Give them enough rope

nooseIf you give someone a length of rope, do you have a responsibility to stop them using it to hang themselves? Of course not, that would be ridiculous.

Now apply the same logic to the introduction of social functionality on the company intranet. Is the answer still no? Not so long ago I’d have said exactly that.

After all, if someone wants to be a knob in full view of the company, more fool them. Far better they expose their lack of judgement, poor behaviour or surly attitude out in the open so that it can be ‘managed’. Let’s face it, if they are silly enough to let themselves down in the full gaze of their peers on the intranet, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be doing so in far less noticeable places, like down the pub, under the smoking shelter, and on Facebook. Only they will get away with it for much longer.

And then something happened to help me look at things a bit differently. Someone, partly in jest and partly in blissful ignorance posted a comment on an internal news story that made me feel a bit uneasy. The feeling morphed into discomfort when I overheard people around me suddenly turn into haters.

I quickly reached out to the guy and explained that his comment was not going down very well and invited him to post a quick follow-up comment both by way of apology and explanation. He was aghast that his question had been so badly misinterpreted.

Clearly our hapless commentator had meant well. In his mind all he had done was to ask an obvious and seemingly harmless question, and crowned it with a slightly clumsy attempt at humour.

During our conversation it became obvious that several exacerbating factors had combined to create a situation of epic misunderstanding.

  • He worked several hundred miles from the location of the incident.
  • English was not his native language.
  • He had no way of knowing that local emotions preceding the ‘incident’ were running sky high.
  • He had no way of knowing that emotionally, the most senior people in the company were also heavily invested in the story.

I felt sorry for the guy. Taken the wrong way, and certainly not the way he had intended, his comment could potentially turn into a career breaker. I felt sorry for me. I had told people who had never wanted me to open the floodgates of anarchy in the first place that such behaviour on a company intranet was the stuff of fiction.

That’s why these days I believe that as an intranet manager you do have to accept some degree of responsibility to the individual and to yourself if you have provided people with the opportunity to inadvertently hang themselves in public.

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