To get a glimpse of what tomorrow's young global managers might be like as leaders, take a look at how today's young people think about communications.
For one thing, they are devoted to connectivity. In a recent survey of more than 2,800 college students and young professionals in 14 countries, Cisco found that more than half said they could not live without the internet, and if forced to choose, two-thirds would opt to have an internet rather than a car. This intense desire to be connected leads to a demand for greater flexibility: Two out of five people said they'd accept a lower-paying job if the position offered greater flexibility on access to social media, the ability to work from where they chose, and choice on the mobile devices they could use on the job. Tomorrow's young managers will share these attitudes, and workplaces will inevitably become more flexible.
For another thing, social media is quickly overtaking phones and email and becoming the dominant form of communication. Young people are driving this change, with the one-to-one mode of interacting giving way to a one-to-many mind-set. Young leaders will use social media to create a running dialog with their employees and colleagues, issuing constant updates about their projects and ideas. Employees will use it to provide instantaneous input and feedback. Workers, via this medium, will insist on having a voice in shaping the company's vision and strategy.
The demand for increased connectivity and flexibility and greater use of social media will shape and change companies from the inside out. Companies will need to think hard about these questions:
- What is the appropriate level of openness? Should employees be prevented from slamming their bosses' ideas, for example? Should managers be restricted in the kinds of things they can say to or about employees?
- How much blurring of public and private life is too much? Social media encourages people to mix work- and nonwork-related communication, but some workers prefer to keep their social lives strictly off-limits.
- How can the company prevent abuse of social media? Things can get ugly quickly — all it takes is one thoughtless comment. Employees and managers need to know that there will be serious consequences for any misuse of this potentially combustible form of communication.
- When employees from VPs to interns are sharing company information on Twitter, on Facebook, and in blogs while your competition is watching, how do you ensure that your employees understand what information is confidential and what is public?
As companies resolve these issues, management styles will evolve. The days when a leader can confidently say "I know best" will come to an end. Managers will no longer be able to communicate with just a small circle of trusted advisers — they'll be expected to interact digitally with a much broader range of people both inside and outside the company.
Not every company will be pleased by this turn of events, of course, but those that embrace it will have new competitive opportunities. With knowledge flowing more freely throughout the organization and decisions being made more quickly, the company will be able to react more nimbly to the ever-increasing pace of change.
This post is part of the HBR Insight Center, The Next Generation of Global Leaders.