Leadership vs. Management in the New-Age Work Environment

Nishant Rao, Managing Director, LinkedIn India
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Nishant Rao, Managing Director, LinkedIn India
LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) is a business-oriented social networking service. Founded in 2002, the company was launched in 2003 and is headquartered in California.

The world of work as we used to know it has changed forever. Yet by and large our management practices have remained the same. To be clear the basic objectives - understanding needs of the organization,having a clear strategy and communicating vision to all - will be evergreen. But it is my belief that HOW we go about achieving those look completely different from the past. As geographic boundaries blur and we operate in a cohesive global economy, it forces us to think cross culturally. With the advent of millenials (65 percent of India's population is under-25), it is imperative we understand these new employees who come with a very different world-view and expectations from management. And finally in an always-on world where change is often happening in real-time, speed of decision-making becomes a vital competitive advantage we must harness. So where earlier we needed managers to "manage" (implying a top-down command structure), success in the new work environment is contingent on managers becoming leaders that "lead" (implying a decentralized style of functioning).

Here are three aspects to think about in making this shift:

Where and how you look for information must be different: Given how fast things move and how much data one has access to, spotting trends early and learning from others' experiments can be a huge benefit even if they come from a different geography, industry or function. We've instituted peer-sharing forums like global all-hands & sister city programs to help teams collaborate, identify relevant insights and stimulate each other. Moreover it's important to leverage the fact that our younger workforce has a very different way of looking at things. I highly encourage initiatives like reverse-mentoring and employee listening sessions to ensure we are tapping into the slew of fresh thinking happening on our teams everyday.

Decision-making must be iterative rather than definitive: In the past there may have been a single solution to the problem (and if something failed you found out much later). Today, markets change much quicker and signals are being sent by customers and users much more frequently. In such an environment, time to market becomes a competitive advantage so we must be comfortable making quicker, more 80/20, calls and then iterating/course-correcting along the way. Moreover, every failure is really just a learning experience so as leaders, we must encourage pilots and experiments that allow teams to fail fast so they can learn quicker (just as the consumer internet does).

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