Last year my friend, Gini Dietrich, asked me to participate in a project she was noodling over. She asked me to write a letter to C-level executives about something that I felt was mission critical in the new year.  The goal was to assemble a collection of letters from a broad range of professionals and publish a book of advice on vision, culture, community, and integration. Of course I wanted in on this action.  But I struggled with how best to make my contribution.  I guess I felt like my expertise lies in the digital world – if we’re talking strategy around digital business initiatives I might have an interesting tidbit or two to share.  But I was challenged with putting together a letter impactful enough for the C-suite.  When I finally started writing it, my letter went in a completely different direction.  Does it touch digital?  Sure.  But not in the way you’d expect.

Take some time to read that letter, included in its entirety in this blog post.  Then visit the Spin Sucks blog and buy the book.  Trust me, you’ll want to do this.  Gini has managed to curate a pretty powerful collection of wisdom, ideas and expertise.  I’m really honored to be included in such distinguished company.  And I’m grateful my friend asked me to be a part of her project.

Also, Gini has encouraged us to give away a few copies.  So, to begin, I’m going to give away two copies of the ebook.  And I’m going to do it in a really subjective way.  I’ll give a copy to the person who suggests (in the comments of this post) a topic for a (near) future blog post for me to write about on the Clockwork blog.  If I love your idea and I pick it and decide to write about it – I’ll send you your ebook.  The second copy goes to the person who suggests a podcast topic for the Geek Girls (in the comments of this post).  If you suggest it and we like it and run with it – I’ll send you a copy of the ebook.  

I welcome your feedback and contribution to this discussion.  Read the letter and chime in.  Change happens when people are moved to make it happen.  Change starts with you.

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Dear CEO,

In 2010 there was a lot of time and media attention devoted to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and social media in general; with good reason. Social tools have changed how we communicate with each other and with our customers. Naturally, it‘s tempting to think our biggest challenges in 2011 are about technology. But, I‘d like to test that assumption and ask you to re-examine one of the more obvious, but probably the most overlooked element of business: Your culture.

For the first time since this country‘s industrialization, business and brands are having real-time, two-way conversations with consumers in global channels. What‘s more, business can no longer control the conversation.    So what have we done? We‘ve gotten distracted. We‘ve become enamored with the latest shiny object and tried to jump into this new way of communicating without paying attention to our most valuable resource – our people.

We talk so much about  transparency in our consumer messaging. But I can‘t help but feel that it‘s time for more internal transparency and conversation. Social media isn‘t just changing how we communicate with our customers. It‘s changing how we work. It‘s changing how we interact with each other and how we talk about what we do and how we feel about brands and people and causes. We say we can‘t look at social media like traditional marketing. Then we turn around and do exactly that – we hope to influence behavior and demonstrate ROI. We forget that it‘s NOT the medium that is influential. It‘s the people. In order to prepare for and facilitate real growth it‘s time to focus on and invest in people. And not in the way we‘re used to – the training exercises conducted by paid facilitators who bring in lunch and make us do the trust fall. No, the kind of change I‘m talking about is BIG. It requires thinking big and letting go of control. It requires taking responsibility for who you hire and how you share your brand values. It will force you to stop assigning your social media story to the youngest of your employee base and to accept responsibility for what your brand really is – people. Your brand starts with you. Set the voice and the tone. Start trusting the people you hire. Talk to them. Empower them in ways that make you uncomfortable, but, in the long run, will pay off. Let your people run with the baton and carry the conversation forward.

Don‘t forget that you (and, by extension, your marketing department) are not the only one with influence. The people in every department of your organization are also influential. They influence thinking around your product, your ethics, your commitment to quality, your commitment to innovation and service and growth. They are using their personal networks in ways we never planned for in the business textbooks. People you only hired to support customers are now selling and marketing and representing your brand and your message. Marketers are providing customer support and quality control. The channel looks like nothing you‘ve ever seen before. Your only defense is the perfect offense: your people. Your people equipped with the right information and permission and power to talk to customers, to represent your plan for the future. Your people – not as they were – caught up in politics, fighting for recognition and validation. Not as they were, but as they should be: smart and proactive and in command and facilitating healthy, results-oriented conversations and, ultimately, healthy relationships that lead to more sales at every level of the organization.

Your job in 2011 is to set a course in that direction – to start talking to your people and changing your culture. Your task is to begin the shift toward authenticity and  transparency internally. Your mission is to find the humanity in human resources and let it permeate every facet of your culture. Only then will you truly be taking advantage of one of the greatest innovations of our time: social media.

Sincerely,
Nancy Lyons
CEO, Clockwork Active Media Systems
Twitter: @nylons