Change from the Inside-Out

Some of the most valuable business lessons I ever learned, I was taught in the early part of my career at McKinsey. One of these lessons was the idea that, "It's easier to change the people than to change the people." In other words, there's only so much that one can do to influence the behavior or thinking of another individual. If you're an HR professional or someone who has an interest in workforce management, this is actually a painful lesson to internalize. In our attempt to work with others, to lead, to teach, to manage, it's tempting for us to think that our actions, mandates, and counsel can truly control the behaviors of our peers, employees, and co-workers. In the end, the cliche "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," exists for a reason.

This is particularly true these days, especially when discussing executive buy-in and social media. Right now, everyone is struggling to make a case for these new tools, yet so many traditional thinkers still exist. Whether you're working for a vendor like Mzinga and selling social software to enterprise clients, a consultant at an agency advising businesses on how to use new technologies, or even an analyst writing about these trends, there's only so much we all can do to sway the masses.

There's a great post on "Why Executives Don't Get Social Media" that I think captures what most non-adopters feel. The reasons are simple: they don't see the business benefits, they're too stubborn, or they're too lazy.

What I propose is a simple solution, which is reverse mentorship. It's based on the premise that leaders or senior members of an organization "insource" knowledge from the young people within their companies, and work with them side by side to better understand these new tools.

For those willing to try this model out, consider the following:

  • Hire young people who are passionate about your industry. Capitalize on their passion. At a really practical level, young people have one thing that tenured professionals don't - time. They're not bound to families or kids and their cost of living is lower. Work isn't so much about the pay or the responsibility, but the opportunity to find something that makes them feel like they're making a difference.
  • Pair young members of an organization with senior management for weekly two-way training. The young person understands the technology. The older person understandsthe objective. Together, they collaborate to find new, innovative processes with rewarding business benefits. I did this with my former assistant, Alexa Scordato, who is now in our marketing department. In her time at Mzinga, she's helped me blog and tweet regularly, exposed me to exciting new startups, taught me how to navigate Facebook, and she did it with unending enthusiasm. In return, I gave her pointers on self-presentation, professionalism, business, and how to be successful using her strengths (being social). People try to direct me to blog posts all the time showing me "how to ____" but there's no substitute for 1:1 training.
  • Listen. Too often, we're dismissive of others because we're fixated on our own point of view. Take the time out to listen to members of your organization. Their knowledge is valuable, but it's only good if it's shared.

I understand that most executives don't really care about fostering relationships or building community. However, they do care about ways in which they can grow their businesses and save money. By now, there's enough research to support that social media does this and more (Just read Chris Brogan or Jeremiah Owyang's blogs for daily anecdotes and evidence). Those who are too stubborn or too lazy to opt in are missing out on a tremendous opportunity and the bottom line is really this: It's not about us anymore.

A generation of digital natives are entering the workforce and they're going to search for the tools that will allow them to connect and function in the ways that they know how to. Whether we adopt the tools or not is no longer relevant. Anyone with kids knows that these technologies aren't going away so we might as well pick up a trick or two and leave our legacy in their hands.

Cailin Darcy