The open kimono CEO

I have always liked the saying “opening the kimono”.  For no particular reason really. I like the way it sounds. I like the Asian flavour and the suggestion of lush embroidered silk. And of course I like what it stands for – opening the doors and revealing the inner workings to an outside party.

It’s a phrase I use often. That is not hard to do when you are in the business of communications. I am often advising business leaders to open up more, share more information and generally loosen the belt around their kimono.

But in 2015 this saying has more relevance to organisations now than it ever has in the past.  Organisations want to maintain the support of well-informed employees, customers, shareholders and other stakeholders. There’s nothing new in that.  But what is new is that the goal posts have moved.

The advent of new, more open and interactive media channels, social networking and more savvy netizens means that people will no longer accept overly produced and manufactured communications materials designed to spin a carefully crafted corporate story.

Audiences need to see and experience the real authentic truth themselves; they need it to be endorsed by people like them that they know and trust; and what they hear needs to align with their experiences. If  it aligns,  they will share it and endorse it. If it doesn’t, they will reject, challenge and debate it.

This presents organisations with exciting new frontiers and new challenges. How open is open? Where is the line? What’s the difference between the perception of openness and real openness? Should a CEO have his or her own Twitter handle? Should the CEO blog? Does the CEO respond to comments? Can we let our employees make and post videos of their work? At what point are we revealing too much of our IP?

I know at least a dozen companies currently asking these sort of questions around the management and the Board table.

Some may be wondering why there is any discussion at all. And they are right – you can’t put your finger in the dyke of the multitude of communications channels that are opening up every day in and around you and your organisation. So you may as well get with the program and join in.

What is important is to embrace the challenge to at least take the initial steps, one at a time.  Just loosen the knot a little and before you know it your kimono will be flapping in the breeze and you will wonder why you didn’t do it years ago.