It’s not that I find the pain of employees funny, but the shortsightedness of companies in their efforts to ignore new technologies always makes me wonder what they are thinking. Over the course of my career, I have worked for companies ranging from small boutique shops all the way up to Fortune 500 and 100 companies and my experience has been that the bigger the shop, the more resistant to new technologies the decision-makers are.
Case In Point – Email & Internet Access, And A Fortune 100 Company
Flashback to 1996, when I was working for an up and coming division of a Fortune 500 company. I had a pretty heated argument with my Manager because I had requested external email access and Internet access, both of which required Vice-President approval. I was in the initial stages of a company-wide asset audit and need to email third-party vendors. I was spending so much time on the phone with them going over spreadsheets on the phone that I need to be able to send email back and forth. But no….this particular company was nervous about email, Internet access, and how much time employees would spend wasting their time if everyone was able to email and/or surf the Web.
Flash forward to 2009, when every company realizes that email and Internet access are key tools for most back-office employees in the company to do their job. This same company issues laptops, email, and wireless access to all of their employees. Hmmm…slight change in position, eh?
What Generates The Resistance To New Technologies?
It would be easy to chalk this type of resistance up to age, but I think that would be short-sighted. I have found plenty of “more experienced” (the PC term for older) Directors and Execs that are interested in leveraging new technologies. I have also found plenty of younger (and not necessarily “less experienced”) folks who still tell me that they “just don’t get it” or that “social media is just about people posting high school photos or talking about what they had for breakfast”. Based on these experiences, I’ll attribute the failure to embrace these new mediums as either lack of education or fear of change. Some folks just don’t like the idea of trying something new. Instead, they’ll let everyone else try it and, if it works for others, they’ll give it a shot. Others, just haven’t had that light bulb moment when they realize the value. Now, don’t get me wrong, not everyone needs to be on the bleeding edge…but I firmly believe that organizational decision makers should strive to be on the cutting edge in order to stay ahead of their competition.
Every time I hear of companies blocking Blogging Sites, Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media sites, it makes me wonder what curmudgeon or poorly informed leader is calling the shots and what experience drove them to make the decision. Obviously, these folks don’t realize that a new generation of workers is entering the workplace and expecting to leverage tools like text messaging, Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. Why not just sit them in front of a typewriter and say “be productive”.
Okay, okay…so I admit that by making sweeping statements like that, I’m being a bit hypocritical since I don’t know why this particular company blocked the blog, but my point is that there are too many stories of companies making sweeping IT and HR policies banning social media, instead of embracing it or encouraging their employees to use it responsibly.
What the executives at these companies are failing to realize is that more and more of their employees are reading and contributing to the Websphere via blogs, microblogs, forums, etc… and they are often shaping their decisions at work based on the most up-to-date analysis that they get from these interactions. In addition, by allowing their employees to position themselves as thought leaders and expand their sphere of influence, they could enhance their organizations position in the market, have happier employees, and maybe…even open up some new markets that might not existed without Social Media. Just look at Zappos as an example. An online shoe retailer that has blown the door off marketing and expanding their sales opportunities and customer support through the use of Twitter.
In short, by ignoring new technologies like Social Media and Social Networking, companies are not only burying their proverbial heads, but are actively engaging in hypocrisy regarding their messages to employees.
My Five Hypocrisies Of Blocking Social Networking Sites
1) Smoke breaks are okay, but blog breaks, tweet breaks, and Facebook breaks aren’t smoking Just to be up front, I am a non-smoker. My goal, here, isn’t to throw stones at smokers, but to point out that employers allow employees to take breaks from work so they can breath toxic fumes into their lungs, so I’m not quite sure why employers would have a problem with an employee updating their Facebook status or reading the tweets/blogs of their favorite netizens. Short breaks during the work day energize employees and give them a break from their daily duties. Sometimes, employees use those breaks to learn something new that actually might relate to their job or the industry.
Even if they’re not learning, maybe their taking time to catch up with a friend or family member. I’d be curious if those same employers would prohibit employees from reading a book or calling their family on their break. Seems a bit illogical, right? Catching up on Facebook or reading a few tweets can be just as energizing to an employee as a phone call, a good read, or for those who prefer, a smoke.
2) Make good quality decisions using competitive information, but don’t leverage your online networks or intelligence tools
Imagine being in touch with news about your company, customers, or markets before the news breaks. There have been quite a few situations where folks on Twitter have reported news before the local or national news outlets. Earthquakes, plane crashes, even (ironically) the closing of the Rocky Mountain News are all news items that are being scooped by Twitter before being reported in traditional media.
As more news and events are reported first via social media, employees who have access and actively monitoring social media sites are going to be able to react more quickly. If employees don’t have access to these sources, they’ll be two steps behind their competitors.
3) Be a happy employee, but don’t be a social employee
Everyone wants to enjoy their job and, for some employees being social is part of being happy. Not just around in the break room or at the coffee pot with employees that they see every day, but also being social with peers and thought leaders in their particular line of work. Each day, I enjoy reading the updates of employees that I currently work with, as well as previous co-workers and even employees at competing companies. Many of these interactions broaden my understanding of the industry that I work in and eventually will come back to benefit my employer.
By blocking social media sites, employers are limiting their employees ability to collaborate with others in their industry. There is a lot of good information being traded through blogs, tweets, and forums. Each of these venues allows employees to learn more, share their perspective, and grow as an employee, all without a single dollar being added to your training budget.
4) Be creative and innovative, just use the antiquated tools we have given you
A good old fashoined typewriter might be useful to execs who shake their fist and social mediaOften employers challenge their employees to find new ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper. In some cases, you don’t have to invent the tool that makes the change, you just need to determine how to make it work for you. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile or the assembly line, he just figured out an innovative way to combine the two to redefine the industry.
Now, imagine two companies. One allows access to Social Media sites to its employees and the other does not. Company A has a marketing department that has come up with new ways to announce product launches using Twitter and Facebook and, in doing so, has increased product awareness by 5% over the last year. In addition, their product support team has begun interacting with customers in a whole new way using Twitter, Facebook groups/discussions, and LinkedIn discussions to identify suggested enhancements to their products and help resolve customer issues. In doing so, they have impacted customer satisfaction and increased recurring sales by 2% globally.
Company B, on the other hand, has blocked employee access to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and their leaders are scratching their collective heads trying to figure out why Company A is beating them to the sales opportunities and stealing their customers.
5) You are an adult and a professional, but no Facebook for you!
There are two excuses I hear most frequently when it comes to the reasoning behind blocking social media sites. The first is the protection of Intellectual Property or organizational intelligence and the second is that employees will just “waste company time”.
When it comes to protecting intellectual property, if a company is seriously using this as an excuse then they better have confiscated all cell phones and digital cameras from the workplace and ensure that all laptops are heavily encrypted in case they get lost or stolen. One company that I am aware of that blocks access to some social media sites also allowed their entire employee list, along with Social Security Numbers, to be transmitted via an unprotected MS Excel spreadsheet over email. The problem, here, wasn’t that the employee was trying to harm the company, but that they didn’t understand that doing so exposed the company to risk. The answer isn’t to remove their access to Excel or email, but to better educate the employee on the proper method of protecting corporate information.
In response to the “wasting time” argument, there are really two approaches. First, let your employees have a little fun. Let them explore new information, personal or professional. Teach them to use social media responsibly…just as you did with email. If you do, they will continue to grow as employees and professionals. Second, if they’re wasting excessive time on Twitter or Facebook, they were probably wasting excessive time on something else before social media came along. The way to address it is to remind them that they are employees of the company and, while some Internet usage is allowed, if it interferes with their duties, it might become an issue.
So to those of you who work for these Social Media Ostriches that choose to ignore the opportunities being presented and stick their heads in the sand by blocking your access…my condolences. I count my blessings each day that I work for a company that not only embraces Social Media, but actively works to develop its employees as thought leaders and encourages them to blog, tweet, and Facebook in a responsible manner.
To the Executives of the Social Media Ostriches…I’d shoot some snarky remark at you, but you couldn’t read it anyway, because this blog and my tweets are probably blocked from your network.
Sean R. Nicholson