Life is complex. Arguments can be (and have been) made that it’s becoming more, not less, complicated. Technology, instead of merely simplifying the ways we do things, has actually just sped up the pace of getting things done. From research to communication to decision making, the world is moving at unparallelled speeds.
Think now to the role middle managers have historically played in organizations. For decades, their role has been one of message distribution, the living filters of corporate communications, the gatekeepers of valued information in the workplace. The role hasn’t changed. But the ways middle managers must play their roles has changed dramatically. Adapt or die, middle management is facing a risk of extinction if it fails to let go of traditional role definitions.
Let me give you an example…
For several years, I worked closely with the sales force of a large and successful corporation. The sales managers were the key conduit to getting messages to and from the company’s independent network of sales people. And the company thrived. Then came the perfect storm – increased market competition (and a slow response to the increased rivals by the company), technological innovations that produced greater consumer expectations, and the birth of social media.
Let’s just say the company was ill-prepared to deal with this conflux of situations. And because of these game-changing conditions, the role of the sales manager was diminished. Now, the company has tried desperately to carve out a new role for these managers, a sort of strategic partner with the sales folk. The problem is that the sales folk: 1) know more about their products, industry, and sales practices than the managers do, and 2) allowing communication to flow through the managers causes, simply put, a bottleneck easily replaced by more relevant use of social media. Quite honestly, the company now has the means of communicating more quickly, effectively, and directly with their sales force than ever before. And to rid the company of the sales manager would save literally millions of dollars a year.
So, why would anyone object to such a move? Well, that’s a more complex answer than you might expect. Between organizational cultural hindrances, stubborn top leaders who understand no way but the “old” way of doing things, and political maneuvering by the sales managers themselves, the company is content to allow extreme inefficiencies to remain.
The irony to all of this is that sales people themselves see and understand the pointlessness of these managers. Yet, nothing happens, and not because it’s a poorly understood situation. Rather, until senior leaders view social media as more than just a “cute” means for employee engagement, they will fall short of understanding its true utility.
Social media is here to stay. It’s not a flash in the pan. Those companies who grasp the leading edge will be propelled into the future. Those who miss the leading edge will be sliced and diced by the victors.
Which will you be?