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Ask a Gen Y


A Time for Change

February 24, 2012
Related Topics: Talent Management, Generations At Work
KEYWORDS ask a gen y

When we talk change, we most often discuss content delivery. We question the classroom’s place in employee development, promote action learning and marvel at the latest and greatest tools, but I don’t think we spend enough time dissecting the content we’re offering. This is something that’s more difficult for our publication or industry events to cover, seeing as the audience ranges across various industries and their respective subjects, but there are general business principles and leadership methods we’re not refreshing that pertain to all learning leaders and employees.

I came across this Harvard Business Review blog on leadership development earlier this week. Pekka Viljakainen’s (The Bulldozer) experience resonated with me, and I think it will with you too. In 1998 Viljakainen sold his company to Finnish IT services firm Tieto. Two years later, after the merger was complete, he joined the Tieto management team.

Viljakainen was used to managing 200 Finnish employees, with whom his straight-ahead approach got great results — hence the nickname, Bulldozer. Tieto grew, however, and Viljakainen found himself managing thousands of employees in Russia, China, Germany, the U.S. and other countries. The bulldozer approach no longer worked.  Tieto gave managers a leadership score every year, based on surveys of the people who worked for and with them. The best score was 100. Viljakainen had started out in the 90s. In 2002 he received a 54. A year later, after Tieto’s leadership decided that anyone with a leadership score under 25 should be fired, he got a 27. The solution to Viljakainen’s leadership dilemma was social media. In his Harvard Business Review post, he said:

I started actively, some would say overactively, using digital videos, webcasts and an internal blog to make sure everybody around the world knew what I was doing, and to get feedback. My blog was called Bulldozer’s Blog. I had a policy of posting everything that I had that was related to the business on it, as soon as I had it. Not pending contracts or other things that had to remain secret, but when I was working on draft presentation I was putting it in the blog.

Bulldozer's Blog was not about broadcasting information. It became more like a wiki than a blog. Other people in the company began commenting on it, adding additional materials. Five thousand colleagues per week were downloading material from it. They were not going because it was mandatory, but because they saw the value. The interaction was the most valuable part of it. Also, the mistakes. Everybody loves to see mistakes, especially when a leader makes public mistakes. If there are no mistakes, no failures, it doesn't work. It's not social media.

When Viljakainen retired from the company in 2010, his leadership score was above 90 again. This was largely due to his blogging efforts, his communication with his employees. More and more the workforce is community-oriented and internationally focused, and leadership needs to follow suit.

For example, Russian politicians — including the president — use Twitter to converse with the youngest generation and “ordinary” people. They believe potential and innovation is limitless if everyone is involved; they want to move away from an “us or them,” “old or young” mentality. Again, social media is the answer. The problem is leaders, especially those who didn’t grow up with it, don’t know how to properly use social media tools to develop themselves, employees and brand. The answer? A social media MBA.

Simply having a grasp on how to post on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or another platform is not sufficient. Business professionals need to understand how to integrate social into their everyday strategies. Unfortunately, many business schools are not recognizing the potential of new technology by offering courses in social media. Addressing it as a whole in one week of a semester is not sufficient. Briefly covering the leading sites, how many users sign on daily, how they are used by the typical user, and when each site was created does little to educate students on the significant part social media plays in business, especially leadership.

We’ve changed how we’re learning, and it’s time to change what we’re learning. What are you doing to put social media on your leadership development agenda?

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