The idea that senior leaders can ignore the web and leave it to people within the organization is over. As a 21st century leader, you need to have dexterity of understanding how social platforms and websites impact your company’s bottom line.
For years, I’ve worked within highly matrices organizations and often had a direct reporting line to the President. In the early days of the web, websites often ended up in marketing shops where brand officers who didn’t understand the web would rely on the technical expert to relay the critical information to senior leaders.
Coming up on the web during the formative years of its presence in the enterprise left me with unusual opportunities for a junior person to rub elbows and learn from senior leaders. A funny thing happened in those early years, those leaders listened to me! Imagine my shock when a college President says “let’s listen to Ron.” This gave me incredible confidence in my abilities from the start. Having spent time in the military gave me respect for the executive suite, but the beauty of my time on active duty was how much people senior to me would elevate me to situations where I had to learn and lead — even if I felt like I didn’t know the answers, I learned and improved steadily.
The problem in 2015 is the web and digital space is so complicated that even small organizations are recognizing the inherent difficulties associated with how to manage and cultivate a digital presence. Senior leaders at the VP level need to be actively engaged not just in the message, but in the tools used and methods which we measure our impact in the digital space.
I’m not going to turn you into a digitally savvy leader in one article, but here are some key questions to ask of the people leading your digital & web presence:
1. What social platforms are we currently on? What was the process for choosing them? Is there an underlying strategy behind our approach? Does it align with specific strategic goals?
2. Are we measuring traffic to our website in something other than Google Analytics? Can you show me a visual comparison of traffic during key times this over the last three quarters? Are there trends we can extrapolate from that traffic to make assumptions about our customers?
3. If a person in a random office somewhere (not an executive) within our organization needed something added to the website would they know who to contact? Do we have a web governance structure? Does only one person have the keys to our web presence? Do we have a plan if that person leaves or is otherwise unavailable?
The key to these questions is, you might not always understand the answers when they’re told to you and it doesn’t really matter if you do. The exercise of being exposed to this infrastructure is what matters. If you ask your physical plant director about the HVAC system, you’re not concerned about the hows and whys of its inner workings — but you’ll know if it’s not working if people are complaining about being too hot or too cold. The digital space works the same way. You won’t notice there’s a problem until it’s not working or something goes wrong.
After years of advising college presidents and business owners on the strategy of the web, digital infrastructure is a blind spot for many unless they have experience with technology prior to their ascension to senior leadership. As a result, organizations spend millions of dollars making bad decisions about technology based on poor information, lack of leadership or failure to fully understand the complexities of how decisions made about the web impact all areas of the company.
By taking an active interest and gaining better understanding of the digital infrastructure, senior leaders can make more information decisions and trust the information provided by those entrusted with these responsibilities.