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A Leader isn’t a Leader without Followers. This is convention, but do you know what type of Follower you are, and what type of Followers do you have as a Leader?
Take a look at this HBS Working Knowledge article which discusses the various categories of Follower – although it’s important to understand that a Follower’s behavior is specific to a single Leader. The article describes how a group following a leader are becoming more organized, and that their influence is increasing whilst the power and influence of the Leader is reducing.
This got me thinking about the impact of Web 2.0 and social networking. Take Facebook as an example. Groups are forming around brands such as Coca-Cola, external to the control of these entities themselves. The group organization is creating knowledge and awareness amongst what are their Followers, which in turn becomes power over the brand. Once the group reaches a critical mass, they begin to shape the future of the brand.
Can this translate into the corporate environment? I think it’s an interesting question. Particularly when you read about corporations considering bringing the power of tools like Facebook within their corporate boundaries. Will collaboration tools begin to create new socialist organizations?
To go back to the title question, and bringing in the HBS Working Knowledge article again, I think the future of employee power will depend on the culture of the organization insofar as whether it encourages or tolerates activists or diehards. Both of these types of followers will create the spectrum of influence that social networking inside the organization enables. I.e. if your organization is heavy on activists, then the power of Followers will be a force for what the workforce desires – your organization will become a co-operation. If your organization is heavy on diehards, then the power of Followers will embed your company values to unprecedented heights.
I think the key difference between consumer-oriented, external social networking around a brand and the internal version is that organizational policies will come into force. Business Leaders must understand the implications I describe above to be one step ahead of the worforce’s power-base. Rules and policies will be applied to the content. IT systems will be sophisticated enough to flag to Human Resources any groundswell of anti-corporate activities. If they don’t chaos could ensue.
Therefore, I think IT will be much more involved in the management of HR systems. I also think we might see a momentary definition of the new-world employee as Employee2.0
What I’ve written here are fresh thoughts and a fresh perspective I’d like to explore further, so I welcome your comments.
Update: There is a great article on mashable.com that discusses this subject