Slack, the start-up that runs the eponymous communication tool for businesses around the world, was recently reported to be closing in on an IPO sometime this year. For many who have watched its rapid rise and proliferation of global clients, this might not be too surprising.
Already, major firms appear to have jumped to its platform, which allows employees to communicate in groups and individually, dynamically sharing files and utilising a near-endless range of emojis and gifs along the way.
One interesting consequence I see of communications platforms such as this is the interplay between the increased capacity of employees to interact and share opinions with senior leaders, and the inherent need for leaders to set a strategic course that may differ from those opinions. Put another way, just as any social media or internal platform can allow companies to embrace greater transparency and openness, they can create a new problem where leaders may — very visibly — be seen to disagree with or ignore the publicly stated opinions of their followers.
You might view this as a reflection of the always-on, constantly connected world we live in. We now have the capacity to express our opinions on multiple channels, and we might start to believe the greater exposure our voices receive should always translate into action that fits in with those ideas. In the world of work, this might translate into thinking that an expression of disagreement in a course of direction should be followed by the leadership changing course.
It is pretty clear that in an organisational sense, this approach would have a pretty short lifespan. It’s great that people feel empowered in this way, and improved transparency is surely something many leaders will strive to achieve. But no business leader could or should operate in an environment where every single decision is put out to public opinion for an answer.
Often, business decisions are made, by real necessity, with a level of secrecy — to avoid exposing plans to competitors, for example — and they are also made with a level of far-reaching oversight of conditions that few employees will have. As a result, people may disagree with a strategy, but they may be doing so with limited knowledge of the full situation.
So what is a leader to do? Plainly, it is no real solution to imagine that communication technology is going to revert to a previous golden age of poor connectedness and a remote C-suite. And it is also no solution to believe that a leader should simply block their ears and stop listening to every opinion.
Instead, it is crucial leaders realise that while the number of platforms for sharing opinions and asking questions has exploded, the rules for communicating a strategic direction actually remain pretty consistent.
Primarily, you need a real direction — you can’t flip-flop, nor can you waver for too long. You must have a course for the company, and you should have a pretty clear idea how you’re going to have everyone sail it.
And then you need to be clear on your own motivations, goals, and aspirations for that plan, because when the questions start coming — and they surely will — you need to be forearmed with clear explanations of why things are happening in a particular way.
This doesn’t mean oversharing confidential information, nor does it mean you’re bowing to the demands of greater public visibility. It simply means you should be prepared to make a decision, and then be ready to stand by that decision when you explain it to others.
The greater transparency of today’s organisations can then be seen as a real bonus, allowing you to loudly and publicly explain a corporate direction that is clear, unambiguous, and largely impervious to misinformed resistance.
— Ahmad Badr is CEO of Knowledge Group.