By now most readers of this website know of Bob, the story of a real employee (though not his real name) of a large company that continued to use social media to address customer issues against the direction of his boss.
A column by Media Bullseye Editor Chip Griffin and the accompanying reader comments focused on whether the employee was correct in not adhering to his supervisor’s direction. In that discussion, my colleague, Mike Keliher, took exception with Chip’s conclusion, but I understand why. It is a classic dilemma for managers today. I believe it is brought upon in part by the perceived failures of institutions, including but not limited to Congress, big corporations, and mainstream media. The perception is not generational; it is exacerbated by a global economy that has made most of the workforce realize their only job security is themselves. On the company side, they are ensure employee satisfaction by embracing these new realities by trusting, always seize a learning moment, be clear, and be decisive.
Preface to this story:
1) I hired Mike a few years ago, before he graduated college, before he was married. So we have spent some time together, and matured together.
2) I have worked in some of the largest bureaucracies, and with publicly traded global companies, so I understand the inner workings of “policy” and “procedure”.
Look, life is simple, Bob was told it was inappropriate to use social media to address a customer’s concerns. Bob disregarded the instructions from his boss and proceeded along his merry way. Bad Bob, bad. This issue is not about social media, but about a specific decision from a supervisor that was not followed. It raises the a broader question of the new landscape in employer/employee relations. Stephen Baker, of Business Week, picked up on one aspect that I posted in response to his question of how social media is impacting business. The issue of a personal brand and its relationship with the company.
Now let me cover an issue that is near and dear to me as a person, and relevant to this topic. I’m going to be 50. I have led many teams, been the “boss” and I do hate that word, of many people in a job. On 9/11 2001, I was in California trying to get a flight back home to MN. It didn’t work and I drove. I did a lot of thinking,
During that drive I decided to get out of corporate life for a while, I was VP of a global EDI company based in Amsterdam. I decided to start a PR/marketing firm, because I wanted the ability to work with a wide range of people that I thought were fun and smart, I also wanted to be very close to my kids who were young and I didn’t want to miss those years. Office across the street from elementary school and house 5 blocks away, not a bad gig.
The relationship between “boss”, can we just say manager, Ok the relationship between manager and colleagues must be based on trust and respect. Period. Without it, you have the seeds for failure. When I had people on my team that were not happy, I would do my best to find them another job instead of have them stay in a place they didn’t like. It was better for everyone.
When you have trust and respect then you can achieve whatever level of success you define for yourself.
We don’t know about Bob’s relationship with his boss, but I can tell you about Mike. Surely a social media advocate. We spend plenty of time talking about client issues, items in the news, and scenarios just like this. We hash it out when things go right and things go wrong.
I believe good managers are the ones who recognize when they are wrong, who will give others a fair hearing and the reasons why they disagree. And if necessary what the consequences, will be if a certain situation was to occur. These are not threats or challenges; they are repercussions of the actions a colleague will take that leave a manager no other choice. In a situation where there is trust, that colleague would not want to put the manager in that situation, forget about what will happen to Bob.
I believe good employees know when to seek guidance, cover, and an authority when necessary. Mike knows after nearly 5 years of working with me that he has my OK to fail and succeed. He knows I trust his judgment. In part because when he is unsure, needs advice or realizes I need to make the decision, he trusts me to get involved. I have been blessed to have relationships like this with many colleagues, not all, but most. It has been a pure joy.
This example of Bob is like every other in social media it is about relationships. This may be where I’m drinking the social media Kool Aid that Chip talks about. Even in this case, where social media may not be the right avenue for Bob’s company, it is forcing corporate cultures to discuss relationships, trust, and transparency. This is a good thing. Enron could have used it, AIG could have used it. Running out spilling water cooler conversation all over Facebook is not the answer. I acknowledge Scott Monty’s comment in Chip’s column that social media is forcing conversations that go deeper than “should we have a blog or community space?”
The social media profession is pushing corporations to examine culture first in light of the dynamic information environment, access by all to all. Shel Holtz and John Havens dig into this issue with their new book Tactical Transparency.
Recently I had a conversation with Gary Koelling, Senior Manager of Social Media for Best Buy. We discuss how large entities with legitimate issues involving openness, competition, and a host of others are trying to come to grips with customer desires. This conversation is available here.
Here is my advice to the now infamous Bob: if you want to be a social media advocate to those outside the company, don’t start my making enemies inside it. If don’t like your boss or you job, get busy moving. Don’t make him look like an ass, because if he is, you’re the one standing behind him, watch out.
Albert Maruggi is the president of Provident Partners, a PR and social media consultancy. He is also the host of the Marketing Edge podcast and a senior fellow of the Society for New Communications Research. He can be reached at email@example.com or @albertmaruggi on Twitter.