how they felt as the guardians of the company from their different vantage points!  What followed was a rapid building of common understanding which at times certainly strayed into group therapy territory!

I outlined how in a previous CIO role it had taken a trio of senior managers across IT, Marketing and HR to define and enact a clear strategy and related set of policies for the social computing arena.   We had also shamelessly learnt from others, good examples being the IBM Social Computing Guidelines and the HP Blogging Code Of Conduct.  I would also flag here a fantastic resource I recently found in this area collating policy/guidance material from leading corporate across the global, the Online Database Of Social Governance.   There were also key lessons learned along the way which we then embedded in our policy, e.g. the importance of employees being clear that use of their corporate email on a social website associates them with the company brand and they cease to act as private citizens; seems very obvious now but it wasn’t at the time, least not to us.

The key lesson I’d took from that initiative way back in 2011 (seems like a lifetime ago!) was it required the IT, Marketing and HR functions to be both aligned and actively engaged to support each other.   It required a collective response to ensure that the company maximised the value and mitigated the risks.  The art of the possible joined with a focus on understanding the imperative to act but ensuring a precise and evolving articulation of the policy and guidance to guide our people.  The debate and the consensus reached that night simply confirmed those lessons still hold true.

This blog post was also shared on The Business Value Exchange, http://bit.ly/ZjpBBw

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