Should C-suites and boards of directors be exempt from social media training?

Posted on December 26, 2012 9:09 am by | Business | Social Media

No C-Suite leaders or boards of directors in social media training classes

(c) Can Stock Photo
Of all the layers of an organization’s hierarchy, the board of directors and the C-suite may be the ones that least understand social media and its potential impact on the organization.

Early results of a study from Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Center for Leadership Development and Research—Social Media Use Among Directors and Senior Managers—show that only 34.2% of directors and executive management have even a modest understanding of the impact social and digital media have on their companies. Only 21.7% rated their own grasp of the issues around social media as “good.” Fewer than 15% of boards of directors see reports summarizing information gleaned from social media monitoring and metrics. The prevailing view: Social media is beneath them and should be confined to marketing and PR.

Study author David F. Larcker—James Irvin Miller Professor of Accounting at the school—concludes that the highest levels of leadership have not been convinced of social media’s value proposition.

One key reason the lead decision-makers aren’t up to speed is that, despite any training given to employees, the board and C-suite rarely undergo any training themselves. When was the last time you took a training course at your organization with an executive VP among the other students? Somehow, in many organizations, membership in the upper echelon of the corporate org chart seems to confer special status that assumes you can longer benefit from a training program.

I’ve seen the consequences of this first-hand. In the mid-1980s, my employer—a toy company—invested heavily in one of the quality improvement flavors du jour. Philip Crosby’s Quality Improvement Process (QIP) created layers of quality management, atop which sat the Quality Improvement Steering Committee, a fairly high-level group that attended an extensive, on-site program at the Crosby facilities in Winter Park, Florida. This group rolled out training inside the organization that every single employee was required to attend. All employees also found themselves responsible for meeting quality improvement goals as part of their annual performance reviews. Many staff found themselves working on quality improvement teams or task forces. As a result, the notions of “zero defects” and “conformance to requirements” permeated the organization.

The idea was fairly simple. Zero defects meant the product conformed to requirements. If a product failed to meet that standard, production would be stopped until the root cause of the non-conformance could be identified and fixed. There was no finger-pointing, no blaming. All this was justified under the notion of the “cost of quality” calculation, which justified the expense.

All was well until a non-conformance was identified with a major product that was about to ship in advance of the Christmas shopping season. (The company’s unofficial motto was, “You can’t change the date of Christmas.”) Not shipping the product would lead to significant shortfalls in expected holiday sales. Shipping the product, however, would violate the most basic principles of the Quality Improvement Process.

The issue was elevated to the C-suite, where the leaders of the company did not hesitate. “Ship it,” they said. Within months, the Quality Improvement Process sputtered and died, since employees knew there were two conflicting ideals: on one side was an artificially-imposed quality program, on the other was what leadership would do. Why the company’s leaders shrugged off millions of dollars invested in the quality program was simple: They were the only ones exempt from the training. They didn’t really grasp the Cost of Quality calculation or the process’s other core ideas. Clearly, they didn’t grasp the very first of Crosby’s 14 steps—that “management is committed to quality—and this is clear to all:

Clarify where management stands on quality. It is necessary to consistently produce conforming products and services at the optimum price. The device to accomplish this is the use of defect prevention techniques.

Understanding social/digital media’s role in the organization—well beyond marketing and PR opportunities—is increasingly vital, making it important for leaders to get up to speed. There are organizations making efforts to train their most senior staff. Some provide one-on-one training that suits each executive’s schedule. At Dell, C-suite level training is a key agenda item for 2013, with the full support of CEO Michael Dell. However an organization goes about it, though, it needs to be done. Support from leadership is a requirement for everything from investment in monitoring and analytics systems to policies that encourage employees to engage with customers and systems that factor input from social channels into company processes.

Leaders who willfully remain in the dark because social media is beneath them put the health of their companies at risk.

Is your organization training members of the C-suite and/or board of directors? How?

This is the fifth installment in a series on social media training. Previous entries:



  • 1.I just read/skimmed all five parts in the series. I'm glad to see others are writing about the need for education and training, which becomes more important as the gap between technological and human capabilities continues to grow. Here are some thoughts based on my own research and writing on the subject:

    1. As internal applications of social and digital technologies expand (and will become far more pervasive and relevant to workers of all types), the training provided by organizations will need to expand as well. The focus must move beyond external discussions on public platforms to internal communication and collaboration on private digital networks.

    2. Education and training will have to range from high-level concepts to specific skills. I have lost track of how many times I've had to teach someone how to hyperlink text...

    3. Our prevailing LIY (Learn It Yourself) attitude may have some limited effectiveness for personal uses of new technologies, but it is both inefficient and ineffective for professional uses. Most people - and especially later adopters - need help to develop the competencies they need.

    4. Not everything can or should be taught in house. I agree that some aspects of education and training should be customized, but general concepts and skills can be developed through more standard approaches. We need more valuable services to provide what organizations need - and organizational leaders must be willing to make the necessary investments.

    5. Higher education - especially in professional schools like business - have a critical role to play in developing Digital Era leaders. There is MUCH more that they can and should be doing to create the necessary foundations for ongoing professional development of all types.

    Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community
    Founder, Global Center for Digital Era Leadership (GCDEL)

    Courtney Hunt | December 2012 | United States

  • 2.Hi Shel. I have just published a post that links to all five pieces in your series and offers my own expanded perspective. Here's a link to it:

    I welcome your thoughts.



    Courtney Hunt | March 2013 | United States

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