READ ON TO DISCOVER:
- Why many office environments can feel like a factory
- Why leaders need to change the way they listen
- How social media can help your business thrive—and even prevent a crisis
Mark Babbitt is a speaker, author, and blogger who serves as CEO and Founder of YouTern, a social community for college students, recent graduates and young professionals that Mashable calls a “Top 5 Online Community for Starting Your Career.” David Burkus is an award-winning podcaster and author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual. He recently hosted Mark on Radio Free Leader to discuss how social media is transforming the way businesses work, and why your boss should thank you for checking Twitter on the job.
David: The world of management is changing. Your book, A World Gone Social, [explains] that technology has changed the conversation and, in some regard, made almost everybody the PR department for a firm. What are the other factors that have led to this big shift in how we think about the role of managers?
Mark: A big part of it is that the Industrial Age beat the crap out of us. We got collectively tired of being a cog in the machine, going to school and working to get all this experience, and then not having a voice at work. It just made no sense to us. We haven’t been a manufacturing economy for a long time, yet we kept this industrial-age leadership/management mindset for decades after that was gone. Thank goodness in the last decade or so, we’re finally starting to see a shift in how people lead, and especially how people want to be treated in the workplace.
David: I think you’re right. Movies like Office Space and shows like The Office wouldn’t be funny if we hadn’t kept a lot of those industrial-era management practices, if we hadn’t dragged them with us from the factory to the office. Is social [media] the reason that we are making changes now?
“Social media gave us a way to articulate how frustrated we were, and to their credit, a lot of employers started listening to that.”
Mark: I think social [media] gave people the voice that we missed so much. If you weren’t living up to your potential at work, then human nature dictates that we blame something or someone, our boss, the process, the rules, something. And on social media, we started talking about that openly, out loud. I can remember we [used to say], “Don’t rock the boat. Don’t make waves. Just keep your head down, do what you’re told.” That’s that manufacturing mindset. Social media gave us a way to articulate how frustrated we were, and to their credit, a lot of employers started listening to that.
Even more important, other employees and potential employees started listening to that, and we started keeping track of the best CEOs and the best places to work. The word got around about the companies that were squelching creativity even though they were promoting themselves as a knowledge-worker environment.
David: You brought up a good point, that it was to [leaders’] credit they listened. Social scientists and communication theorists have known for a long time about what we call the mum effect, minimizing unpleasant messages. As something goes up through a hierarchal chain, the unpleasantness of the message gets stripped away. So I think before, the leaders were well-intentioned and really did think they were listening, but even when there were unpleasant messages, they were getting filtered out by the time they got to leadership.
Mark: Right, they were listening to a filtered version of the truth, and that’s a failure in management.
David: What’s so interesting about that is, most of the things that make for a good workplace right now are actually stripping away the junk that makes for a bad one. They’re practices of elimination. They’re practices of saying, “What’s holding our people back? Let’s get rid of that.”
“You’ve just got to suck it up and start listening.”
Mark: One of the things that holds people back is other people, and that’s where I think we’re seeing the biggest change: we’re identifying those who don’t want to hear the full message. Those that thrive on that filtered version of the truth are getting [into] hot water right now. Take Peter Aceto from Tangerine Bank, formerly ING Direct. He was one of those guys. He admits, “I loved my filter because it made everything sound better. It made it sound like I was doing a better job.” And once he personally got on Twitter and saw some of the negative comments from his bank’s best customers, he said, “I heard a completely different version of this story through eight layers of management. What the hell?”
Again, giving credit where credit’s due, he said, “That’s it, no more filtering. I need to know what’s really going on out there, or I can’t help.” So that’s probably what social does best. If you really want to listen, if you want to focus on what your customers or your employees really think about you as a brand [or] as a leader, it’s all right there. You’ve just got to suck it up and start listening.
David: There are benefits to a leader engaging with customers and employees on social media, but the biggest thing is that listening piece, finding a way to tap into an unfiltered perspective on what’s going on.
Mark: Your point is amazingly valid because I get how busy we are. When we talk to a CEO, [they say], “Look, I’m already working 14 hour days. You want me to be on social media?” So they hire an intern or a consultant to build a social media strategy that has this person tweeting 60 times a week, but he’s never seen any of his own tweets. It’s the wrong way to go about it.
You don’t need to be active on social media to be a good listener. Every morning, I get a cut-and-paste email, no filtering, from one of my team members that talks about everything everybody said about our organizations the day before. I don’t have time to go through every mention, right? We’re too busy for that, but you can have somebody collect that data and send it to you in an email. And in five minutes instead of two hours, you see everything relevant about your company [from] the day before. That’s listening without being overtly active. And you can reach out to those people and say, “Hey, just saw you had a great experience on YouTern. Really appreciate you mentioning it on social media.” Now the CEO is talking to somebody one on one, real time, and that gives you a huge advantage.
This conversation has been edited and condensed. To listen to the full version, click here.