Social Leaders Series – the summary

Tim Scott and I have spent the last few months talking to leaders from a range of sectors and industries about how and why they use social media in their roles.  For some, it is about sales and marketing.  For others, it is about understanding trends and key issues.  For others still, it is about being present for customers, members or service users.

You can find all of the interviews from the series here.

When it comes to social media, Tim and I typically offer a three-step piece of straightforward advice: Be you, dive in, share stuff.

We believe that you get the most out of social media when you get involved with the conversation. It is a place to be authentic – showing up as yourself, not an auto-generated post. It’s about sharing your ideas and knowledge, about adding to the dialogue, and also disseminating information with the people that follow you for the greater good.

When it comes to the leaders we talked too, there are some common themes.  Here’s a summary of what they told us.

First of all, social leaders show their personality.   As Simon Blake said, using social media makes you human.  It’s not just about professional posts or corporate messages, but sharing a bit of family and personal too.  Social leaders understand that you don’t have to always have to wear that leadership face.

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Social leaders understand how to fit it in – and they do it.  When we talk to people about using social media, time is often one of the biggest barriers they put up.  People think it’s going to take up too much of it. But it just doesn’t have to.  Social media is about filling in the minutes.  G and I are breakfast tweeters, often found on social media alongside tea and toast. Peter Cheese checks Twitter in taxis or train journeys. It’s about making the time – and those leaders who see the benefits do just that.  And, as Asif Choudry said…. JFDI.

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Social leaders value the direct connections.  Whether it is connecting with customers, members or constituents, they listen, engage and respond.  Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council said that Twitter gives him a direct communication route to the outside world.  They recognise the benefits of the immediacy and speed of information.

Social leaders pick their platforms.  They understand that different social spaces provide different results and opportunities.  They know that you can’t do them all.  So they find the one that works for them best.  As Rebecca Jeffery said – pick the platform that suits your personality!

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Social leaders don’t worry too much about the potential negatives.  There can be downsides to social media use. You will find the occasional troll. You will always find someone who disagrees with you and isn’t afraid to say so.  There can be harassment or bullying, or even people stealing examples of your work.  But our leaders recognised that the good stuff of social media outweighs the bad.

Social leaders use social media as learning for themselves.  Social media can be a valuable learning tool.  The concept of the personal learning network has gained interest of late. The idea that your social connections can be a valuable source of information and knowledge. It can also be a way of keeping up to date with trends, technology and opportunities. As Phil Jones , MD of Brother said… it puts you at the epicentre of understanding.

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Interestingly, Twitter is the most used platform. All of our leaders are using it, one way or another. We love Jo Swinson’s description of why she loves Twitter: ‘its immediacy, for the brevity… and also the curation of randomness that you can put together in your stream’.

Social leaders do it for themselves.  None of the people we spoke to outsources their own voice to anyone one else.  As Asif said… if you can’t be bothered posting your own content, don’t do it at all.

We’d like to say a huge thanks to all of the leaders who took the time to share their thoughts, views and insights on how they use social media. We really hope this has been and will continue to be a useful resource for aspiring social leaders in every sector.


Before we began this series we believed one thing: that social media presents an opportunity for leaders.  An opportunity to engage with customers and employees alike, to create a personal brand, to lead authentically and openly. To share and collaborate in a different way.  To role model the digital skills that all organisations need now and tomorrow.

It is still a rare thing to see leaders using social media really well.  There are some excellent examples but they are few and far between.  Previous research into Fortune 500 CEO’s found that whilst most of them could be found on LinkedIn, they weren’t exactly active.  Those that had managed to find their way to other platforms like Twitter still weren’t really all that social.   This is why we wrote our practical guide for social media for leaders.  To encourage them to get more social for the benefit of them, and their organisations.

The time for social leadership is now. 

Reflections on culture

I’ve been working somewhere new these last couple of weeks. Helping an organisation with their people stuff. It is always fascinating going somewhere new. Learning about the product and the customers and the people. When it comes to the HR stuff, from one place to another, it is both exactly the same and completely different. You can pretty much guarantee that there will be a handbook and a suite of policies. Organisation charts. Processes and procedures. Recruitment and induction and training and internal communications and payroll. All the people stuff, in their own particular way.

The key is the context. Not what the documents says, but the how.

When it comes to learning the culture at someplace new, what is okay and not okay, there is all the express stuff. What people say, and their silences too. It’s about watching for signs and listening closely.

How people talk to each other.

What is celebrated.

Where time is spent.

What gets focus.

What is encouraged and discouraged.

The tone of voice used, written and verbal.

What the money is spent on.

The welcome given.

The work place itself.

The care taken.

Where managers are, physically and psychologically.

What is done, and left undone.

These are the things, the signs and the signals, that tell you the true organisational narrative beyond the branded corporate induction material. It’s the how we do things around here.

The traditional people stuff operates within and around these variables. Only when you understand the context and the culture can you assess what people stuff needs to be done. My biggest challenge….. drawing too much on the past, other ideas and other places.

There isn’t any one size fits all perfect people solution. Only what will work, here, at this place, in this context. Today.

Dress like yourself

Thanks to the priorities of the leader of the Free World, dress codes are big news today.  According to reports there is a new dress code in force in the White House.  Men are supposed to be smart – that means ties.  Women are supposed to, well, dress like a woman.

I am guessing that means heels, dresses and the like.  I’m not sure why that’s essential for their jobs.  Maybe it’s to ensure that parts of them are easier to grab.

Dress codes have been news in the UK recently too, following a case where a female was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels, as specified in her employer’s dress policy.

Dress codes bother me.

I get that if you are in a customer-facing role, where uniform and image are important, then you will want to issue some guidance.  But almost everyone has one.  Most companies have such a document, even for employees where it doesn’t matter a jot what they wear.

At my last company, I deleted our policy without telling anybody to see if anyone noticed.  They didn’t.  I suspect someone will, the next time an employee turns up for the 9-5 wearing someone else’s definition of non-acceptable clothing and rather than have a conversation with them adult to adult, they will want to wave a piece of paper instead.

I dislike dress codes for lots of reasons.

I dislike the very idea that you need to tell someone old enough to hold down a job and pay taxes what they can and cannot put on when they get out of bed in the morning.

Maybe I just dislike them because I am not very good at following them.  I don’t really get on very well with formal clothing.  I find suits and the like stifling.  I’m at my best self when I am pacing around, walking outside, sitting on my sofa and talking out loud.  None of these things work all that well with a pair of heels, or other “womanly” clothing.

But the thing I dislike most of all about dress codes is that they have, in most jobs, absolutely nothing at all to do with how someone performs at work.

Don’t judge people on what they wear, judge them on what they do. This is what we should care about – not the height of someones heels.

Competency interviewing. Just say no.

Competency based interviewing.  Apparently, it is still a thing.  Who knew?

I do, because this week I had a competency based interview.  I was a bit surprised to be honest.  It had been a while since I’d been through that sort of recruitment process.

It was…… interesting.

Let me add some relevant context.

The role was an interim, employee relations role.  There was a need for deep understanding of employment law.  Lots of experience with leading  people change projects.  Even more experience of working in heavily unionised environments.

They didn’t ask me all that much about that stuff.

What that did ask me was this:

‘Can you tell me about a time that you have worked collaboratively as part of a team?’

I resisted the urge to reply simply: ‘all day, every day’.

It was followed by:

‘Can you give me an example of when you have prioritised your workload?’

For answer, please see above.

Here’s the thing.

I have worked collaboratively as part of a team.  I have a handy example.  I would think most people do.  But past experience doesn’t predict future performance.  With me or anyone else.  My ability to collaborate in the example shared might have been down to a whole range of related factors.  It might have been because I worked in a highly collaborative environment or a great team and the conditions were therefore predisposed to collaboration.  It might have been because I was engaged with my employer or the task in hand.  Equally, I might just be a quick thinker who can make a relevant example up off the top of their head.

There is no guarantee, even with the shiniest answer in the world that scores the most points on a grid, that I am going to be able to replicate what I did before in another organisation or under a different set of circumstances.

Competency based questions like these assess people in the past, not the now or the future.  They tell you nothing about someone’s potential to do a good job other than their ability to find a good example in the moment.

They certainly don’t tell you whether someone could do the job in question, any more than the trend towards questions like ‘if you were a kitchen appliance which one would you be?’ does.*

I’ll take strengths based interviewing over a competency approach any day.  Strengths based interviews allow you to get to know the person in front of you.  What gets them motivated.  What they like doing.  Dislike too.  Assess potential.  You are also much less likely to get some sort of pre-prepared, scripted, generic reply.  They allow candidates to bring their real self, not their example one.

Competency based interviews have had their time.

Let’s start recruiting like its 2017.

 

PS: I am hoping to hold a Candidate Experience Unconference later this year, to explore how we can work towards better recruitment. If you are interested in coming along, comment below.

*PPS – my answer to the above is easy…. The fridge. Because we are both usually full of chocolate and Prosecco.

The #SocialLeaders Series – Peter Cheese

This is the second blog in our Social Leaders series exploring how real life leaders are using social media to connect with their customers, employees and stakeholders and seeking their advice for aspiring social leaders.

Today we have Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.  As HR professionals, he’s kind of our boss, so we were chuffed that he was happy to talk to us about how he sees the role of social media in leadership.

Peter is recognised as a leading consultant, speaker and writer in the field of human capital and organisation, having worked with many organisations, practitioners and thought leaders in this field.  He was voted as the UKs most influential thinker in HR for 2013 by HR Magazine. He is also a Non-Executive Director at BPP University and sits on the Advisory Board of the Open University Business School.  Prior to joining the CIPD, Peter was Global Managing Director of Accenture’s Talent and Organisation Performance consulting practice.

We say he is also a great example of social leadership.  He uses Twitter to engage with the people that work with him and who are members of the organisation he leads.  He shares content not only from the CIPD but other relevant sources (one of our key recommendations on being social!) and isn’t afraid to engage in a bit of social recognition.  You can find Peter on Twitter as @Cheese_Peter.

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Tim had a Skype with Peter to put our questions to him about all things social leadership…..

You can watch the video here…….

Or just check out the transcript……

 

What are your social media platforms of choice and why?

My social media platforms of choice, which are really the ones I engage with the most, are Twitter and Linkedin primarily. I am also on Facebook but rather less active on that and I do from time to time in a more social context (and I do think it is interesting to think about it in my business context, professional context and social context) engage a bit with Snapchat and Instagram.

As a business the CIPD is across pretty much all of those channels.  Like any business we have a large constituency we are trying to communicate with and we are really working across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and trying to make use of all of the channels.

But personally, I most engage with Linkedin and Twitter.

 

How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?

I think the use of social media for leaders is really interesting. We have talked for a long time about authenticity and leaders, and being able to hear them as real individuals.  These channels do provide that opportunity, they provide the opportunity for us to speak.  I recognise that not all leaders who are speaking on these channels are speaking for themselves and are getting others to do it for them – but it is my voice coming through these channels.  I think that is very powerful and first and foremost it allows people to see me in a more holistic way, to see me in a perhaps a slightly different or informal context and hear the kinds of things I am thinking about and what is on my mind.  It has benefited me through that kind of outreach and that connectivity.  It is very interesting to see how people react to that and how they react to what I push into these channels.

The second point to recognise is that they are fantastic learning channels for me personally. I am always saying to people through these sorts of social media outlets that they are wonderful learning opportunities. I do follow a lot of different people – it is quite extraordinary to think before we had Twitter how we did all of these this.  It is the other really, really important part of social media – it creates an incredible learning platform and opportunity to stay connected to what is happening and as a leader in the modern world I think that is more important than it has ever been.

 

How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media? 

We have created a Yammer-like internal social media platform at the CIPD and we are trying to use that across the organisation.  We have offices internationally as well and we are trying that same technique across our organisation – we are trying to help people connect – that to me is what social media is all about.

We are promoting that but as with so many of these things, you have to create that movement of change.  Some of it is a bit viral and some of it is what you can direct from the top.  I personally, of course, need to be visible on these platforms. So that is one aspect – how we are using it within our own organisation.

Then, more broadly, it is about how are we seeing our own employees out on social media platforms themselves. Are they on Twitter or LinkedIn?  I continually try to encourage people back to the points I made earlier: this is not just using social media to express your innermost thoughts or what you had for breakfast, it is a fantastic vehicle for learning and keeping in touch so I am always encouraging them that way.  I say the same things when I speak to HR professionals – you should be on Twitter as a good example because it is such a great learning platform.

 

What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?

I have, like many of us, lots of conversations with business leaders about things like this. You can divide it into various camps. There are some leaders who feel quite exposed – they feel that if they are on social media platforms they always need to be commenting or always writing stuff. “I may not say the right thing”: there is a real fear of saying something inappropriate or inadvertent.

There are also concerns, and it was part of my concern when I got onto things like Twitter for example, of your sheer attention span.  We are already overwhelmed with emails and texts and other forms of communication.  Some people say ‘oh my goodness you now expect me to on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn and blogging and I don’t have the capacity to keep up with it all!’. That is a genuine issue.  How do we make sure that we managing these different channels but not overwhelming ourselves and finding that they become a huge distraction? I don’t know that I have entirely cracked it myself – but the great thing about social media is that you can access it any time, any place, anywhere.  I tend to do things like Twitter when I am on a train journey or in a taxi. You can do it very quickly.  That is the trick to this – not to think that you have to carve out an hour a day to do social media. You just interject it into those blank moments or whatever because it is so accessible.

Those are the two primary barriers that I hear: one is the time and attention and the other is what am I supposed to be saying – “if I’m a leader in a public enterprise, I’d better have my PR team telling me what to say”, that sort of thing. Those concerns have to be taken seriously and we do have to coach leaders in how to use social media platforms in ways that won’t get them into any “trouble”, if you will.

 

How have you used social media to connect with customers/service users/key stakeholders?

As a business, I often describe the CIPD as an “ecosystem”. We have 300 plus employees, a thousand plus volunteers – from people who run branches through to examiners and assessors and we also have a lot of consultants.  It is a big ecosystem and therefore the value of social media to connect that ecosystem is very powerful.

It has got to work two ways – you have got to have the people in the ecosystem themselves on social media and linked to us so we monitor that very closely. We have people who monitor all the stats about how many people are following us on LinkedIn and all these other channels. What are the subjects that get most interest – what gets the attention?  We are always learning how best to communicate through these channels.  Those are fundamental points – understanding, as with any communication, that if you want to use social media to communicate out, it is a two-way street – you have to know that people are listening in, and then use it not just for outbound communication but as an opportunity to hear from the wider ecosystem, the members and all the other stakeholders.

That is very important as well. We are, for sure, experimenting with Twitter chats and other things like online hacks through social media to ask questions of the community, get them to comment and bring ideas together.

Or, of course – and this is another wonderful thing about social media – people can be in some ways more challenging through social media.  They haven’t got to write a long email to me as Chief Exec – they can just challenge. We also know that there are some downsides to that – people do it, they think, anonymously and you get “trolling”, but in a professional business context I don’t see very much of that.  The reality is that It is a great channel for us to hear honest feedback, contribution to ideas and thinking. I am very excited about the opportunities for us to continue to grow, though social media, that ability to connect and recognise that, as I said, it is a two-way connection as well as a peer-to-peer connection which is so powerful.

 

What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?

The advice that I would give to other leaders thinking about social media is to do it consciously. You do need to understand what it is you are seeking to get from it, how to approach it.  Having said that, you can also do it in real baby steps.  Twitter is such a good example, you can just get on and start to follow people, you don’t even necessarily need to say anything yourself at all. You can just begin to get the tone of communication, look at others, follow other people, find things that are interesting and then evolve towards it. Those would be two obvious points of guidance: don’t do it lightly and understand what you are trying to get from it.

I have described a lot about how I see social media as such an important vehicle for us to communicate and connect but that is not the only reason, there can be others as well. Think about it consciously and you can go into it with relatively baby steps.

To come back to my platforms of choice, Twitter is very easy, the easiest of all in my experience to get onto and engage with.  Linkedin is a bit more sophisticated and people are using it for a whole variety of reasons – I think that for the most part in the modern business world, most people are on LinkedIn in some shape or form.  But this is a channel that is evolving, going from “telling everyone who I am” to one that you can also write and blog and communicate through.  That is another step that people can think about around LinkedIn.

Some of these others – it is personal preference and choice, and where perhaps in different sectors or industries or communities, different social media platforms have a greater resonance, but that is why I tend stick mostly to Twitter and Linkedin, as they seem to be the ones that have the greatest connection to our communities.

I am not particularly interested in using Facebook, if I am honest, in a business context but that is also evolving and Facebook for business is evolving as a channel.  That perhaps is the third thought – keep an eye on what channels are evolving and how the communities that you are working with are using them and if you are seeing a movement towards another channel then probably you need to get onto it.

 

A huge thank you from us to Peter for sharing his thoughts on all things social.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series we hand over to Rebecca Jeffery of Apprentice fame, who shares all about how she has built her business through using social media.

The #SocialLeaders Series – Tom Riordan

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The time for social leadership is now.  To engage with customers and employees alike, to create a personal brand, to lead authentically and openly. To share and collaborate in a different way. To role model the digital skills that all organisations need now and tomorrow. We need social leaders.  But they are still few and far between.

This is the first in a series of conversations with leaders who already get this stuff.  Who are effectively using social media as part of their leadership role to engage and connect with employees, customers and service users.  We have asked a range of leaders from different industry sectors exactly why they use social media and how do they feel it benefits them in their role – as well as to share their advice to anyone who thinks they should be getting a little more social.

First up is Tom Riordan.  Tom is CEO of Leeds City Council, and an active Tweeter – he has even got himself a coveted blue tick.  He uses Twitter to share news about the Council, its work and its people.  He engages with followers and isn’t afraid to bring his whole self to Twitter, including pictures of his family, and a bio that tells you about him as a person, not just a CEO.

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This is what Tom had to say about leading socially….

What is your social media platform of choice and why?

Twitter is my platform of choice. I was quite an early adopter because I like its mix of brevity, openness, wide reach, content and security (i.e. unacceptable behaviour can be blocked).

How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?

It’s allowed me a direct communication route to the outside world from a big organisation and to “walk the talk” of one of our main values of openness and honesty. I’ve tried to give more of a human face to a CEO role often seen as distant and protected, and to champion Leeds, public services and local government.

How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media? 

Increasingly. Social media has become much more central to people’s lives over the last five years, and in that time the organisation has engaged with it more and more.  There are some great role models within the council, such as Phil Jewitt an excellent social media user who recently won a lifetime achievement unconference award. Many of our councillors now use social media widely now, which also helps.

What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?

99 percent of people are great to engage with on social media.  You have to take care at times not to be provoked by the 1 percent who, often anonymously, just want to cause trouble.  Never tweet when you’re angry is not a bad rule of thumb.

How have you used social media to connect with customers/service users/key stakeholders?

I’ve used it to get more direct messages out to a wider audience about what the council does, especially those front-line workers who make the city tick. Twitter has allowed me to contact a wide range of innovators both in the city and across the world and led directly to inward investment, new approaches on open data and great new ideas from people within and outside Leeds. I also get a pretty good idea of what people think about the council and the city!

What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?

Don’t see it as a panacea but do treat it as a vital communication and engagement mechanism. Only do what you’re comfortable with and what suits your own personal style. Make sure your priority is enhancing the city or organisation, not your personal image or standing, because you’re almost bound to trip up if you think it’s all about you.

We’d like to send a big thanks to Tom for his insight.  If you are a leader who wants to use social media for their role then check out his Twitter feed for a great example on how to do this social stuff well.  And if you want to know more about social leadership – both the why and the how – then we’ve just released our latest book on Putting Social Media to Work – a version dedicated to just that subject.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series…. Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD shares his thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recruitment & social media – how far is too far?

I got into a Twitter chat recently about social media and recruitment.  Specifically, whether or not it is okay to check out people’s social media feeds during the recruitment process.

Now I’ve seen some fairly risk-averse advice on the subject that cautions you on the risk of (among other things) discrimination claims.

My view on it is simple.

It depends where you go.

On my CV, I am open about much of my social media.  There are links to my Twitter bio (hoping that prospective employers or clients will overlook my frequent Prosecco references), my LinkedIn profile and my blog.  When it comes to applying for jobs, my blog is going to give anyone reading it a sense of who I am and what I believe about my work more than a 2-page CV ever will. What isn’t on there is a link to either my Instagram or Facebook profiles.  The reason for that is that they aren’t about work.  They are for family and friends, or at the very least people I know, sometimes through other social networks.  My regular selfies of me and my significant other (#sorrynotsorry) are not for strangers… or employers.

Those sites that are professional should expect to be reviewed.  When I have been hiring, it is the first place I go and I would expect anyone thinking of hiring me to do the same.  If someone wants to scroll through my unlocked Twitter feed, fill your boots.  You will find a few mentions of One Direction too.  But the other stuff… not so much.

In our social world, platforms are ever-evolving.  There are no rules, apart from your own, about what is public and what is private.  There are fewer expectations of privacy than those of previous generations.  Even if you opt not to use social media, or are even too young to do so, you can still very much have a digital footprint.

So to job seekers I say this… expect to be looked for and at.  Google searched.  If you want stuff to be private, set it that way.

And to employers… if you are going to search people’s social media feeds then say so up front.  Put it on the ATS or the job advert.  Better still, openly ask people to send you their online stuff.  Allow links on your system.  Actively encourage it.  Go to the professional networking sites and read what you need to. But you don’t need to, and should not, trawl through what is clearly something else.  Personal photos.  Shares from many years ago.  Student day stuff.  What someone intends to be personal, platform aside, is probably obvious.

You wouldn’t follow someone down the pub and listen to their conversation before deciding to give them a job.  So leave their social social media alone.