IBM Leadership Study: CEOs Say “Get Social”

It has been a challenging period for America’s top executives. Many of them sit on a ton of cash because they do not trust this economy or the people who can influence it – positively or negatively – in Washington (see: You’ve Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em). They must innovate to compete but resources are constrained.  Efficiencies become a premium and customer engagement has never been more important.

It would be great to understand the thinking of CEOs, specifically how they plan to clear the path to growth for their companies that will lift our economy out of its malaise. Thanks to IBM that wish has come true.

In its bi-annual series of interviews with CEOs, IBM has taken the pulse of top business leaders across the globe to “gauge their perspective on emerging trends and issues.”

The IBM study, “Leading through Connections – Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study,”  offers key insights from the world’s top business leaders:

  • More than 70 percent of CEOs are seeking a better understanding of individual customer needs and improved responsiveness.
  • Collaboration is the number-one trait CEOs are seeking in their employees, with 75 percent of CEOs calling it critical.
  • More than half of all CEOs are partnering extensively to drive innovation.

IBM effectively summarized the leadership outlook of the world’s top business leaders with this excerpt:

To steer their organizations effectively, CEOs told us three leadership traits are most critical: inspirational leadership, customer obsession and leadership teaming across the C-suite.

Majoring on what matters – CEOs say they must exhibit:

  • Customer obsession (61%)
  • Inspirational leadership (60%)
  • Leadership teaming (58%)

The study places CEO priorities over the next five years into three primary categories that are especially instructive as professionals:

Empowering employees through values

Engaging customers as individuals

Amplifying innovation with partnerships

“Leading through Connections” is a fitting title for navigating through today’s tough economy, and reflects well the ways in which CEOs know they must leverage social media and the networking potential they represent – connecting with customers, colleagues, business partners, the news media, and others as a primary business strategy.

Years ago, I can remember sitting in a business-planning meeting with a Fortune 100 client in the consumers packaged goods business. It was remarkable to see how, for one of the largest companies in the world in their sector, Wal-Mart played an outsized role in their entire business strategy. Success to this client was largely through the front door of Wal-Mart, just as it still is for companies with products to mass market to consumers. (See: The Saturday Morning Meeting.)

In a similar way, companies today must build bridges through social media and online video messaging to increase engagement with their most critical constituencies.

IBM reports the views of CEOs on social media as a critical new realm for business success with the following:

Currently, social media is the least utilized of all customer interaction methods. However, CEOs predict it will push past websites, call centers and channel partners, and become the number-two  way (after face-to-face engagement) to engage customers within the next five years.

There is also a cautionary tale about CEOs’ understanding of social media and their need to learn about this important new phenomenon (see: 4 Ways to Teach Old Dogs New Media…Before a Crisis Hits):

Though CEOs frequently mentioned dipping their toes into social media waters, few claim to be personally immersed. This arms-length involvement puts CEOs in a precarious position. They are making critical judgments about a disruptive technology without much firsthand knowledge.

There are many lessons to be learned with the picture window into the thinking of the world’s top CEOs, especially as it relates to their views on leadership’s role in inspiring employees to embrace connectedness in the modern business world.

Most notably, this study demonstrates conclusively that no company should consider online engagement as a fad or a single element of communications (see: New Media Experience: “Change or Die”). It should be fundamental to every company’s entire business model.


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