Social media is changing everything.
It’s changing how we elect politicians (and then how we express our regret for electing them).
It’s changing how we choose to be engaged and entertained – because, really, who doesn’t feel happy about living in a world where we’re just a click away from YouTube skateboard tricks gone wrong or cats who sing the national anthem?
And, of course, it’s changing how we work. Or rather, how we shouldn’t work.
And according to the Very Big Brains a Harvard Business School (“we don’t get into the NCAA basketball tournament, but we could own it if we really wanted to”), that’s exactly what’s happening.
Here’s the thing: In its review of The biggest business developments, the high foreheads on the HBS faculty say that social networking is transforming the way we communicate and produce at work by flattening the organization.
That (somewhat scary) term simply means that information doesn’t need to flow up and down anymore. It can, through social networking tools, flow laterally from work group to work group – which is apparently much more efficient.
And that’s good news for everyone in the organization except for – you guessed it – Middle Managers, who are left wondering where, oh where, did their little staff go? Because if there’s no need for information to flow up and down, there’s really not much need for middle management.
Or is there?
We think there is. But only if Middle Managers can adjust and re-invent themselves to fit into a social networking/lateral communication world. And here’s how they can do that in this bold, 21st century, YouTube, cat-signing world:
- Middle Managers evolve into systems-builders. That is, they can leverage the fact that they – alone – have a perspective on workplace systems that no other role/function has, because they see how things flow and how they don’t. Yes, thinking in terms of systems and system improvement is a new language for a lot of Middle Managers, but those who learn it and use it effectively will find that instead of being extinct, they’ll become celebrated.
- Middle Managers may not govern information in the way that they used to – i.e. rolling it out to subordinates and then rolling it back in – but that doesn’t mean they no longer have an information-function. They do. But in a flatter organization, it’s more about gathering the right kind of information and then using it to produce valuable insight. Admitedly, this is less of a hands-on role than what Middle Managers are used to. But in the Information Age where the right information at the right time is often the difference between success and failure, Middle Managers who use their talents (and develop new ones) to gather, organize and present information will be worth their weight in gold. Or data, rather. Good, useful, happy data.
- Middle Managers should form workgroups and integrate with other Middle Managers, so they can share what’s working and help each other avoid what isn’t. At first, these working groups may not have a whole lot of support (read: none) from leadership – but that’s okay. Middle Managers can’t afford to wait for leaders to read this article and get behind this idea. Instead, they should do what they can to organize and demonstrate the value of Middle Management integration, and then behold all of the leadership support they get (and, alas, the credit for integrating in the first place that they’ll lose).
So, yes: the world of work is changing. Information flows are getting flatter, and they’ll continue to do so. But this doesn’t spell doom for Middle Managers. It’s really all about change and adjustment, and finding out how to make things work in this new, social-networking-dominated world of work.
As Charles Darwin said, only the fittest (or those with cats who can sing the national anthem) will survive.
How right he was. Meow Charles, you crazy nut. Meow.