BOSTON -- Middle management is one of the key obstacles to the adoption of user-generated content tools such as blogs, wikis and RSS feeds in businesses, argued panelists at the Enterprise 2.0 show June 11.
Sean Dennehy, who as an evangelist for the Central Intelligence Agency, struggled to get colleagues in management to accept and adopt the organization's Intellipedia wiki application, told panel moderator Andrew McAfee as much.
"Is it that middle management is actively trying to squelch them, or is it that they're just passively not onboard?" asked McAfee, who coined the term Enterprise 2.0 as an educator for Harvard Business School.
Dennehy: "They're not onboard yet. They're not comfortable with the tools. They're not sure how the tools fit into the existing processes. We have more generations in the work force now and some of those middle managers are not comfortable with the Web or an Internet browser so it's a challenge."
The concept is a frightening one. Businesses count on middle management to grease the wheels of business processes. If middle management isn't going to get onboard with using blogs and wikis to disseminate information, how will the rest of the business proceed? They won't, or if they do, it will be ad-hoc and perhaps less effective workgroup collaboration.
Intellipedia Doyen Don Burke elaborated on his colleague's assessment by saying the fundamentals of management have not changed in the last 40 to 50 years even though technology has evolved tremendously in the Internet age.
"Middle management is about making the trains run on time. Their job is to do today's job and do it as well as fast and as effective and as efficient as they can. Change is extraordinarily disruptive. It means you have to let some of your best people go away and play for awhile."
He added that incentives in management hierarchies are not designed to leverage these changes, but rather to reward people for making the trains run on time.
So, middle managers in their '50s will likely not have been as exposed to computers and their corresponding technologies the way, say, twenty-somethings in Generation Y have. "Neurologically speaking, those brains are completely different. It's not appropriate to blame one group or another, it's just that change is occurring so rapidly now."
It's not that the brains of people in different generations are wired differently (though everyone can have a ball debating this one in the public sphere), it's that the way older generations adopt the tools is different.
For example, and completely contrary to some belief that older generations don't use enterprise 2.0 tools, Burke said a 69-year-old CIA agent has done more than 30,000 edits on Intellipedia.
This is because he uses Intellipedia to post all of his content, an extension of his upbringing that people are supposed to use one tool to do all of their work. By contrast, Generation Y CIA agents use the application situationally, and use other apps for different information sharing.
Meanwhile, Ned Lerner, director of tools and technology for Sony Computer Entertainment (the video game software unit), said he comes from a different world. Sony introduced wikis in 2004, but most programmers of various ages within his group already used them and the real challenge was not adoption, but "getting them to switch to our system."
"You couldn't even make a game and organize 200 people without collaboration tools."
Lerner added that such tools are dominant within the product and development side of the industry, but less so in human resources, finance and legal departments. That said, all it takes is one champion within a department or workgroup. If one respected leader starts blogging or posting to a wiki, others will follow.
It also helps when management admits something is important and seeks help to "get it," according to Pete Fields, senior vice president for the e-commerce division at Wachovia bank.
Fields said his chief information officer didn't grasp the enterprise 2.0 tools coming to the fore but acknowledged them as transformative. So, he sought out a "couple Gen-Y folks in his group to be reverse mentors."
If management swallows their pride and seeks enlightenment, more businesses will start to embrace enterprise 2.0.