Social Business Marathon: Appoint Your Successors


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I don’t need a successor, only willing hands to accept the torch for a new generation.

Rev. Billy Graham
Being the leading light of a project and its main driving force is often one of the only ways that projects can be successful. The old joke about the camel being a horse designed by committee does to some extent ring true when it comes to breaking new ground and changing the perception and culture of your organization. There also comes a time, however, when you need to hand over the reigns to someone else, perhaps to a team of people so that the success of your project continues to new heights.
As leaders and project managers we should be wary of calling success too soon in our adoption of social. We wisely watch the metrics of engagement, of communities, of content being generated and consider that our job is done. However, the unwary often fall foul of the chasm:
User adoption chasm

You will see this diagram all over the place. Geoffrey A. Moore identified it in his book “Crossing the Chasm”. The chasm itself is called many things, but for me the best description is the “chasm of disillusionment”.

The Chasm of Disillusionment

The Chasm of Disillusionment is where the initial euphoria of success has passed and “normality” starts to return in your organization. It’s where your champions and early adopters are pushing the systems further and further into the organization. Without this process you could not possibly scale the solution out to all your users. Disillusionment sets in like Chinese Whispers – misunderstandings occur, workarounds are found because someone doesn’t know the answer, or there’s a deadline to meet and people don’t have time to embrace a new solution. Because you are increasingly distant from the people who are affected by this, the disillusionment sets in. The gap between the promise made at the beginning of the project and the reality of what people now have seems to be enormous.

This disillusionment can stop your adoption in its tracks. Consequently the whole success of your project is in danger with people perceiving your transformation to a social business as another one of these fads.

To cross the chasm and to continue up the user adoption curve you need to ensure you have the following:

  1. A clear mission statement and unwavering commitment from senior management to make the productivity gains and better working environment stick.
  2. A team of champions and early adopters who are now leading the deployment. They need to be finding solutions to problems you had not already come across. They need to be inventing new ways of working which were not foreseen at the beginning.
  3. An idea of who will take over being the successor of your efforts.

Choosing the Successor

The stage you are at now in your social business journey is all about GROWTH – not evangelizing. It’s about:

  • covering the ground, picking up users and processes as you go about your integration and transformation
  • timeous responses to issues,
  • maintaining quality and consistency,
  • building trust with users that their efforts are not in vain,
  • delivering on the promise.

The qualities of such a person may be quite different from your qualities. You might be good at “selling” the concept but not good at detail or finishing things. You might be an extrovert with a keen eye for feelings, but not for numbers. Whichever type of person you are, recognize that the person to take it forward may be completely different from you.

The successor, in my opinion, should be appointed from within the organization and from one of the earlier groups, such as the champions or early adopters. It should be someone relatively well known, who has been with the organization a reasonable period of time and be known for being methodical and practical.

Your next job, having found that person is to make sure that every aspect of what you’ve done and why you’ve done it is understood. You need to be “joined at the hip” for a while to make sure your successor understands your thought processes in driving the project the way you have.

Equally, as this process goes on, you need to accept that your successor is a new broom – they will sweep in different ways and approach problems in different manners and from different angles. You need to be able to let go of that and let them do it.

Don’t Forget Your Sponsor

Your executive sponsor has been your rock throughout this process. They have been the person who gave your project credibility at the time when everyone thought it was mad, or just another one of those passing fads. You need to be sure that your successor understands your sponsor. You need to make sure that your successor’s eye is firmly focused on the same prize that your sponsor has had all along.

The answer to this, of course, is communication. Communication over a period of time suitable for the project and for the organization.

Remember that the purpose of this is to hand the project on to the next generation who will take it forward – don’t leave a mess or bodies buried in the back yard – they will come back to haunt you.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Alan Hamilton
I believe social business is a new way for organizations of all sizes to form stronger working relationships within themselves and with their customers and partners. By demonstrating how any organization can become more open, responsible, compassionate and flexible I can show that staff and customer satisfaction increases, morale improves and better business results come.


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