Do you believe in ghosts?

There is an old Burmese saying which goes “the blind person never fears ghosts”. I suspect there are millions of ‘blind’ people out there reading blogs and following tweeps in blissful ignorance of the fact that they are victims of a subtle yet deliberate deception, and the person they believe they are listening to is not who they imagine.

I wrote a piece on ghost blogging last month and was delighted today to have the opportunity to listen to a fascinating debate on the subject by two real heavyweights. Marketing Magazine dubbed Mitch Joel the Rock Star of Digital Marketing. His Six Pixels of Separation is a well respected blog and 19k followers on Twitter is not too shabby. Mitch is in the blue corner, arguing, like me against ghost blogging.

In the red corner stands Mark Schaefer, marketing consultant extraordinaire, with an equally not too shabby 14k followers on Twitter.

Listening to the debate you get the feeling that Mark would love to agree with Mitch, and indeed on several occasions he clearly does agree on a fundamental and emotional level. The bottom line for me was that he could not allow himself to agree on a practical level because he has a vested interest in promoting ghost writing to his own clients.

If you are interested in the morality and practicality of ghost blogging, try and find 40 minutes to listen to these boys – it is worth every second.

Trust everybody – but cut the cards

I make no apology for devoting a third consecutive post to the issue of trust. It’s important peeps – and it’s topical.

Deloitte’s fourth annual Ethics & Workplace Survey was published this week and surprise surprise, lack of trust and transparency are the dominant reasons why employees are on the hunt for a new job.

The headlines declare that one third of all Americans will seek a new job once the economy recovers, and just under a half (48%) say their primary motivation for doing so is a lack of trust in their employers. Forty-six percent say a lack of transparent communication from their leaders is the primary cause of their dissatisfaction at work.

Harry Stottle

Actually, this comes as something of a relief. I’ve barking about the importance of trust in the workplace for longer than I care to remember. The evidence I tend to cite is plain old common sense supplemented by centuries of academic study, starting BC with Harry Stottle’s Rhetoric, in which the great man himself explored the importance of trust in effective communication and persuasion. So it’s always nice to see some more up-to-date evidence.

My angle today is trust v. monitoring and my question is around the management of risk. Specifically, what is the best way to prevent secrets from leaking out of an organisation?

There is a huge industry devoted to developing, selling and maintaining surveillance and monitoring software and systems designed to prevent secrets from sneaking out of the corporate firewall. Now I’m not suggesting that investment in this area is a complete waste of money – what I am suggesting is that anyone who thinks you can prevent the leak of secrets simply by deploying tools is either delusional or has not thought about it hard enough.

The truth is there is no electronic or physical way of preventing organisational leakage. The best you can hope to do with such measures is to catch someone after the deed has been done. And then what? I guess you hold a public flogging to act as a deterrent to other would be offenders. Doesn’t sound particularly attractive to me; and the flogging story is even more likely to leak than the original one, which again does not feel like such a good idea.

Surely it is far better to create an environment where the original leak is far less likely to occur because the potential flogee feels trusted, valued, respected and dare I say loved? Instead of scuttling off to the media, disgruntled Joe feels less inclined to repay his employer’s trust with sabotage and subterfuge. He feels more inclined to trust his employer because his employer trusts him, and he feels able to talk about his frustrations internally without fear of being pilloried.

The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust. Yep – Abraham Lincoln new the score.

I know some you will read this and think I’m either being very naive or bit extreme. Just for the record, clearly there are other things that need to be in place beyond blind faith in humanity. You know; things like policies & procedures, awareness and education and maybe even a bit of random email monitoring if you must.

Trust everyone, but always cut the pack before dealing the cards.

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…