Social business and leaders of the future: How the concept of collaboration is changing in an interconnected world

Social collaboration is not only about social media. This is only a small part of collaboration. A collaborative organisation promotes a culture based on transparency and accountability.

Social forms of engagement and social business leadership is becoming essential to the future of businesses. Social media has changed the way organisations and individuals communicate with each other; businesses need to take it seriously.

As employees struggle to keep on top of their workload, they need to be able to access relevant materials quickly and easily. Social business and collaboration tools allow information and ideas to be freely and easily exchanged and accessed, which helps to improve employee productivity.

Research from McKinsey, the global management consulting firm, suggests that by fully implementing social technologies, companies can potentially raise the output of employees by 20 to 25 per cent.

McKinsey’s research also reveals that seventy two per cent of companies use social technologies in some way, but very few actually realise the full benefits.

To achieve this, businesses need leaders who embrace social business. A social business leader is actively engaged and enthusiastically willing to promote collaboration with stakeholders within and outside the company and attract new talent. Detailed below are the attributes of a successful social business leader:

A transparent leader

Leaders are neither born nor made, they are developed. Management positions give leaders the power to make decisions. However, this power does not define a leader, it defines a boss. A good leader empowers people to take decisions.

To engage organisations, leaders need to share information and expertise. They need to become transparent in their leadership to create a transparent organisation. Organisational transparency encourages, learns from and engages with its stakeholder. It does not ignore it. Why is it that many of us know more about what our friends on Facebook did last weekend than we know about our colleagues’ work? Transparency is a new mantra for leadership in order to create rich, empowered and successful organisations. Good leaders need to 1) create an open and transparent culture 2) empower employees and stakeholder with supporting collaborative technologies, both internally and externally.

A leader of all generations

New generations require interconnectedness. Social business is the bridge between the demands of different generations. Generation Y is entering the workforce having been brought up with social media and the Internet. The new generations are used to gathering and sharing information wherever they are, on a variety of platforms. As a result, they are used to open communication and are comfortable voicing their opinions. They function better in flat organisations, with fewer layers of intervening management.

At the other end of the spectrum are older generations, who are staying in their careers longer than ever. We are getting older and the retirement age is increasing. Social business leaders must straddle these two very different sets of expectations and encourage collaboration and experience exchange with social business technologies that support the new demands and bridge the generation gap.

A connected leader

The leader of today is busy. The business environment is increasingly international, the home market is seldom just one country and culture any more, and even if the available technology for meeting without travelling is better than ever it is not enough.

A social business leader is connected. He or she may not be able to be there in person, but should know what is going on, and be able to answer questions, make decisions, and provide feedback when necessary. In short, be there in one way or another for the team.

Flexibility of work environment has become key when trying to hire the best talents. Employees are getting used to staying connected around the clock, wherever they are, as well as bringing their own devices and, to an increasing extent, their own software. People want to use tools, devices and work in ways that they are familiar with in order to stay effective in doing their job.

To quote Gartner “Mobile devices and applications lead to changes in society. Employees are behaving more like consumers, demanding a wider choice of devices, exploiting consumer devices and applications from app stores, and adopting new strategies such as ‘bring your own’ (BYO) IT, where employees use personally-owned tablets and smartphones for work. As a result, the distinctions between a person's role as an employee and as a consumer are more blurred than ever.”

Technology enables the social business leader

As the employees are becoming more connected and engaged in their work, social business leaders need to do the same. A connected leader needs to focus on offering the right social business software to increase collaboration and sharing between team members, colleagues and stakeholders, both internally and externally.

With an online social collaboration platform like Projectplace, the focus is on the end user experience which increases the engagement. The software also needs to support flexibility in the work environment such as working away from the office and working off-office hours. It also goes without saying that besides offering software you also need to make sure that the software works on different types of devices such as mobile phones, smart phones, laptops and different kinds of tablets.

All organisations exist to provide value by creating and sustaining human relations. As human beings we are made for collaboration. We are born altruistic and have a need to belong, help and share.

Social Business management is all about shaping behaviour. Leaders of a social organisation need to be social, open, flexible and transparent if a transformation to a social organization will succeed. With their behavior they help legitimise the process. Words don’t count, action does.

Johan Zetterström is the CEO of Online project collaboration company, Projectplace. He joined the company from Salesforce.com and he brought ample experience of expansion and sales within software and cloud computing to his new position.