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Belinda Gannaway

Looking After Managers in the Enterprise Social Networked Organisation

Enterprise social is on the agenda of many organisations right now as a way to open up communications and foster new ways of working. As internal networks are rolled out, there is much talk about the role of senior leaders in modelling the right sort of behaviour to get people to join (see Inviting Leaders to the Enterprise Social Network Party).

What is less often considered is the role of managers working in the middle tier of the organisation.

Role of middle managers in change

Research by government-backed taskforce Engage for Success demonstrates that middle managers have a key role in embedding change. But when it comes to establishing new, more social ways of working, managers face a myriad of additional challenges. Unfortunately the truth is that many managers will not be well equipped to deal with the new demands placed on them by the internal social network.

In the new white paper 12 Steps to Enterprise Social Networking Success I suggest managers need to be supported to deal with the realities of an increasingly social workforce.

With or without the introduction of an enterprise social network (ESN), the workforce is changing. Employees have higher expectations of the organisation and are demonstrating new behaviours as a result.

Add to the equation a properly embedded social network inside the organisation, and suddenly the speed of change is dramatic. And managers find themselves operating in an utterly different context almost overnight.

New demands on managers 

Some of the new demands on managers in a socially networked organisation include the need to:

  • Model new ways of working for their teams and the wider organisation
  • Drive adoption by moving regular processes on to social
  • Become an advocate for the ESN
  • Innovate or harness entirely new ways of working within their teams
  • Answer questions in real time and in public
  • Work out loud – giving up and down stream reports greater visibility of what they’re doing
  • Build a personal brand that resonates in the social space
  • Demonstrate a range of new career enhancing attributes such as greater transparency and a willingness to be challenged in public
  • Coach team members to develop new skills and attitudes
  • Learn to manage teams who are increasingly remote

So it’s no wonder many of the managers (and business leaders) we are mentoring through this change are, quite frankly, scared.

Fear of change

Fear manifests itself in many ways.  But one common refrain we hear is: “I’m letting my younger team members take a lead on social, they’re much more comfortable with it.”

For me, the age card is a smokescreen for anxiety. For fear of getting it wrong. For fear of looking foolish. Fear of change. And, critically, fear of losing something – more often than not, a fear of losing power.

The impact of democratising knowledge

Where that fear comes from (as neatly explained in Anna’s blog post Hierarchical vs Networked Learning) is rooted in the way hierarchical organisations appoint and reward managers. In traditional organisations, knowledge is power and the higher up the organisation you go, the more access to knowledge you have.

When knowledge is democratised, power can be perceived as slipping away from managers and leaders. So if you are a middle manager and your propriety knowledge is now open to all, you may start to feel vulnerable about what your position is based on.

It’s a big issue and one that all socialising organisations need to think about. HR, L&D and the like need to support middle managers by helping them break down and work on their fear. A key part of that will be working with managers to identify new opportunities for them in the more social world.

Supporting managers with more social ways of working

Managers will also need help to understand and cope with the changing nature of management in the organisation. What it looks like, what the expectations of managers now are and what new challenges they will face.

How many managers will get the support they need remains to be seen. But if a large chunk of expertise and organisational knowledge isn’t to be lost, it is definitely an effort worth making.


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