We’re all familiar with seeing customer reviews of our potential purchases when we visit online shopping venues such as Amazon.com. We’ve also heard of interactive schemes that allow users to communicate with each other directly, such as social networks. Next came “wiki” programs, which permit visitors to edit content on the site – even to create it; the most famous example of this is Wikipedia.
It was only to be expected, then, that business would learn to exploit this ability for technology to unleash consumer interest in product and service offerings. An important way this is being done is now being called “crowdsourcing,” in a nod both to a book touching on this general idea entitled “The Wisdom of Crowds” and the now standard but still controversial practice of outsourcing.
Crowdsourcing is said to allow companies to accomplish much more with much less expense by outsourcing work – but rather than offshore, to their own customers. The phenomenon is now being used in a wide range of innovative ways, such as the creation of advertising, movie production, investments – even reporting the news.
This is intelligent and creative management that produces potent, meaningful customer value with greater customer loyalty and less cost – and all because it involves the customer. One might call this “managing patronage,” wherein managers understand that customer interaction with their firm is a potential asset that can be cultivated and deployed effectively and profitably to its, and everyone’s, advantage.
One might go a step further and organize the same approach with staff throughout the organization. Unfortunately, the “our people are our greatest asset” rhetoric that still abounds today remains largely empty. This is principally due to the unpreparedness or unwillingness of managers to find truly creative and meaningful ways to unleash the interactive potential of their employees. They are more comfortable dealing with assets – including even customer interaction through devices such as crowdsourcing – that can be measured and controlled.
But it is past time to begin moving in this direction, to begin to manage leadership as the valuable organizational characteristic it is. It takes nothing away from us as managers to abandon the self-indulgent illusion that leadership stems from us. Leadership surrounds us in our organizations, and it strains to express itself. The value we add is to identify, cultivate, marshal, and deploy this asset, just as we do all other more traditional assets, in the service of our organization – in other words, to manage it. This is a worthy art and science in and of itself. Fortunately, excellent managerial tools designed precisely to this end are now appearing.
Forget all the nonsense being peddled today about the need to be a leader. Focus on being a good manager, and you will begin to learn what organizational leadership really is, and how to manage it.