ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Publication Date : 10-03-2013
Is your organisation ready for the future?
It is already a cliche to talk about how the world is changing; the hard part is preparing the ground to realise the opportunities offered by the new truths. Today’s digital cowboys, digital natives who are globalised, thoughtful and engaged leaders, already accept the changes and offer interesting ideas about the opportunities.
Let me introduce you to five digital cowboys from the International Institute of Management Development's (IMD) MBA Class of 2012: Angelos, Aswini, Thibaut, Nael and Sophie. They were born between 1979 and 1985. Let’s say for simplicity they are 30 years old now.
You already know that they take computers and the Internet for granted. You probably picture them as Facebook junkies or online game addicts. But think more deeply about the world they know.
As young children, their first big world events were the Tiananmen Square massacre and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But they only knew about those events if they had direct local implications. As engaged teenagers, when they started to become aware of the world, they saw the Asian financial crisis, the realisation of climate change and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Just as they became adults, they saw the dot.com bubble burst, Enron fall, 9-11 and unchecked growth from resource use. For them, the 2008 global financial crisis was just another event, not such a defining one. It was inevitable.
Their perspectives as digital cowboys go far beyond technology fluency. They assume a set of beliefs about the world to which more senior leaders are still adjusting. More specifically, they assume:
• Boundaries and roles are fluid and permeable.
• Power is distributed, control requires permission.
• There is no success without sustainability for individuals, organisations, society and the environment.
These statements have always been true to some extent, but for centuries people have been able to lead as if they were not. Most senior leaders are now in the process of changing their assumptions. But these IMD digital cowboys start with them.
And they see opportunities in those assumptions. Recently they shared with a group of CEOs what they see, what they are missing and what possibilities they imagine.
Time to engage
“We see people being completely open and transparent about their current and former employers. When we’re interested in a company, the first thing we do is visit GlassDoor.com. It’s a social networking site where people share what they think of their companies, including salary information, insider tips about getting jobs there and even CEO approval ratings.
“You can only use it if you contribute and we can decide for ourselves if we trust the information. We go from there to LinkedIn to connect with current employees and get real time, real life insights. For us, the corporate website is a black hole and a very last resort.
“But we don’t see recruiters acknowledging the existence of this reality. We certainly don’t see leaders encouraging their employees to be honest about the company. This information is out there in spite of corporate policies. It is helpful, because it is honest and it builds credibility.
“Most companies disapprove of the use of Internet forums, except when it’s corporate-sponsored blogging. They want to keep the company boundaries clear and information private. Don’t they know this creates distrust and the information is there anyway?
“We know not to believe everything we read. Transparency helps us make our own decisions.
“Most CEOs don’t have a social media presence. But we keep getting taught that good leaders are people who listen. If they’re not where people are discussing, then what are they really listening to?”
Things need to change. Why don’t companies aim to be pioneers in open communication through these kinds of discussion forums, instead of being late adopters? More employee engagement and commitment would really attract the best employees.
Do leaders think that collaboration and open dialogue is only with the environmental protection agency? This can even make the employer-employee relationship better.
Imagine the goodwill that a common and open Internet platform brings. Both sides will come much closer. Besides, this can lead to retaining talent within the company and keeping them happier. Leveraging the knowledge of this talent, the sustained value becomes immeasurable.
Let’s talk about health
Now let’s take the example of a specific business sector - healthcare. “In this sector we see patients wanting to know more about their own health and to talk about it. Today social media lets them do this. Health is the third most popular activity on the Internet, with 80 per cent of Internet users searching health information online (Pew Internet project 2011). Today PatientsLikeMe.com has more than 150,000 subscribers, covering over 1,000 conditions.
Patients are no longer just consumers; they have become customers who can make choices.”
They point out they see doctors using social media to get guidance and challenge established ideas; that 60 per cent of doctors expect their online communication to increase in the future (Digitas survey in 2010) and there are more than 13,000 iPhone health apps. This market is expected to grow by 25 per cent in the next five years.
“But we don’t see healthcare corporations engaging in the dialogue. This seems strange, when they are clearly experts in their respective pathologies. We don’t see, or we’re not told, how they take patients’ feedback into account to improve their treatments. We also don’t see much trust between healthcare corporations and the different stakeholders.
“Neither patients nor doctors are motivated to engage with pharma companies online. Doctors are three times more likely to engage with other doctors and twice as likely to engage with patients, than with pharma firms (March 2010 survey by EPG in five large European countries).
Imagine the sustainable competitive advantage a healthcare company could develop by building on those rich online insights and creating trust with patients and physicians. It will ultimately be rewarded by superior brand recognition and lasting loyalty and by a healthier society.
Out with the old, in with the new?
This is just a window into my day as the MBA Program Director at IMD. I hear conversations like this all the time, with topics ranging from sports to heavy industry to consumer products and music to a wide variety of services. Yes, these younger leaders still need to learn a lot from experience. But as a senior leader once said, “if inexperience were a crime, the jails would be full.”
Senior leaders can learn a lot about building organisations for the future by listening to words about social media and idealism.
So will you leave an organisation that is based on the old assumptions of boundaries, power, control and success? Or will you find opportunities in the new assumptions?
If you’re not sure how to find the opportunities, ask your digital cowboys.
Maznevski is Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at IMD and the MBA Program Director.