In five years, employees will be running much of the show at many companies, and executives should plan to get out of their way as much as possible.
That's the message Sara Roberts, president and CEO of Roberts Golden Consulting, told an audience at the annual Enterprise 2.0 conference here on Wednesday.
In an interview prior to her keynote speech, Roberts said that enterprises are facing a sea change, as important daily decisions are increasingly made by non-executive workers taking advantage of emerging Enterprise 2.0 tools that provide direct access to important information and key corporate contacts.
"When I say, 'Employees will be running your enterprise in five years,' I'm sure a lot of people are saying, 'Oh, come on. That's a bit of a stretch.' Actually, five years is [a conservative estimate]," Roberts told Computerworld.
"Employees are running a lot of enterprises now, she said. "The old way of managing has cracks and fissures."
Depending on the situation, it could take three, five or even 15 years for corporate managers to realize that the traditional corporate hierarchy no longer works, as younger, tech-savvy workers increasingly call for and use enterprise-level social collaboration tools.
"People think things have changed because of the economic downturn," and they're asking, "When are we getting back to normal?" Roberts said. "There's going to be a new normal -- we just need to get out of employees' way. We're going to have to equip employees to make decisions every single day so we can move quickly."
Roberts did stress that she's not advocating for leaderless companies. Instead, managers should create ways for employees to push through an operational shortcut or jump on a competitive advantage when they see it.
"Employees are no longer sitting back," Roberts noted. "We have to recognize that employees are resourceful and collaborative, and that they will do what they need to do to get a job done. This is the first time in our history that we have communications technology that can make a big company feel small, [offering] the human benefits of small companies that can help encourage creativity and collaboration."
Roberts told the story of a Fortune 100 retailer with a big, extensive bureaucracy that in the past required workers to seek out managers for information to help them make decisions.
Today, employees at that company use social networking software to query multiple colleagues, which can allow them to, for example, quickly find out who's the distributor for a product or to get a list of best practices for a particular problem.
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