With workers who expect to have their voices heard, and social media tools to enable that, it is now possible — perhaps even paramount — to build a far more open communication environment within organizations.
Editor’s Note: This article is one of a special series of 14 commissioned essays MIT Sloan Management Review is publishing to celebrate the launch of our new Frontiers initiative. Each essay gives the author’s response to this question:
“Within the next five years, how will technology change the practice of management in a way we have not yet witnessed?”
If you want to see how management is changing, take a look inside today’s high-tech offices. In the past, corporate leaders sat behind closed doors in large private suites. Today, many sit side by side with employees in open workspaces. In the past, workers toiled alone in cubicles, waiting for formal meetings to speak with their managers and colleagues. Today, they turn and chat with the managers and colleagues sitting right next to them, while conversing with others on digital chat systems that connect the entire organization, and with yet others in lounge areas and cafés built to promote informal connection and dialogue.
These changes are surface manifestations of a deeper transformation under way: Long-held assumptions about corporate communication and hierarchy are breaking down. Social media tools allow more open communication up, down, and across the corporate hierarchy. In the coming years, the savviest leaders will tap into the spirit and tools of openness from social media to build what I call conversational firms.
Over the past decade, social media has transformed how people communicate in their personal lives. It is beginning to do the same in our work lives. Millennials who grew up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and the like are now the fastest-growing portion of the labor force. They are accustomed to constant connection and information access and engage in more open sharing than generations past. And they are carrying these expectations and habits into the workplace.
Meanwhile, the last several years have seen an explosion of social media tools designed for use inside companies — everything from wikis and microblogs, to multichannel platforms such as Yammer, Slack, and HipChat, to employee feedback tools such as TinyPulse. With workers who increasingly expect to have their voices heard, and with tools to enable that, it is now possible — perhaps even paramount — to build more conversational firms.
Conversational firms differ from conventional bureaucratic ones by having a far more open communication environment.