Who should be your Chief Collaboration Officer?

There have been a couple of posts recently on the topic of whether organisations need  to have a new role of a Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO) . This is something close to my heart as I am in fact Senior Director of Collaboration in the Internet Time Alliance,  and I have been working recently with  a few organisations as they grapple with what it means to support a collaboration culture across the whole of their business. So today I want to take a look at what it might mean to be a CCO – and who might take on that role.

Back in October 2010 Morten Hansen asked the  question Who should be your Chief Collaboration Officer on the HBR Blog network.  The rationale for his post was …

“Increasingly, companies are embracing collaboration as part of their strategy to grow, by cross-selling products to existing customers and innovating through the recombination of existing technologies. But this won’t work unless employees work effectively across silos — across sales offices, business units, sales, product development, and marketing.

In most companies today, senior executives are still responsible for their unit — sales, marketing, HR, division A, division B. Yes, they are told to be team players and work with their peers. But that is often not enough. You need someone to look after the whole, by taking a holistic view of what is needed to get employees to work across silos”.

Morten thought that a current C-level executive should assume the mantle, and in his post mentioned five possible candidates: The current CIO, HR head, COO, CFO or Head of Strategy. He did think there might be other candidates  such as Chief Technology Officers in high-tech companies, but he also felt some senior executives were less suited for the job: head of sales, head of countries, and business unit heads, as they tended to be too focused on their primary role.

More recently Jacob Morgan asked the question,  Do organizations need a Chief Collaboration Officer? His rationale for such a role was

“More organizations are starting to deploy new collaborative tools and strategies as a core part of their business evolution to connect and engage employees.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult (especially at large companies) to oversee these initiatives as typically there isn’t a role devoted to collaboration.  Usually collaboration falls on the shoulders of employees (such as the CIO) with an existing full plate of things that need to get done. So is it about time for organizations to create the role of the CCO (Chief Collaboration Officer)?”

He also outlined the role he thought the CCO would have:

“I envision that this person, prior to deployment, would be in charge of efforts such as developing use cases, evaluating vendors, developing a strategy and road map, evaluating risks, and building a team (not having the CCO do this on his own).  After deployment this person would focus on integration, training programs, adoption strategies and the like.  The long term responsibility of the CCO would be scaling the program, fostering a collaborative culture, continually evaluating the program and adoption levels, and integrating collaboration within the overall business strategy of the company.  If you ask anyone from a large (or even mid-size) company that has been spending their time on collaboration they will tell you that it’s a full time job with new challenges and tasks just like any other.  Again the CCO needs to be someone that understands collaboration from not just a technology standpoint but from a business and people standpoint. .

But I think there is more to it than that. In my recent post I mentioned that as businesses become social businesses, collaboration and community skills are becoming the new workplace skills.  This of course adds a new dimension to the role of CCO – how to foster that collaborative culture by encouraging and supporting these new skills.

So  this does seem to be an area where a CLO/Head of L&D might be a good candidate for the role of CCO as s/he would bring something extra to the table – the ability help to identify what “good” collaboration behaviour might look like within their organisation, and to help to build an effective collaboration culture.

So, I asked Jacob,  why he hadn’t mention the possibility of the CLO taking on this new role, and he replied

“I didn’t mention the CLO but I certainly should have.  There are many roles which could assume the collaboration responsibilities which is why I wanted to avoid being prescriptive and instead chose to offer several scenarios. I think every organization is different when it comes to collaboration and I certainly see how the CLO could be the best person to run collaboration.  In fact at TELUS one of the key people responsible for collaboration is a senior director of learning.”

So when might the CLO be the best person to become the CCO within an  organisation? Well, I believe s/he will be the right person if s/he has (at least) the following credentials:

  • S/he will need to have a good understanding of the business, business processes and business strategy – not just learning theory
  • S/he will need to appreciate that organizational learning involves more than just training people and that collaborative (or social) learning is a fundamental and natural part of doing social business.
  • S/he will need a good knowledge of social and collaborative tools, and recognise that the primary collaboration platform in the organisation will be the one that underpins the work, ie some form of social intranet – but not a learning platform or system.
  • S/he will need to to believe that fostering a collaborative culture needs to be achieved by “modeling behaviours”  - rather than training and testing competencies in order for workers to obtain their “collaboration license” before they are allowed on the network. As I said in my recent post, although training will undoubtedly play some part in helping people understand the functionality of the technology, developing collaborative skills will require an ongoing, adaptive, organic “modeling” process – not a one-off training event.

It is true that for many CLOs to become a CCO will require a fundamental shift in the way that they view their jobs – and they may well not be interested in a role that is much broader than their current one. But I do know that there are already a growing number of CLOs who are thinking quite differently about their role in the organisation – and have the business and technology backgrounds that would make them ideal candidates for the role of CCO. What is more, by assuming the role of CCO, this will be a good way for them to impact the business far more than they currently can do

However, as Jacob says, every organization is different when it comes to collaboration, so who do you think should be your first Chief Collaboration Officer? Please leave your thoughts below.

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Jane Hart

Founder at C4LPT
Jane Hart is an independent Workplace Learning Advisor, Writer and International Speaker. Every year she compiles the Top 100 Tools for Learning activity. She also offer a number of online workshops on modernising workplace learning. Find out more about Jane and her work.

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