Talent on tap: how social businesses identify leaders


Social businesses aren’t just about driving efficiencies in communication and collaboration. Stuart McRae, executive social business evangelist with IBM, explains how an organisation’s use of social networks can help it identify future leaders.

Social businesses recognise that empowering their employees to build strong networks – internally and externally – improves the performance of the organisation by creating a smarter workforce. They actively invest in social collaboration for their employees, creating new opportunities to identify and develop future leaders. They are also giving those leaders new ways to build their reputation and influence the rest of the organisation.

Bright sparks

An organisation that actively encourages open, transparent sharing of knowledge and expertise to develop a culture of engagement in their staff not only speeds up the growth of its business, uncovering innovation and improving decision making, but also makes visible a wealth of content that can be used to improve the business.

In such an environment, analysis of the use of social networks does not just identify trending topics and provide an early warning of upcoming problems, it also helps management to identify thought leaders and influencers; talent who can be developed into the corporate leaders of tomorrow.

This may be possible by tracing good ideas back to the bright sparks that came up with them. But it is also about identifying the talent who recognised those ideas and turned them into business value, those who nurture original thinking and innovation and those who connect people to ideas to create better business outcomes. These are the people who will become leaders in an organisation.

In a social business, those with the potential for leadership will emerge as a by-product of doing their jobs. By harnessing the power of their social network, the emergent leader will rapidly build a reputation that makes it hard for them not to be noticed by their management and their colleagues. Potential leaders who might previously have gone unnoticed can now be identified by their strong following.

Becoming a leader

From the employee’s perspective, social media offers a unique opportunity to get noticed – even by people with whom they do not directly work. Smart, social employees have realised that by engaging their peers they can focus them on the goals they want, and by working in the open their activities and influence will be visible to management.

On a very practical level, organisations that become proficient in the use of social collaboration tools – whether it is an internal system like IBM Connections or public services like Twitter and Facebook – can structure their informal processes so that management can easily see the progress being made towards the objectives set. Success becomes less of an event that happens on a schedule and more of a continuous process that moves the whole organisation forward, day by day, in a way that motivates the workforce. People who are creating success become the most visible.

In this sort of organisation, leaders have the luxury of always having an up-to-date view of progress, which minimises surprises and reduces stress. The prospective leader can actively use this view to remain in the line of sight of management, continually building their reputation.

Leading organisations are improving business results by integrating social tools with their business processes and applications, encouraging both open conversations and confidential ones to improve processes and, through social analytics, making the activities and knowledge of employees visible.

Social role models

To develop the leaders of the future, organisations need more than training courses and education. They need to create a culture of mentoring. They need to provide coaching and help employees understand their goals, strategy and operation. They need current leaders to become role models by demonstrating social leadership themselves.

Personal development and leadership is something good social collaboration supports exceptionally well. It makes visible the workings of successful leadership that are often hidden in traditional businesses, allowing potential leaders to observe how others drive vision to execution, enable innovation and creativity, gain insight to make better decisions, and structure teams that communicate and collaborate well. 

A social business not only provides an environment where future leaders can emerge and become recognised, it also requires the emergence of a new generation of social leaders – business people who understand how to use social media to create a common purpose and guide employees towards delivering the results that the business needs.

The importance of metrics and rewards doesn’t go away, but social leadership augments it with more subtle tools like motivation and engagement, thus helping social leaders to create the values and culture an organisation needs to make sure its employees do the right thing for the business.

Stuart McRae is an executive social business evangelist with IBM. He blogs at www.smcrae.com and tweets as @smcrae. For more information from IBM around social business, visit ibm.com/social

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