Lessons from Social CEOs

As summer draws to a close, and fall begins, I wanted to share lessons learned from my over 30 interviews with Acumen portfolio and administration staff as well as chapter heads, investee CEOs, for-profit VCs in the U.S., nonprofits and designers.

Last time I blogged about our work in Knowledge Management, so I wanted to share the takeaways from my qualitative research on the Post-Investment Management side. Our goal was to determine 'How might we facilitate the exchange of best practices and solutions to common challenges among our CEO Network?'

We synthesized responses into four main insights for designing best-in-class CEO Network events and tools:

1. Social ties are a necessary foundation for CEO participation.

Prior to the study, we assumed that CEOs would engage with the network based on the

relevance of the offering to their key business issues. But from listening to success stories both from the Acumen team in Pakistan, as well as a veteran entrepreneur from the Y-Combinator program, we learned that in order for CEOs to want to participate in discussion groups and web seminars, they have to feel excited about their peers. In turn, this peer network can be a powerful force for driving CEOs to face problems they are uncertain about, thereby providing comfort in the face of ambiguity.

2. CEOs are eager to learn from their peers, but need help getting the conversation flowing.

Though we had assumed that CEOs primarily value training from experts on business planning topics such as finance and governance, we learned that peer-learning trumped other speakers and content. CEOs were eager to share their challenges and hear how others had dealt with the same. One topic of particular interest was the idea of sharing recommendations for contractors and consultants to reduce the risk of selecting a poor performer.

3. Though they differ in experience, CEOs want to learn about communications strategy & technology.

We had assumed that the most unique offering Acumen brought to its global CEOs was business education and access to celebrated entrepreneurs and funders in the social enterprise space. But multiple CEOs spoke of being able to learn business fundamentals in their own network. A surprising topic of interest that kept recurring in conversations was the desire to learn about communications strategy, in particular how crowd sourcing could be used given a diverse range of technical competency and access.

4. Acumen CEOs are interested in learning the "soft skills," too.

We had thought that given their professional values, Acumen's CEOs only wanted to learn the hard skills of business management, but several CEOs indicated interest in learning the "soft skills" of management as well. CEOs indicated interest in attending sessions on managing functional teams, and better understanding their core customer values.

As you can see from the above, this study helped us learn the value of checking assumptions at the door and listening to CEOs, to Acumen's network of experts, as well as analogous thinkers before investing time and money into creating offerings for our Post-Investment Management initiatives.

- Tiffany Card, Summer Intern with Acumen Fund - India

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