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Paul Gorrell, Ph.D. Headshot

Managing in the Age of Gaga

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Lady Gaga proclaims from the stage of her Madison Square Garden show filmed for HBO that she once sat in the cheap seats dreaming of the moment when she would headline a concert in the famous arena. Now that she is here, she tells her little monsters that every one of them, too, will someday headline Madison Square Garden living out the same dream. Sorry folks, but there is no chance this is going to happen. If we really believe that we are on the "Edge of Glory," the title of one of Lady Gaga's recent hits, most of what we experience at work will end up seeming like the edge of mediocrity. This is the particular challenge of managing people in a time of extreme narcissism.

This Facebook-Twitter-reality TV world has led too many of us to believe that we all have potential to be celebrities. We update our social networking accounts with frequent non-compelling information demonstrating a belief that what we do on a regular basis is interesting to others. This is a world where it's all me, all the time with little sense of boundaries or prudence. Narcissus was completely caught up in the beauty of his own reflection. Too many of us are caught up in the importance of our status update.

This phenomenon has impact in the way people approach their careers and there are plenty of downsides. One is the difficulty in keeping employees engaged in their jobs. This is especially true of younger members of the workforce. Take the advertising industry for instance. A recent study by Arnold, a large advertising agency, and the leading association for the industry, found that 30 percent of the newer members of the workforce will leave their companies in the next 12 months and, if contacted by a recruiter, over 70 percent always return the call. Too many within the Facebook-era workforce reject the idea of building a career from within a company. Instead, they buy into a "grass is always greener" promise from a headhunter. When individuals do consider their current organizations, they ask for unrealistic promotional opportunity without any suggestion that they need to prove themselves by producing results. Some organizations have fallen into this retention trap with silly structures where managers have only one direct report who also have only one direct report. We are all managers now.

And, we are not being as productive as we think. While Americans now work longer hours than average among industrialized nations, we spend a lot of our work day in the blogosphere. Social networking does not stop when we get to our desks. Too often, it ramps up. Meanwhile, executives have adopted a work style which includes addiction to communication devices and reactive emailing. We have convinced ourselves that long hours and 24/7 accessibility is the sign of success and hard work. It is actually another expression of narcissism: The world cannot go on without me.

So, what can we do as managers in a narcissistic age? I suggest we tap into the very goal of social networking. We need to make connections. I have three suggestions about the types of connections which might help us succeed in management:

First, do a better job connecting the tasks of your employees to the strategic objectives of the overall enterprise. This is an old notion in management theory that was not invented here. But, it plays well with a group that wants to belong to a larger reality, a virtual world where content goes viral. Helping individual employees see their organization as a community that has big ideas which impact all employees and the marketplace at large enables them to feel connected to something bigger, something with real meaning and purpose.

Because of the distractibility of this age, we need to do this type of communication over and over again. Here, the manager needs to act more like a leader. She or he needs to sell the big picture and persuasively inspire.

Second, do a better job connecting the employees to each other. Social networking demonstrates our core need to feel connected to other people. We can argue that it is a shallow realization of this human need which ultimately leads to a lack of fulfillment. Nonetheless, it reminds us how we can keep employees engaged in their work. Today, managers should be more focused on team experience than ever. Businesses have promoted this idea in the way they configure workspace with bullpens of team activity. We should exploit this further by building more project-based teams with special assignments that connect people beyond silos. Here, we can embrace virtual teaming as well and expose our people to global partnerships across the organization.

And lastly, do a better job connecting your company to socially conscious causes. More and more, young people want to work in companies which are committed to positively influencing the world. Take Google and its Google Chrome advertisement, which featured the It Get's Better anti-gay bullying campaign showing how the web, and its product, can been used to promote and organize a positive cause. Today, businesses understand that commitment to social consciousness can actually attract and retain quality people. People want to work in companies that are committed to building the world while producing profit. They grow pride in their company brand when that brand stands for doing the right thing.

We might feel like there is a tidal wave of narcissism coming at us as we attempt to manage people in this social networking age. But, there are plenty of ways that we can positively respond to this moment increasing the capability of our people while meeting the goals of our business. We need to play to the interests of our new workforce instead of attempting to fight against them. They are not little monsters who are to be feared. In fact, if we do our jobs well, they might just be on the edge of something great. Maybe, even glory.