Altimeter Group: Digital collaboration the future of business decision making

The research group's CEO and author of a new book on leadership in a digital economy, Charlene Li, shares why engagement through collaboration channels is vital

Meaningful business decisions in the digital era will no longer be made by leaders behind closed doors, but via engagement across collaboration channels.

That’s the view of Altimeter Group founder and CEO, Charlene Li, who spoke on the need for modern leaders to better engage, share and listen to employees during the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit. The presentation was based on her new book, The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Digital Transformation, published in March.

According to Li, leadership in a digital-first world is based on three key ingredients: An ability to listen at scale; sharing insights and being transparent; and engaging then validating a relationship with employees.

As an example, Li pointed to Telstra’s former CEO, David Thodey, who used internal collaboration channels to better engage employees in order to improve end-customer experiences. In one initiative, he asked employees via an internal social network to comment on productivity inefficiencies. Another was focused on the processes employees disliked in the work environment.

In each case, Thodey responded directly to a number of employee comments, validating both the channel and the contributions made, Li said. It also brought a level of humility and vulnerability into his interactions with his staff –much needed ingredients for building relationships, she said.

“David does this because a strategic objective is to improve customer service, and he believes strongly that customer centricity doesn’t just come from great marketing campaigns, but from getting employees to be more responsive to customers by being more responsive to each other,” Li said.

“The CEO shows up [in these collaboration channels] and says you have a good point – I’m validating you. That encourages employees to engage further. And because employees know the CEO might respond to their comments and posts, they know the CEO cares and they’re transforming the relationship. He’s also responding in the same way to customers externally, too.

“This sets the example that no customer service is beneath me and that it’s every person’s job to care. You can’t expect people to engage with each other if you don’t do it yourself.”

Collaboration channels are becoming the decision-making place for businesses, Li continued.

“That is where meaningful decisions in the digital era for leaders is going to happen from now on,” she said.

Building a relationship as a leader

According to Li, the best leaders focus on the kinds of relationships they want to foster. However, with so many organisations still driven by short-term results and hard metrics, too many are only engaging with employees when they need to get something done.

“But isn’t it about the long term?” she asked attendees. “Isn’t about a two-way, constant and authentic dialogue? Are you actively thinking about the relationships you want to create?”

Of course it’s impossible to listen to everything, and Li said engagement needs to be goal and objective oriented. She suggested defining the customers, partners and employee groups most important to listen to, as well as three to five strategic objectives to drive your engagement efforts and digital personality.

It’s also vital to create a culture of sharing and that requires transparency, Li said.

“People in business, and especially marketing, have been told not to share – keep things secret, don’t tell customer service what customers are really sharing and keep the focus on something else,” she said. “It needs to be the opposite – think about what can be shared in order to achieve a particular goal.”

A good way of doing this is through storytelling, and Li advised leaders to think about the types of stories they can tell to inspire action, such as customers, sales leads or employees that inspire them.

One of the stumbling blocks has been measuring the value of collaboration channels in terms of ROI. Li noted a quote from Ball Corporation CEO, John Hayes: ‘We tend to overvalue the things we can measure and undervalue the things we can not’.

“In many ways what he describes is relationships,” Li claimed. “How do we value those handshakes and authenticity that exists? We can feel it, describe it, or show overall business impact, but it may not be measureable. But just because it’s not measurable, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

For instance, Li suggested looking at how many employees respond and are moved to action by the stories a leader tells.

“Put together a strategy for engagement as a leader, and how you will measure that your actions are being effective and your strategy is working. But note that every one of us will have different strategy and measures,” Li added.

Nadia Cameron travelled to Marketo Marketing Nation Summit as a guest of Marketo.

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