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“Culture” has grown in importance as a corporate buzz word.  Tony Hsieh famously made it the key to the success of Zappos.  Nordstrom differentiated on their culture of service years ago (“Hire the smile; teach the skill.”)  Culture is what makes companies great and what makes employees great ambassadors.

But the often exclusive focus on culture can be misleading and even damaging.  Culture change without passionate leadership is often chaotic and often a failure.  When a leader advocates or embraces change, the critical first followers can step up quickly, pulling along with them subsequent waves of followers.  We have seen Derek Sivers’ wonderful TED talk on leadership (“How to Start a Movement”) numerous times, and while we can debate whether the “lone nut” or the first follower is the true driver of change (there is no first follower if the lone nut doesn’t first show the way!), culture change requires those one or two people out front.  
Culture change doesn’t have to be explosive; sometimes it is evolutionary.  Some of the most difficult changes happen where the existing culture is not toxic, but positive.  Those changes require a leader with the vision to fight FOR, not just AGAINST.

One of our clients is struggling with the problem of a positive culture and a reluctant-to-change leader right now. We are focused on a social media implementation program. The corporate culture is social media friendly – warm, open and supportive. However, the CEO doesn’t understand social media. (Those of us who work in social media sometimes forget that not everyone tweets, blogs, and shares over digital networks.) She is coping with a stretched staff, a lot of exciting changes to products and services being offered, and a fear of diverting attention and resources by engaging in social media.  

Because the target market skews to young adults, she intellectually believes that she “has to” get into social media. Her managers are eager and several are social media savvy; we have developed a great social media strategy; benefits are tied to corporate objectives. But she can’t let her team move forward in this space.  It’s too alien. Too scary.

So we are trashing the overall social media strategy for now and substituting a two-pronged approach.

  • Cultural immersion for the CEO
  • Narrow focus beta trial

Cultural immersion is a lot like language immersion in elementary school.  We are setting up the CEO on Facebook so she can play around.  We are showing her, in one-on-one sessions, how to navigate Twitter and find what interests her.  We are getting her comfortable with social media – not just intellectually, but practically and tactically.  Leaders need to touch it, to feel it, to use it in order to lead – or to allow – a revolution.

Like many other types of strategy implementation projects, rather than a broad  social media strategy that stretches across culture, governance, technology, implementation…we are focusing narrowly to start.  We have selected one new service where we will integrate social media.  Limited scope.  Limited number of staff.  Limited impact on total operations.  A great opportunity to showcase the costs and benefits of incorporating social media.

The CEO has been a good leader and has created a strong culture.  But as social media increasingly becomes an imperative for her business, she needs to learn again how to charge forward, how to leave her comfort and reluctance behind.

Peter Drucker’s comment that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is popping up everywhere these days.  Perhaps more relevant to the reluctant social media leader is Drucker’s comment that “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”