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About six years ago when I started my post-doc program at Harvard Business School and contacted several top executive search firms, the majority of them told me that social media does not affect their work at all. I was surprised and a little bit disappointed, because my goal was to study how online networking platforms influence talent search activities.
However, the rules of the game have changed since then. During the recent six years, I surveyed more than 1,000 leaders from Fortune 500 companies and I analyzed more than 10,000 profiles on LinkedIn in order to observe some patterns in leaders’ online activities and patterns in talent acquisition. I have interviewed more than 100 recruiters. Below, I summarized a few conclusions related to my observations and analyses.
Soft skills vs technological competence
Although living in the digital age makes us dependent on technology, this type of technological competence is not what recruiters should look for. There are at least two aspects that relate to technological competence.
First, many candidates with an exceptional sense of purpose—who value-creating skills and emotional intelligence—do not present their soft potential online. Sometimes, lack of technical skills keeps them from designing a powerful LinkedIn profile, and very often, this a matter of the number of time commitments that prevent them from online activities. As a result, these candidates are excluded from the candidate pool based on their LinkedIn profile (or lack thereof).
Second, corporations still pay attention to technical competence. They are important, but the real value is in soft skills such as a sense of purpose or emotional intelligence. (For further reading on this topic, see Mike Myatt's article)
Global talent search
Many corporations face challenges in responding to the expansion of the global market. These challenges involve talent acquisition strategies. In the past, companies focused on local candidates for executive positions, but now the target is increasingly globalized, as it extends outside of the country.
This global talent search brings a lot of opportunities such as innovative thinking, creative problem solving or cost optimizing, but it is also associated with several risks. So to minimize the risk, smart selection procedures and analysis of the company should be undertaken. To find the right fit, an understanding of the business and organization is needed. It is not only about an experience match, but also about the culture fit. (Please see Katie Bouton's article for further reading about recruiting for culture fit.)
Because it seems like the digital age brings a larger candidate pool, many organizations do not pay special attention to candidate experience. However, a good applicant experience can facilitate the talent acquisition process in the long term. The digital era enables users to exchange opinions—not only about their current employers but also about their interactions with potential employers. These interactions influence an organization’s future ability to attract talent. Communication with the candidate is a crucial factor that creates a positive or negative candidate experience. Beyond transparency and being in touch with the candidate, it is about the honest discussion between recruiter and candidate concerning the position and organizational fit in a specific moment of the candidate’s career.
Opportunity to follow candidates’ career paths
Likewise, the digital age enables recruiters to study the careers of candidates they identified as talents. The right match is not only about whether an employer’s expectations are in line with candidate experience but about timing. Of course, issues that may influence employee turnover such as high workload, internal conflicts or unmatched skills are not visible through social media. However, there are several observable factors influencing candidate thoughts about job change such as length of employment, previous and current promotions, competition,, and job changes of peers from the same industry or university. After analysis of an industry and several careers, it is not so difficult to track career patterns. In a digital age, the recruiter’s effectiveness will increasingly depend on his or her ability to analyze careers and find the right time to approach the candidate.
Leaders who engage positively on employee social networks improve their firms’ communication effectiveness. But it’s no substitute for appearing in front of employees when issuing directives and giving bad news.
Effective communication is increasingly being seen as the cornerstone of successful modern organizations. According to the Towers Watson Communications ROI Study Report, in times of change, companies that keep the lines of communication open to engaging their employees can retain talent, provide value to clients and deliver better performance to shareholders. These companies educate their employees about organizational performance objectives, culture, and values while at the same time collecting their opinions about the company.
Managers might therefore see social networking platforms as a quick win to enhance communication with their teams who are increasingly likely to be spread across geographies. However, before launching into online communications, firms should ensure that they have a general culture of openness to create a successful dialogue via online social networking.
Based on the findings from my study an open, supportive environment has to be established through traditional face-to-face communication before companies can expect opinions and ideas to be shared online. Participants of the study comprised 190 directors, managers, or team leaders holding positions in the Fortune 500 list of the largest global companies. Leaders were asked to evaluate organizational communication in relation to several areas of the business including, but not limited to understanding the business; organizational performance; organizational culture and values; integration of new employees and customers.
The participants were asked to specify the number of hours they spent each week on internal and external networking platforms for business purposes as well as the number of platforms they used, the percentage of employees with whom they communicated on each type of platform, and the type of activities they undertook. These activities could be described as either “directive”, “delegating”, “supportive” or “participating”. Finally, they were asked whether their organizational culture was one of being open or closed and whether a code of conduct had been put in place relating to the benefits and risks of using internal and external networking platforms. Findings indicate the importance of trust, open culture, and quality of communication.
Read more here.
The study conducted by CEO.com shows that the majority of Fortune 500 top executives are not using online networking technologies such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Steve Tobak in his essay entitled Why CEOs don’t use social media explains that today's leaders have much better things to do, such as making outstanding products and profits. Moreover, he argues that very active communication increases the chances of risks related to online networking. From our study, we can conclude the most important risk of online networking for today’s leaders' concerns their personal brand damage. There are many available examples of leaders, companies, and organizations which show how easy it may be to ruin a reputation that was built for years. However, one could find even more examples of leaders that stay in the shadow of others because they avoid belonging to online social networks.
Importance of online social networking for leaders is growing
This was not surprising because the Internet and Intranet communication enables the virtual leading of people around the globe. Online social networks provide the ability to share knowledge, maintain discussions, present opinions, and collect information. They have created new leadership possibilities that will not replace face to face contact, but they can be very supportive in today’s working environment. Some leaders have already noticed the importance of online networking. For example, the WSJ asked top leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos about how social media is changing their business.
It is believed that, due to technological change, within a few years all managers will work in an online working environment and the role of the manager will evolve from the traditional leader to a leading interweaver who coordinates and facilitates the collaboration in a variety of networks.
Leadership style on online social networking platforms.
Both external ones (such as LinkedIn, Viadeo, or Xing which support communication between users working in many different organizations) and internal ones (such as Yammer, Chatter which promote communication among users working in one organization) are increasingly crucial for today’s leaders. How leaders should lead online?
Our study shows that the participative and consultative leadership styles are more useful than the directive style on social networking platforms. Thus, coaching and collaborating online is more useful to build trust, encourage subordinates to use online social networks, exchange ideas, and engage in online teamwork, than just monitoring or telling subordinates what to do.
Advantage of a variety of online platforms and online activities
As John Kotter (1990) suggested, effective managers, spend the majority of their time interacting with others. From our study, we can conclude that a greater number of activities which a leader undertakes on various networking platforms to interact with others is a key driver of the usefulness of the online network. Through a variety of activities and interactions, leaders can foster relationship building and general team building. Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton in their study described six roles of leaders in an online setting: producer, adviser, architect, analyst, recipient, and distributor.
About the study:
The study participants were managers, directors, and CEOs working in different size organizations (including Fortune 500 companies) in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russian Federation, Australia, and China. The sample consisted of 115 leaders.
In 1997, a McKinsey study described the "war for talent" as a strategic challenge and a key driver to competitive advantage. Currently, it seems that the war for talent has not only gone online, as there are more than 2 billion Internet users worldwide (Anthony Kosner, 2012), but it has also gone social, with 72% of all Internet users now active on social media (Jeff Bullas, 2014). We can see three main social media trends in talent management...