social economy (1)

Smarter Companies Practice Free Speech

For those who still don’t think social technologies will turn corporations upside down, here’s a dispatch from the front lines that you shouldn’t ignore: Even if It Outrages the Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected.

In it, the NY Times reports that

Federal regulators are ordering employers to scale back policies that limit what workers can say online.

Employers often seek to discourage comments that paint them in a negative light. Don’t discuss company matters publicly, a typical social media policy will say, and don’t disparage managers, co-workers or the company itself. Violations can be a firing offense.

But in a series of recent rulings and advisories, labor regulators have declared many such blanket restrictions illegal. The National Labor Relations Board says workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook.


I talk a lot about the limits to command and control management. In a knowledge-based social economy, it doesn’t make sense to let top-down communication dominate your conversation with anyone including your employees, customers, partners and lots of other kinds of stakeholders. But this ruling makes it clear. Two-way conversation is mandatory, not nice to have.

We’ve already seen countless examples of how customers can change the conversation about companies via social media. But this adds a new wrinkle. Does it mean that there will be a floodgate opened for unhappy employees to vent? Probably not. But the possibility shouldn’t be discounted. And you should welcome that.

Why should you welcome this? Because it reminds you that your actions in business can and will be held up to the scrutiny of others. It’s harder than ever to keep a secret, to control a conversation, to get away with something you would rather not have other people see.

Well, that’s not possible. So live your life, do your job, run your company in a way that will stand up to scrutiny. Not everyone will agree with everything you do. But if you are fair and transparent, you’ll be in a strong position in any disagreement.

Even more than that, the feedback from conversations with your stakeholders is gold. It often tells you more about your business in a few minutes than you can find in piles of management reports. Learning and adapting is critical to companies that depend on intangible capital. So stop trying to control the conversation and jump into it. Embrace free speech and start listening. You’ll learn something and you’ll build the trust of your stakeholders. You’ll be on  the path to building a much smarter company.

(By the way, this why all our measurement methodologies at Smarter-Companies are based on stakeholder feedback).

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