Executive Leadership Is Critical For Success

About a year ago I started outlining a book on community collaboration and digital marketing strategies. I started covering all the basics, SEO, content publishing, advocacy, social media and engagement etiquette. And I realized toward the end that most of my success implementing these strategies for companies was due to executive leadership. Any project starts with leadership to help get the support you need from executive sponsors to improve your teams chances at success. This may be the most important aspect of any rolling out any marketing engagement program for three reasons: Obtaining funding, removing obstacles, and team motivation.

First of all if you don’t have funding you don’t have a project. Securing commitment for funding reassures the team that there is support for there efforts. It provides the resources, new hires, products needed to get the ball rolling. Funding is also one of the bigger obstacles that will need to be addressed immediately but not the same as other obstacles you will face when rolling out a disruptive technology.

The other types of obstacles I am referring to are political. You would be surprised how many internally and externally want a voice but don’t want to help. You will find between finance, HR, global security, legal, IT… etc… there will be no shortage of departments that will want to slow things down by asking questions, throwing up barriers and all around objection to change. No one likes change but it is necessary if you want to evolve and survive in this new modern world of customer engagement. Getting a good representation of executives will help eliminate all these issues as you will have a trump card that you can call their bluff when threats of escalation. Recently when our team implemented a social intranet we had the CMO, SVP of HR and CTO as executive sponsors. This won’t prevent threats or obstacles from being presented but will give you the confidence that it won’t go any further and the project will continue moving forward with the strategy you have set forward.

And this helps team motivation. All any employee wants is to be able to complete their task and have success. Keeping a team motivated is really just this simple. If you, as the strategic leader, can secure the executive support to help remove obstacles and lay a foundation for the teams success that is all the motivation they will need. It is just the belief that success is possible and the team can do the work that they have been tasked with.

These are just three reasons why executive support and leadership is important but realize that this doesn’t explain how to get an executives attention, tactics that can be used to eliminate escalations and keep the team focused on the end result. I think I just came up with three new chapters. Stay tuned and I’ll try to put some of these down in future posts.

Social Intranet: Plan For Success

It was funny after all the team did to prepare and plan for any type of risk or failure during our social intranet rollout we forgot to plan for success. I guess we all assumed that something was bound to go wrong and many things did but we actually didn’t think, worry or plan for what would happen if the social intranet was wildly successful. And it was. Even before we had completed bring the site online we were already getting questions from employees. Where can I find employee resources?. How do I post? Can I upload a new profile photo? Can I create a group for my team? Yes, Yes and Yes! This is exactly the type of interaction and excitement you want to create around any engagement marketing program. The problem was we actually, didn’t factor in how much that demand would be and how much time it would take us to help field all the requests.

Thankfully, our power users who we kept engaged throughout the project really jumped in and to our surprise employees started answering each others questions. We had hoped that this would be the case but it exceeded our wildest expectations. All the benefits we had communicated to the executive sponsors around cross team collaboration, breaking down communication silo’s, nurturing teamwork and fostering innovation was happening much faster that we anticipated. We had expected this would be the case but there is always the wild card factor and that is the employee. If the communication isn’t clear and excitement isn’t there may not be the motivation for employees to adopt a new and modern way to work. But there was, is and continues to be.

In the last three months the social intranet has been adopted by all 65,000 employees worldwide and have made it their own. The phase from the movie Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come” doesn’t work often when converting traditional marketing programs to a modern social platform but in this case it was true and worth all the effort and frustrations to see through the teams success.

I’ll be speaking more about this and customer experience at the Execunet Event this Friday October 17th at the Waltham, MA Conference Center. Look forward to seeing you there.

The Inside Story to Launching a Social Intranet: Part 3 – The Reward.

It was the teams commitment and resilience that got us to this point but 5am came fast…

It was a tense moment. This was our last chance to resolve the issues at hand, otherwise, we would have to come up with plan B and in full disclosure, there was no plan B. We had to keep going. I joined the call a few minutes early and first thing I heard was “the index has completed”. These were the most beautiful words we could have heard and huge sighs of relief were heard. Then we got focused. The end was in reach and realized we can do this

 

About 7:30am, we held our breath as we watched the servers restart, one by one. After about fifteen minutes we were ready to test. This was the moment of truth. We removed the maintenance page, refreshed our browsers and the Social Intranet appeared. It worked! Images were appearing, links were fixed and most importantly, search results were as expected. There was a quick celebration and then returned focus to the tasks at hand. We weren’t finished yet! We still had the opportunity to complete our goals and deliver before the East Coast came on line…. All we had to do was finish the DNS redirect from the old intranet to the new URL.

 

At 9:15am, one of our executive sponsors emailed and said, why isn’t the site redirecting and when will that be complete? Before I replied, I hit refresh on my browser knowing it was in progress, and it was complete. We had done it.

We were exhausted but we made it through the challenges and all I had left was to send the executive communication announcing the site was live. I hit send at 9:30am.

 

THE REWARD

 

The reward was delivering the finished product and having that sense of accomplishment. That was it. It was a sense of gratitude toward ourselves for sticking with it and completing what we committed to do. That was why we were willing to work without sleep, over our weekend and do what ever it took to complete the project because that was going to be the only way we would be satisfied.

 

Because the team was COMMITTED to the goals and objectives defined on day one of the project, we were able to overcome many of the challenges presented and keep moving forward. The challenges defined our RESILIENCE and because of that, we created a tighter bond as a team as we watched each other come through the other side. The REWARD was getting there together, delivering the experience, keeping our commitment to each other and knowing success was achievable. We made it together and as a team.

 

And now, the real work begins…

 

 

What keeps you motivated and what type of rewards are most satisfying to you?

The Inside Story to Launching a Social Intranet: Part 2 – Resilience

It was everyone’s commitment to the project that got us to the actual cutover day. But it was our resilience and sense of purpose that helped us persevere the next three days that would prove to be the most difficult challenge we would face to date.

 

The Friday prior to launch, the database migration was on track and confidence was high we would be able to access the new Social Intranet production site on Saturday morning. And at 8am Saturday it was confirmed, the database migration had completed and we were ready to start our changes. By 7pm, we felt like we were at a good stopping and that the IT team could kick off the search index rebuild that would take approximately 16 hours. This is where the challenges began….

 

At 5:30am on Sunday, the search index process appeared to be hung at 97%. Rather than confirm with the vendor or project team, a unilateral decision was made to restart the service and start all over again. This was one of the first mistakes we made as a team and can’t help but think that a lack of sleep over the prior three days had something to do with it. Around 11am the search index was back up to 94% and the vendor confirmed this was typical as the process slows down the closer it gets to finishing and isn’t uncommon for several hours to pass between 97%, 98%, 99%… In hindsight if we had let the process continue, it would have been completed by this time. But, we pushed on realizing we couldn’t change anything at this point and we were well beyond the point of no return.

 

By 3pm that Sunday, It was time to get out of the command center, get some fresh air and new perspective on status and moral. It was a beautiful sunny day and we talked about how we felt and where we were in the upgrade process. Morale was surprisingly high. There was still more to do but everyone felt we were continuing to make progress and nothing that would prevent us from completing our goal. Most of the old intranet pages had been moved over, all 500+ communities had been updated with the new layout, widgets and template, home page content was being populated and the training space was all setup and ready to go.

 

It was 8pm on Sunday night and APAC offices were coming on line. We decided to split the team at that point so at least some of us could get some rest and were fresh in the morning when users began accessing the site. At that time, a member of the team made a statement that really caught us off guard. “I am seeing users beginning to access the system. Should I bring the other three nodes of the application cluster online?” We all just looked at each other and said, “Why are they down? Yes bring them online”

 

All the work we had been doing over the last 48 hours, including uploading images, formatting spaces and organizing content had all been completed against Node1 of the four-node cluster. So, when the site came up our beautiful baby turned into an ugly monster that was out of control. The nodes hadn’t been synchronized which resulted in missing images, broken links and an inconsistent experience. By the time we realized it, user questions started rolling in from the Australia offices. “Why can’t I access this link?”, “Why is the home page missing images?”. We fielded as many questions as possible and tried explain and use this as a test the experience and it was immediately clear it wasn’t good.

 

It is about midnight now and knew EMEA would be coming on-line in a few hours. The experience was terrible, the search index wasn’t complete and there wasn’t much we could do other than let process finish, cycle the servers, clear the cache and keep our fingers crossed. The site was a disaster and quickly realized we needed a maintenance page that would prevent users from accessing the site. This would also give the team a few hours of sleep and let the index process complete. The UX team said they could modify the entire theme with a maintenance message and would quickly test. We agreed and got to work.

 

By 1am, the maintenance theme was live. It wasn’t pretty but it would do the trick and we agreed to meet at 5am and reassess where we were. This was a critical point in our go live preparation. Everything depended on the search index process completing. Everyone was tired, mistakes were made but we still believed we could get through this and the reward of delivering the experience was still in sight.

 

Have you experienced any particular challenges where you persevered and resulted in a positive outcome?

 

The Inside Story to Launching a Social Intranet: Part 1 – Commitment

These are posts I wrote in early June when we launched our new social communication and collaboration platform…

June 9, 2014 Over the last week, I had the opportunity to share some of the challenges the Social Intranet team ran into throughout the project but especially in the last 10 days prior to launch. I didn’t realize it at the time, but many of the issues we faced as a team are similar to what we have all faced when launching a product, event or campaign. I think there are three areas we can all relate to similar experiences we have had when launching anything.

  1. Commitment
  2. Resilience
  3. Reward

So, here is the inside story behind our launch.

This wouldn’t be a truthful if I didn’t admit that I wanted to quit at times. The challenges, obstacles and politics were taking a toll on everyone. I was on stomach acid medication for the last 8 months, members of the team were throwing up in the middle night due to anxiety of coming into work the next day and many tears were shed. We all knew that launching a new collaboration platform was going to be a challenge, but didn’t expect some of the obstacles we would face.

 

COMMITMENT

 

But, WE were committed… committed to the goals, objectives and most importantly, to each other. No one wanted to let anyone on the team down, so we did what ever it took to keep moving forward even though it felt as if the ground kept pulling us backward.

 

10 DAYS AGO…

 

It was the Tuesday after Memorial Day when we were ready to communicate that the internal social collaboration system would be coming down on Thursday May 29th in order to begin the cut over to the new platform and data base migration. Interestingly, a few that hadn’t been engaged on the project but held authority over company-wide communications decided that the email communication would not go out until the day of, not realizing the multitude of users who leveraged the platform 24/7 and needed more than 12 hours of notice. This was just one of the many examples of the challenges the team faced. There always seemed to be someone that would make a decision that wasn’t on the project team but directly impacted our ability to move forward. Whether it was global security requirements, legal review, or policy procedures of the executive team adjusting launch dates or changing scope, these were a few of the items that were the most frustrating. There always seemed to be more reasons why we shouldn’t do what we were doing rather than collaborating together to define what was possible.

Thankfully, The commitment from the project team, stakeholders and executive sponsors allowed us to over come many of the challenges and at times tough conversations. One of these was updating the executive sponsors some features weren’t going to make the release, like mobile, that Thursday we were to start the cutover. I have to give credit to the executive team, as they were tremendously supportive throughout the project and helped drive the communication through the leadership level. And because of their commitment they agreed with our approach for the release plan and allowed the team to get started. Enthusiasm and moral was high.

 

 

What experiences have you had when their either was or wasn’t commitment on a team and how did it impact the project?

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