E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

How Will You Manage?

Tenerife - Mount Teide's SurroundingsI know that plenty of folks out there do not buy into the argument of the generational divide; most people think it’s just something that has been designed and developed to sell the concept of Enterprise 2.0 to businesses (Specially, if you think about the good old KM meme of "Knowledge Transfer" of senior employees about to retire to younger ones). So naming conventions like Traditionalist, Boomer, Gen X or Millennial all seem to be bogus, but are they really? I mean, when was the last time, while at work, you stopped doing what you were doing and started looking around at the various peer knowledge workers close to you?

I bet that in most cases you may have found two or three different generations working together in the same project, being part of the same team or belonging to the same communities. So how do they get along well with one another then? How are they managed? Not sure what you would think, but I *do* believe there is such distinction of how various generations get to collaborate and share knowledge across with their peers in the same working environment.

That’s also the incredibly provocative phenomenon that this YouTube video titled "How Will You Manage?" (Put together by Kronos) tries to cover over the course of nearly 5 minutes. If you are an skeptic on the concept of the generational divide I would strongly encourage you all to have a look and watch it. It may, or may not, change your perspective on things, specially around those folks working closer with you. However, one thing I can certainly assure you is that it would make you think twice about the whole subject and I am certain you won’t be looking at your peers in the same fashion as before any longer. And if not, judge for yourselves…

What I have found really interesting about this YouTube video is how having multiple generations at work (Here inside IBM I got colleagues I work rather closely with who would cover up to four different generations working together! So you can imagine some scenarios sometimes…) will surely present new challenges for one specific part of the workforce: managers.

That’s right! Somehow it looks like the current corporate environment (And, definitely, the future workplace) will probably require a new breed of leaders that would hopefully be able to manage those generations (Working mostly in a distributed virtual world across the globe) in much more meaningful ways than ever before, perhaps even leaving behind that traditional flavour of command-and-control and, instead, take on much more of that leadership role that perhaps managers of the future should be having as one of their primary and fundamental skills.

Definitely, the kind of new leadership that Jemima Gibbons describes quite nicely in her recent book "Monkeys with Typewriters" (Book that I can certainly highly recommend everyone to read, if you would want to see how social computing is changing not just the way we do business, but also who we are as social knowledge workers) when describing the kind of leadership role that Gina Poole (IBM’s VP, Social Software Programs & Enablement (BlueIQ), SWG Web Marketing & Sales), amongst several other leaders, defines for herself with her own team:

"More pure leadership than command and control…in the old management era, knowledge was power. Now in the social era you want to unleash the knowledge. The powerful person is the one who can lead by influence. You don’t need a big budget and lots of direct reports. I can lead more effectively by influencing others, getting them excited and having them join my movement. It feels like you’re managing more of a matrix. Listening is very important"

The main challenge though remains as to whether traditional management, and all businesses for that matter, would be willing to let go that command-and-control attitude and, instead, allow their own employees to become those new leaders of today’s interconnected, distributed corporate world. I am sure most folks, at this point in time, would probably be thinking about the risks involved and how to managed them. Me, instead, would be thinking about the huge potential of how social computing is helping define the future of the workplace by co-sharing plenty of that leadership responsibility with people, who were hired for being, and acting, as professionals in the first place. I think it’s time for the corporate world to grow up and start treating their various generations at work as who they really are: people. The Social Web.

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7 comments

  1. Excellent post Luis. I agree with you. When I look at my back, I see a tsunami of young people joining or ready to join the workplace in the next few years with a lot of new fresh ideas. Applying the traditional command and control schema will head them to burn-out people, apart of limiting their potential and creativity. Definitively, a great challenge for managers.

    1. Hi Ferdy! Many thanks for dropping by and for the great feedback comments! I agree with you on those very key points, although I would go one step further and perhaps venture to state that those younger generations would be thinking in pretty different terms than the rest of us did. We probably didn’t care much about command-and-control and go for the job because we thought it was the right thing to do.

      I doubt that would ever happen anymore with the younger generations. I think they would be much more informed about how a particular business would operate and how their creativity may well be impacted in the long run and if they sense a glimpse of that command-and-control attitude I bet they wouldn’t even think about joining those companies, which means those managers would have a much bigger issues: how are they going to manage to retain some of the knowledge from the senior knowledge workers, as they retire, when they would not have younger talent around to absorb it and re-apply it again?

      Interesting times for both traditional and new business leaders, don’t you think?

  2. Luis, you’re right. Just as an experiment, take a look to sites like glassdoor.com. You’ll realize that most of the complaints about workplace, even in the “best companies to work”, are always “management”!

    1. Hi Ferdy! Thanks for the follow up comment and for adding further up! I have just been peeking through glassdoor.com and WOW! Talking about going through some fundamental changes in leadership! Goodness! Quite revealing, to be honest! I guess there is still plenty of work to get through in this area if we would want to change those perceptions on what our new leaders should be like and how they should behave, and treat!, their colleagues. Lots of work, indeed, ahead of us!

    1. Hi Laurie! Thanks for dropping by and for the great comments! Well, I guess it’s probably a combination of a number of factors that those companies will need to start asking themselves and rather soon!:

      1. Are they willing to leave behind that command and control attitude?

      2. Will they also leave behind that fear of the unknown / unexpected and start trusting ever so much more their employee workforce?

      3. Will they want to step forward and help prepare the leaders of the 21st century?

      4. Will they be willing to trust their knowledge workers “do the right things”, since they have hired, in the first place, professionals?

      5. Will they finally realise the more opposition they put to it the worst it would be? For all of us?!?!

      I would love to know how they would be answering each and everyone of those questions, because I think they would be the first starting point towards provoking that change, but will the?

      Time will tell …

  3. Ah Luis, that’s a lovely post and a really valid point about the different approaches between generations.

    Thanks for mentioning “Monkeys with Typewriters” – it’s always great to see a positive comment about the book!

    Of course you’re quite right about the need for a new type of leadership and I think the stuff that you’ve more recently been telling me about social media rings true here: as people now appreciate that social tools are here to stay, they are also generally aware that command and control is no longer the way forward.

    But a lot of the problem lies in what legendary management consultant Chris Argyris described as “espoused theory” versus “theory in practice” – look at our own British Prime Minister Gordan Brown: his colleagues accuse him of bullying, while he just describes himself as sensitive, passionate and emotional.

    Before worrying about the behaviour of the people around them, I fear many of these “old-fashioned” managers you refer to (and they come in all ages!) need to first attempt to look at and understand their own actions and motivations. Doing this would make them better leaders and improve their level of what that amazingly clever psychologist Daniel Goleman termed as “Emotional Intelligence” – essential in top leaders of all ages.

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