It's time to reinvent management. You can help.

The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500

by Gary Hamel on September 17, 2010


gary-hamel's picture

The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500

The experience of growing up online will profoundly shape the workplace expectations of “Generation F” – the Facebook Generation. At a minimum, they’ll expect the social environment of work to reflect the social context of the Web, rather than as is currently the case, a mid-20th-century Weberian bureaucracy.

If your company hopes to attract the most creative and energetic members of Gen F, it will need to understand these Internet-derived expectations, and then reinvent its management practices accordingly. Sure, it’s a buyer’s market for talent right now, but that won’t always be the case—and in the future, any company that lacks a vital core of Gen F employees will soon find itself stuck in the mud.

With that in mind, I compiled a list of 12 work-relevant characteristics of online life. These are the post-bureaucratic realities that tomorrow’s employees will use as yardsticks in determining whether your company is “with it” or “past it.” In assembling this short list, I haven’t tried to catalog every salient feature of the Web’s social milieu, only those that are most at odds with the legacy practices found in large companies.

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing. On the Web, every idea has the chance to gain a following—or not, and no one has the power to kill off a subversive idea or squelch an embarrassing debate. Ideas gain traction based on their perceived merits, rather than on the political power of their sponsors.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials. When you post a video to YouTube, no one asks you if you went to film school. When you write a blog, no one cares whether you have a journalism degree. Position, title, and academic degrees—none of the usual status differentiators carry much weight online. On the Web, what counts is not your resume, but what you can contribute.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed. In any Web forum there are some individuals who command more respect and attention than others—and have more influence as a consequence. Critically, though, these individuals haven’t been appointed by some superior authority. Instead, their clout reflects the freely given approbation of their peers. On the Web, authority trickles up, not down.

 4. Leaders serve rather than preside. On the Web, every leader is a servant leader; no one has the power to command or sanction. Credible arguments, demonstrated expertise and selfless behavior are the only levers for getting things done through other people. Forget this online, and your followers will soon abandon you.

 5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned. The Web is an opt-in economy. Whether contributing to a blog, working on an open source project, or sharing advice in a forum, people choose to work on the things that interest them. Everyone is an independent contractor, and everyone scratches their own itch.

6. Groups are self-defining and self-organizing. On the Web, you get to choose your compatriots. In any online community, you have the freedom to link up with some individuals and ignore the rest, to share deeply with some folks and not at all with others. Just as no one can assign you a boring task, no can force you to work with dim-witted colleagues.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated. In large organizations, resources get allocated top-down, in a politicized, Soviet-style budget wrangle. On the Web, human effort flows towards ideas and projects that are attractive (and fun), and away from those that aren’t. In this sense, the Web is a market economy where millions of individuals get to decide, moment by moment, how to spend the precious currency of their time and attention.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. The Web is also a gift economy. To gain influence and status, you have to give away your expertise and content. And you must do it quickly; if you don’t, someone else will beat you to the punch—and garner the credit that might have been yours. Online, there are a lot of incentives to share, and few incentives to hoard.

 9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed. On the Internet, truly smart ideas rapidly gain a following no matter how disruptive they may be. The Web is a near-perfect medium for aggregating the wisdom of the crowd—whether in formally organized opinion markets or in casual discussion groups. And once aggregated, the voice of the masses can be used as a battering ram to challenge the entrenched interests of institutions in the offline world.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions. As many Internet moguls have learned to their sorrow, online users are opinionated and vociferous—and will quickly attack any decision or policy change that seems contrary to the community’s interests. The only way to keep users loyal is to give them a substantial say in key decisions. You may have built the community, but the users really own it.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most. The web is a testament to the power of intrinsic rewards. Think of all the articles contributed to Wikipedia, all the open source software created, all the advice freely given—add up the hours of volunteer time and it’s obvious that human beings will give generously of themselves when they’re given the chance to contribute to something they actually care about. Money’s great, but so is recognition and the joy of accomplishment.

12. Hackers are heroes. Large organizations tend to make life uncomfortable for activists and rabble-rousers—however constructive they may be. In contrast, online communities frequently embrace those with strong anti-authoritarian views. On the Web, muckraking malcontents are frequently celebrated as champions of the Internet’s democratic values—particularly if they’ve managed to hack a piece of code that has been interfering with what others regard as their inalienable digital rights.

These features of Web-based life are written into the social DNA of Generation F—and mostly missing from the managerial DNA of the average Fortune 500 company. Yeah, there are a lot of kids looking for jobs right now, but few of them will ever feel at home in cubicleland.

So, readers, here are a couple questions: What are the Web-based social values that you think are most contrary to the managerial DNA one finds inside a typical corporate giant? And how should we reinvent management to make it more consistent with these emerging online sensibilities?

You need to register in order to submit a comment.

aleksandar-zivaljevic's picture

Thanks for the interesting read. My notes:

-Characteristic No 4: I would add here that web groups not necessarily have to have a leader. Groups can have contributors (or participants) only. Leaders (if any) frequently change over (short period of) time. I believe that leadership needs to be redefined to match the situation on the web. Servant leader situation applies in different way than described in literature.

-Characteristic No 11: This is only partially true. The situation is more gray then this. Good part of contributors is motivated by real gain. Take political content on Wikipedia. If your political group does not do it, other group will and then your idea suffers. Some contributors are well paid government officials. Good percent of open source projects have a pay version as well. This is how it goes: open project starts, collects enthusiasts willing to contribute, then when the product is stabile, pay version of the product appears and original initiators start making money. One would comment 'what about enthusiasts contributing to the project, they are after intrinsic reward'. The answer is again, partially, yes. The question is how many of them would do that because of the intrinsic reward, how many of them would do that as a school project, how many would do that to improve their CV and how many would be just young, easy to manipulate (in a bad context of that word) individuals.

I see web groups as just another type of group people make on the go. Web is a new environment and has its own rules. The difference between web and corporate environment is obvious and expected and individuals are aware that behaviour has to be adjusted accordingly. I understand corporate environment is imperfect and would benefit from a change in many aspects (political, communication...), but I still can't see benefits of drawing from rather chaotic web model.

paola-de-vecchi-galbiati's picture
The Social Networks implemented a "natural" organization of human relations: first observed how people work and live, then they formalized the process. And we can choose the most suitable for us, those most suitable for our needs.

Instead, the Hierarchy' models Fist formalizate of the organization, processes and technologies and then engages people, and forcing them to adapt ...

These models, which in past centuries have ensured the well-being, have shown their limits: why?
because the welfare is for few people and because also the most opened models are not able to describe future events.

The changes occur  "by chance or by necessity", as J. Monod said.

In my opinion, Facebook met by chance many needs.

with my best regards,
rubens-yanes's picture
Professor Hamel: very challenging article.
I was wandering how you had identified the "12 work-relevant characteristics of online life", since I am interested in gathering information about it. 
Do you know any survey, test, or field study that could validate the 12 charasteristics that you mentioned?
Thanks for your references!
cecil-dijoux's picture
This is a glorious article. Thanks you Gary, you are a great inspiration.

This echoes the 10 principles of Enterprise 2.0 and a post I wrote a while back : Digital Natives Vs Corporate BS : how to communicate with the millenials in the enterprise.

karla-s-mckee's picture

The doors are open 24/7.  One can communicate, search for information, and share knowledge anytime, any day. Work/Life balance does not necessarily mean work less, play more; it means flexibility to choose when to do each according to real—rather than traditional—time constraints. Surf’s up? Finish that report tonight. Customer or team deliverable due Monday morning? Work through the weekend and take time off afterward.

This means managers must rely on trust instead of surveillance, and will need to measure value instead of time. Employees must be rewarded for showing results, not for showing up. Customers must be charged for value received, not for billable hours. For many managers and corporate cultures, this will require a significantly different mind set. 

However, although Generation F might be spurring the change, it will make work much more engaging, and productive, for everyone.
jaxi-west's picture
EXCEPTIONAL Article Gary!!!!! 
I sort of 'understood' knew some of this - but never put it altogether, nor did I realize how influential it really was to the actual future workplace. 
 I Love the way you wrote it all - and I learned a few things. Heck, I didn't even know there was an 'official' Generation F" 
Thank you very much! I am tweeting and referencing this article in my blog too :)
Jesse made a good point too....which got me thinking...If you start putting together a larger list - it could be a book: The New Corporate America Rules - 'Follow' Gen F 
Jaxi :)
axelle-tessandier's picture
This is probably already things they know. this kind of rules are all over the Web since years
Just be genuine should enough. 
@axelletess , from the Generation Y, digital natives, digital hippies or any other words people like to use to feel in a well known land.. ;-)
jesse-goldman's picture
Professor Hamel: One of the other things I've experienced working with Gen F employees is the weight they put on happiness and fulfillment at work. I agree that few of them will feel at home in cubicleland - they want "more." That's where I believe the 12 features you outline come into play: they are prerequisites to happiness and fulfillment for Gen F employees.
I would add a 13th to the mix: "Frequent Feedback is a necessity, not a luxury." For Gen F, feedback is more important than ever. Everything Gen F employees do is in real-time and they're used to instant exchanges. Waiting to know how they did on a project, not knowing what others think of them is more painful for this generation than any other. So even if we adapt our work environment and management approach for the Gen F, if we don't change the way we interact with our employees, we won't see the expected results.
Despite the challenging job market these days, many Gen F candidates will still approach their hunt looking for an environment that will create meaning and fulfillment - and they're not afraid to shop around until they find what they want.  How we bring together these features together, and how we communicate with our teams can be a key differentiator in attracting top talent. It's probably the biggest challenge for many managers.