Censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the ‘f’ word ever will

Believe it or not there are still companies out there that lack the confidence to allow staff to participate in open conversation through internal forums, blogs or just simple comment functionality on the intranet.

The majority – those that have embraced the joys of Web 2.0 internally (or Intranet 2.0 if you want to be really picky) are reporting plenty of beneficial returns; cross functional collaboration, increased knowledge flow, faster communication, better decision making, more innovation, less duplication of effort, improved allocation of resources – I could go on…

Obviously this has also been my own experience, otherwise I wouldn’t be banging on about it. I have also noticed how user generated comments attached to internal news stories drives more traffic than a catchy headline, a funky picture or a high profile author. And as an intranet manager, footfall and engagement with your content is what it’s all about.

At the same time even some of the most enlightened senior executives harbour fears about the risk of a rogue (or stupid) employee posting commercially sensitive, abusive, disloyal, defamatory or otherwise inappropriate content if left to their own devices. Accompanying this is the perception that moderation and even censorship is the best way to mitigate such risk.

Well I don’t think so.

Nothing puts the brakes on a vibrant online community more than heavy moderation and censorship. Believe me, the comments will just dry up. Not just that, but censorship feeds the dirty mind more than the ‘f’ word ever will. Similarly, if you try and suppress a story which is freely available externally you just fan the flames of gossip, conjecture, fear and discontent.

For me it’s all about trusting staff to act responsibly and professionally. I have managed internal communities with hundreds of contributors discussing thousands of topics, which are not always business related either. Most of them are, but if the occasional bit of frippery and banter creeps in, great. It shows we are all human.

And occasionally when someone pops their head above the parapet and dangerously exposes themselves – good! There’s no hiding from the public display of their idiocy and they deserve what they get when the rest of the community deals with their transgression. As well of course the HR team if it’s that bad.

I have seen time and time again that when you trust staff and empower them to take full responsibility for their words and actions they respond by moderating their own behaviour. Those that don’t and choose to abuse the privilege are arses. They are loose cannons and you don’t really want them around anyway.

It is naive in the extreme to expect you can suppress negative sentiment by banning it. Just because you prevent someone from infecting the rest of the workforce with their cynicism or vitriol by not giving them the tools and channels to use does not mean they are not doing exactly that behind your back. Of course they are – only you never get see or hear about it. There are plenty of other outlets and opportunities for detractors to detract that are wholly outside of the organisation’s control.

Heavy moderation and censorship just shows that you prefer to bury your head in the sand rather than listen to your staff and act on their feedback, and this situation just gives your detractors more to complain about.

Of course there needs to be rules around individual conduct on internal (and external!) message boards and forums. You need a strong policy that actively encourages participation, but within reasonable boundaries. Everyone needs to know that their use of such channels is valued and encouraged, but that where they cross the line and expose the company to legal, reputational or commercial risk, they must know that they face the full force of a robust disciplinary process.

So here is my shopping list for your basic needs:

  • A decent application which is easy to use, looks good and is secure
  • A well written social media policy
  • Integration with Active Directory to enable single sign-on and prevent anonymity
  • Some digitally active early adopters
  • A few senior executives prepared to lead by example
  • Thick skin, coz it won’t all be plain sailing

Have I missed anything?

Are you a giver or a taker?

Nothing has had such a transformative influence on the world of work than email. Forget about the Industrial Revolution – history will show that there was life before email and then there was life after email.

Most knowledge workers today spend their working life living inside their email client and they use it organise and deliver nearly every aspect of their daily work. Many of us will see this as a good thing. After all, everything can be done so much faster these days right?

Hold on just a second.

A recent study in Australia suggests that “The average Australian employee spends less than two-and-a-half days per week actually doing their job. The rest of the time is spent navigating a virtual forest of information”.  The same study found that half of the respondents claimed that on average, only about 50 per cent of their emails were relevant to getting their jobs done.

Information Overload (or Information Rage as the above study calls it) accounts for huge inefficiencies and productivity issues in the workplace. For example, the time spend dealing with spam emails alone costs an estimated $17bn to $21bn in lost productivity every year in the US.

Academics, consultants and assorted subject matter experts offer a variety of solutions. Email free days, email manifestos, formal training sessions and ‘how to’ guides and are some I have stumbled across recently.

My personal favourite – and I like to think I came up with this one – is more campaign based. The campaign would revolve around ones acceptance of individual and personal responsibility for being a net receiver rather than a net sender of email.

You simply have to ensure that every working day you send fewer emails than you receive. What could possibly be easier – and imagine the impact that could have if we all did it?

The most recent public declaration of my personal pledge to the campaign was a month ago here on twitter 😉

Space invaders

We have been hijacking everyone’s Windows lock screen at work on and off for a while now. It gives us a nice instant attention grabbing opportunity to remind people of something that is going on, for example a product launch, or as in today’s instance, a donor drive for the Anthony Nolan Trust. It’s non-intrusive in that it only appears when you unlock your screen after periods of inactivity or being away from your desk, and provided you don’t overdo it, it is a nice highly visual trigger to supplement other more conventional communications channels.

And then we went one step too far. The Marketing Team decided to create a series of branded images celebrating our commercial arrangements with Manchester United and Barcelona, for whom we are the official betting partner. Within hours people were complaining about having their ‘personal space’ invaded by an image of the Red Devils. They have a point. We have a very diverse workforce; however the one thing you can say about most of our staff is that they love their sport.

OK, so we can all be proud of our official betting partner status with arguably the two biggest club sides in the world. But if you support Liverpool, Chelsea, or Manchester City do you really want to see Manchester United players staring out of your screen at you every day?

With emotions running high I took the opportunity to throw up an instant poll on our intranet and a few days later the results made very interesting reading.

“The screensaver on my work computer belongs to the company – they can put anything they like on there.”

Admittedly the Wayne Rooney reference was a bit of a gag given all of the nonsense in the tabloid press recently, but I must confess that I expected a slightly higher percentage of staff to agree with the seemingly blindingly obvious statement that the company can do what they want with everyone’s desktop given that it belongs to them.

After a couple of hundred votes, representing well over 10% of the company, nearly a third of respondents made a clear statement that the screen on their work computer belongs to them and thereby implying that we have no right to intrude upon it.

So either I try to look for ways to change this mindset, which I must confess is rather tempting, or I simply accept this as a genuine sentiment and try to make sure that future images are slightly more palatable to what clearly has the potential to be a a highly partisan crowd.

What would you do?

Trust is still a must

On the rant I mentioned yesterday. Maybe rant is a little strong. Letting of steam may be a bit fairer. Anyway, the post came across as an impassioned plea for more trust and transparency in the work place.

The guy was clearly frustrated, and he broke a few basic rules of social media netiquette by ‘SHOUTING’ a bit at unnamed individuals who in his eyes seem to get a kick out of  ‘being in the know’.

I was with him 100% in sentiment, but feared that his manner had the potential to undermine a very important debate, as well as create a negative perception among people that didn’t know him and thereby damaging his own personal equity.

I also feared that the naysayers could use the post to take a swipe at my beloved Yammer.

So I called him up for a chat. And guess what – I was beaten to it. A call from up on high had already been made to his boss, along the lines of “have you seen what this guy has written – how can he be trusted with sensitive information after writing something like that?”

Exactly as I feared. His rant had diverted attention away from the real issue and drawn attention to himself in a way that he had not intended or desired. Many people would have been put off by such a reaction and it would have been easy and forgivable to say “sod that, I’m not playing on Yammer again, it’s far too dangerous”.

Fortunately he didn’t. After a few hours of reflection he returned and apologised for his earlier rant, explaining how his passion for the company and his desire to see it be the best it can be lay behind his emotional plea.

He then went on to list the following reasons why he believes transparency in the workplace is a good thing:

  • It helps employees understand why
  • It allows for consistent messaging across the organization
  • It leads to faster, more efficient execution
  • It heals we/they divisiveness
  • It keeps good people from leaving
  • It facilitates the best possible solutions

That’s better! That’s what I call a proper contribution to a very important debate.

And it’s made even more compelling by the fact that it’s not from a text book on employee engagement or from the mouth of an organisational effectiveness guru.

It’s straight from the heart of a very engaged employee.

Trust is a must

Our Yammer network is growing by the day and as time passes my excitement about its potential for increasing the speed and quality of collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation across the company rises.

So naturally I get very protective when something happens that potentially undermines our continued use of my new favourite application. One of the issues I know causes some discomfort among senior executives everywhere is the issue of trust and confidentiality. So one thing you don’t really want to see on Yammer is open discussion about commercially sensitive information that needs to be kept in a closed loop.

After many thousands of conversations and contributions on our network since it was brought to life last year I have yet to see anyone cross this boundary.

Actually this comes as no surprise to me. I have long believed that when you trust people to behave appropriately they do. Secrets fuel gossip, speculation & rumour, which quickly spreads around as people who feel excluded and unworthy probe and speculate. This can be very disruptive in any work place – and sooner or later they become open secrets in any event.

And because people have no stake in them (and they only have half the story) they are far more likely to say or ask something inappropriate in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In my experience the more stuff you try to hide, the greater the risk you run of it leaking out. On the other hand, if you treat people as adults and trust them with information, they will repay your trust and respect the need to exercise discretion and moderation when talking to the outside world.

Of course there are some things that need to be kept secret. But I think that too many companies have a tendency to overplay the secrecy card – and this can have a seriously detrimental effect on organisational culture and effectiveness.

One of the guys at work had a bit of a rant on Yammer a few days ago on this very subject.

More on this tomorrow. Trust me, it’s a good story…

Celebrate good times

I love celebrations. Last week we celebrated the company’s 10th birthday with cake, champagne and jelly beans at all of our offices in the UK and abroad. It was a real joy to see happy smiling faces everywhere as we celebrated a decade of incredible achievement. On 9 June 2000, Betfair ran its first market on the Oaks at Epsom, where £3,462 was traded between 36 customers, watched over by just a handful of staff. Ten years later the company employs over 2,000 people spread across 30 locations around the world, and deals with more daily transactions than every European stock exchange put together.

And for the next month we are celebrating the most amazing festival in the sporting calendar. We are at our core a sports betting company, so the World Cup is a big thing for us, and we have been preparing for it for years. It’s only fitting therefore that we have a bit of fun and pay homage to the 32 teams battling it out in South Africa.

While the media are banging on about the cost to employers of World Cup distraction as staff absenteeism and lack of attention rises incrementally in line with England’s success on the pitch, and companies ban access to footy websites and make the flying of the Cross of St George a disciplinary offence, we have been encouraged to fly the flag – and more.

Our offices have become a sea of colour, creativity and noise to reflect the energy, excitement and diversity of the World Cup. Our staff in London have self organised themselves into 34 teams and given their bits of the office a bit of a makeover. There are 34 teams because two non-qualifiers that narrowly missed out on a trip to South Africa, Ireland and Egypt wanted to get involved.

My team is representing the Cameroon. Which is great, because the Cameroon have a rich heritage when it comes to World Cup celebrations!

Don’t be fooled into thinking we are all just on one great big World Cup jolly. Au contraire, this is going to be a very busy month for everyone as we mobilise to meet the demands of dramatically increased customer activity.

However, I work for a company that recognises the importance of celebration as well as the value of having a bit of fun while your nosed is pressed firmly against the grindstone.

Don’t just sit there feeling hard done by – check out our current vacancies and get involved!

What motivates you?

I bumped into this very clever video the other day. Actually, one of our engineers posted the link on Yammer – but that’s another story…

It’s a 10 minute presentation by Dan Pink, author of the much acclaimed Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which contains some really interesting insights drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation.

Most experts agree that money is never at the top of the list of factors which motivate people. Dan Pink agrees with this with one notable exception; higher pay equals better performance provided the job being performed involves only mechanical/repetitive tasks. Where work calls for anything beyond this, such as rudimentary cognitive skills, creativity and decision making, larger rewards can actually lead to poorer performance.

Personally I think there is a very simple sociological issue exposed here which does not get discussed. People who perform jobs that are very mechanical and repetitive tend to be less well paid.

Poorly paid people will respond to financial incentives. It’s blindingly simple. They need the money. People who routinely need to exercise their cognitive skills, creativity and make big decisions are by default paid much higher salaries. When you are paid a lot, financial incentives are far less compelling. They don’t need the money quite so much.

He does not exclude money completely as a work place motivator. If you don’t pay enough, people won’t be motivated. Pink’s fundamental premise is that provided you pay enough, and thereby take the issue of money off the table, then autonomy, mastery and purpose become the three main forces for motivation and engagement. I guess this is not inconsistent with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which most psychologists and sociologists seem to swear by.

The content of the video is very interesting in its own right, but what makes it a truly great find is the very clever and ever so engaging use of animation as an alternative to death by PowerPoint. I think they call it scribing, and a British company called Cognitive Media appear to be pioneering this stuff.

Honestly, it really works. Judging by the number of ‘likes’ and positive comments on the Yammer thread, people really enjoyed the experience. I found the technique quite riveting. Give it a bash; it is 10 minutes well invested if, like me, you are turned on by interesting new ways to communicate.

I was delighted to see Atlassian get a mention as well. Atlassian are right up there with Netflix and Zappos when it comes to promoting the importance of a strong company culture as a differentiator and source of genuine commercial advantage. In this context, Atlassian are held up as an example of the importance of autonomy at work.

Once a quarter, engineers at Atlassian are given 24 hours to work on whatever they want, with whoever they want, however they want. The only ask is at the end of the 24 hours they show the rest of the company what they have been up to. According to Dan Pink, that one day of “pure undiluted autonomy” has led to a whole array of fixes to existing software and a whole array of ideas for new products that otherwise would never have emerged. Instead of paying an innovation bonus, they take the view that “you probably want to do something interesting, let me just get out of your way.”

Google famously do the same with their 20% time and Yahoo call them Hack Days. I like!