Sponsorship is not the same as leadership. When working with clients, one question I always ask before I take on a project is “what is the level of support and involvement that your executives plan to have?” The answer I usually get is that the executives have committed to be major sponsors or supporters of the project. But what does that really mean? It is important to know at the outset because executive support and sponsorship is not enough. In order for any social business initiative to succeed business leaders need to do more than lend their support. They need to lead by example. They need to be actively involved using the technology to change and enhance their existing business processes. They need to be open to replacing old business process that simply don’t work and with new ones that take advantage of the functionalities of social technologies. Senior executives must be willing to change the way they work if they expect their employees to change as well. A change in culture begins at the top.

The companies that have been successful at re-engineering their organizations into social businesses are those that have strong leadership and involvement from key executives. For example, I have spoken to several people at Dell and they have told me that the number one user of Dell’s ESN is none other than Michael Dell. Michael is constantly posting and contributing to Dell’s employee social network. He uses the network to share his vision, to ask for ideas and suggestions, to recognize employees for their valuable contributions. Michael lives and breathes social. He believes in the transformative nature of social to such an extent that he created Dell’s Social Media and Communities University, where Dell employees receive training on the value of social networks and how to participate in them. Dell subject matter experts share their best practices and give tips to employees on the best way to engage users on each public social network. Dell then goes beyond training and holds unconferences to get employees excited about their participation on social networks. Dell also created a state of the art Social Media Command Center that helps the company listen and engage with their customers.

Another example of a leader who lives social is Wendy Arnott, Vice President for Social Media and Digital Communication at TD Bank. Interestingly, TD Bank’s foray into social business started when they were trying to decide whether or not to keep their branches open on Sundays. They polled their employees by using their ESN and engaged in conversation with them to get a sense for how they felt.  Although their was initial resistance by many of the employees, they were able to change the sentiment of their employees by engaging in meaning full conversation and by showing their employees that their opinions mattered. From here, TD Bank has gone on to carry out an incredibly effective social business strategy by focusing on three key imperatives:  1.  aligning to TD’s core values,  2. delivering real business outcomes, and 3. acknowledging and facing the risks head on. One of the key components of TD Bank’s success is that its entire Senior Executive Team believed in and supported social business from the beginning.

Savvy leaders like Michael Dell and Wendy Arnott also realize that by actively participating in their companies social business transformation they are also raising the level of engagement that their employees and partners have with them and more closely aligning their employees with the mission and vision of their company. Social business brings a great deal of transparency to any organization. This transparency can lead to extremely valuable business outcomes. So before you embark on your social business journey, make sure that your executives are on board. Not only as supporters but as active participants and true champions.

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