Listen to our Employees? Yikes!

It’s been a busy week for ThoughtFarmer as we had a great presentation at CIO Vancouver on Wednesday and quite a few meetings. Chris McGrath (One Intranets) and Tracy Hutton (Director of Learning, Intrawest Placemaking) did a great job in presenting what social software for the enterprise can look like, what some of the challenges can be, and ultimately the benefits of these systems. The topic was well received and the audience appeared to really enjoy listening to Tracy’s real-world stories of implementing ThoughtFarmer at Intrawest.
Whenever we speak with people who are new to the concept of wiki-based systems or social software, we often hear some fairly similar question and concerns. One such question is, “What happens if you have an employee that posts something to the Intranet that’s inappropriate?” — our question back is, “What happens right now if an employee sends an inappropriate email or behaves inappropriately at a meeting?”

This issue is more about communication and trust than it is about technology. Sure the wiki-based concepts behind ThoughtFarmer lower the barrier for users to publish material to their intranet. But the management of your people isn’t magically automated by installing the software. If you have people posting something that is deemed overly critical of another employee or is simply inappropriate, you have a management / HR issue on your hands. You will probably need to deal with that using some face-to-face or over-the-phone conversations. You will need to manage the people, get to the core of the issue, address it, and move on, with hopefully both parties learning something along the way. As an HR or communications manager, you can set the policy ahead of time and save yourself some work down the road, having to deal with employees who have crossed the line, but that’s much the same as any other internal corporate communications policy. Recognize too, some organizations have different standards for what’s acceptable (pictures of pets, chocolate almond fundraiser emails, political messages, etc) than others.

What’s somewhat disappointing about this question is the very real sense of fear and dread that lurks behind it. As people start to understand the potential of the software, you can see them take a deep breath and wonder, “Are we really willing to listen to everything that our employees have to say?” Organizations that fear what their employees have to say ultimately don’t trust their employees.

And if you don’t trust your employees, what does that say about your company?

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