Social networking in the office

We had interesting discussions about many things last night at the ACS meeting in Wollongong. But one discussion in particular – about the use of social networking platforms in the office – really helped to clarify my position.

I am getting heartily sick of the debate about whether ‘young’ folks should be allowed to access and use social networks (like Facebook or Twitter) at work during business hours. The argument usually goes thus:

At work they are supposed to be doing work, not talking to their friends. They will just abuse the privilege and chat to their mates all day long. What will happen to productivity? We’ll all be ruined! And besides I don’t use social networks therefore nobody else in the world needs to either.

Fact: Because I am older I have heard all this before. When I was an office junior my boss and another manager stood next to my desk debating if they should put a telephone my desk. As they stood there they used the precise argument outlined above. I got the phone, did not abuse it, no business was ruined & now there is no debate if a staff member gets a phone on their desk.

Roll on a few years, the same debate was had about email & by that time I was a manager. Again, the debate went precisely as outlined above. In the end everyone got email & business could hardly manage without it today.

I’m seeing a pattern here. The debate over use of social network usage is simply the latest incarnation of this old debate. There were probably similar debates about the introduction of papyrus in ancient Egypt. The issue of misuse of technology is a management issue. If people are not doing their job removing a technology will not alter that fact. If they don’t want to do their work they will find other ways of not doing when we remove Facebook access.

Over the years, as a manager, I’ve had a few staff members abuse technology to which they’ve had access. I dealt with it on a case by case basis & generally there was some rational cause of the behaviour. Never did I respond by blocking access to the technology for all staff.

In one case a contractor was phoning home every night (to India) from his desk phone. Turned out he was desperately homesick while working unpaid overtime late at night. When I raised the issue he was horrified to see the costs associated with his calls – he immediately agreed to reimburse the firm & to use a phone card in future. Problem solved.

Another case where a person was using Facebook way too much. After discussion it became clear that she hated her job & we had never realised because all earlier avoidance activity was offline. Facebook actually gave us visibility of the problem. The supervisor of this person had never realised how unhappy she was in her job because she was highly productive, doing the work in a very short time & then using the internet to amuse herself. Again, a failure of management. We had been totally under-utilizing the abilities of the ‘evil’ Facebook abuser. Solution: promote the person to a job better suited to their abilities & see their Facebook usage drop back to completely acceptable levels.

And then there was the guy who was abusing his internet access (which was being monitored across the company with full prior staff knowledge). Upon investigation it turned out that he was also abusing his corporate credit card, not performing well in his role and he was eventually terminated.

These kind of experiences are why I am totally opposed to blocking access to new communications technology for staff. Businesses need to manage staff on the quality and timeliness of their output, not upon time served in the office. And, just like email has become an essential business tool, we need to discover how to use social networks for business advantage. Again, this is why I am in favour of defining rules of engagement in social media and social computing for staff to help them to use this new technology in ways that support the business.

BarCamp, Community & New Ways

Having recently seen the film, I’m now reading the comic novel Watchmen. It is the kind of fiction that really gets you thinking about many things. A great quote from the book is:

The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking … The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If I had only known, I should have become a watchmaker. – Albert Einstein

It picks up on some themes that have arisen in a number of ways since the GFC. Primary among these is a desire for community and new ways of doing business that are rooted in humanity and authenticity.

We are seeing the moral, intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of the old ways of doing business. We no longer want a business world where crazy virtual assets can be created and drive the entire world to the brink of economic ruin. We are amazed that private companies (like AIG) can accept government hand-outs to stave off complete collapse and still pay millions of dollars in bonuses to the very people who’ve brought us to this crisis point & victimise other workers who did their jobs.

In essence we are seeing a complete failure of leadership, where business managers consider only short term gains and apply short term incentives.  And because of this short term focus the triple bottom line is often just a joke or a box to tick as a matter of form. Thus important issues like the future of humankind and our planet are not seen as the proper province of business. Business is seen as only responsible for delivering short term gains to shareholders.

And, just as Einstein said, the solution to this problem lies “at the heart of mankind” and it is because our world has changed but our “way of thinking” has not changed with it. One of the problems with the Wall Street bail-out is that we are still desperately trying to hold on to the old world that is passing. Organisations and institutions that are no longer viable need to be allowed to fail.

But I see signs of hope in many places in spite of the gloom. A great example of this was Bar Camp Canberra #2. It was a collaborative gathering of diverse people who are interested in technology.

It was a bunch of really smart people ranging from mid-teens to over-40s and beyond. It was a gathering where people questioned the way we’ve done business and technology up until now.

Above all it was a gathering of hopeful and optimistic people who are working to build new things in new ways. If there’s a BarCamp near you I recommend dropping in – you can find out about them at barcamp.org. Some other interesting artifacts from BarCamp Canberra are:

Key enablers for Enterprise 2.0

– some more thoughts following on from the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum.

Here is my list of the top 10 enablers for Enterprise 2.0 – this is not an exhaustive list merely my notes based on sessions at the forum and various conversations with participants.

One thing that is important to note is that many of these are not technical.  These enablers are about process, decision making, and governance.  The more technical enablers are things like agile methods and virtual sandpit environments.

I count these as enablers because we need to develop new mindsets about technical environments for innovation.  I have worked with clients who have no production environments that can be used for innovation.  In many places all production systems go through a 6 week change cycle and deploy onto expensive tier-1 environments.  This kind of thing just stifles innovation and makes it almost impossible to experiment at a reasonable cost.  We need to move away from that using virtualization and lite processes to support innovation.

This does not mean putting core business systems at risk, and that is why another key enabler is stage containment. Protecting business assets on a risk assessment basis is an important capability.  But we need to balance that with the need to prototype, fail fast and at low cost, and to adopt perpetual beta type practices to assist innovation.

  1. Agile methods
  2. Clear goals & responsibilities
  3. Content
  4. Flexible governance
  5. Information architecture
  6. Internal evangelists
  7. Stage containment
  8. Start small, no big-bang
  9. Tiger teams
  10. Virtualized sandpit environments

Reasonable Hours of Work in the ICT Industry

A friend who works in IT support (for a very large and well known IT industry multi national doing security patching and stuff) just phoned me because his boss wants him to work overnight to do a release and then to front up to work again early tomorrow morning. This is not the first time his supervisor has asked this, and not the first time that I’ve heard this type of story. It even happened to me when I was younger and working in tech support roles.

These demands to work unreasonable hours make the ICT industry unattractive to work in. What is very sad is that this company has won awards for its diversity policies and its website raves about the programs that support work-life balance. Again, where is the congruence between the values articulated by the organization and the values it demonstrates towards the human beings that provide labour?

Of course, none of the fabulous diversity programs for work-life balance apply if you are contractor or a casual employee. My friend, who is a good tech support geek, is now thinking about retraining and leaving the IT industry for something with a more human friendly approach. While I generally do not support union campaigns this one does seem reasonable (no pun intended):

The Australian Council of Trades Unions is running a campaign for Reasonable Hours:

“The ACTU Reasonable Hours campaign aims to raise awareness about the effects of long working hours. ACTU research into workplace issues has found that long hours and the increasing intensification of work is the overwhelming primary concern of workers. For much of the last century Australia lead the world in fair working time. But in 1980 Australia started to buck the international trend and hours began to grow. Currently, Australia has the second longest working hours in the OECD. On current trends we will soon have the longest. It is a sad irony that Australia now has one of the worst records in the world. It is time to once again civilize working time.”

Out and about – Robyn Henderson & Gordon Bell

In recent days I have been going out to various ICT industry functions in Sydney. Two of the speakers stood out from the rest. The first was Robyn Henderson who spoke at the FITT networking session, and the second was Gordon Bell who spoke at the AVCAL breakfast.

Each of these speakers is an expert in their field:

Robyn is a networking specialist, who has authored 9 books on networking and business building, self esteem and confidence building. Robyn has spoken in 10 countries, presents over 150 times each year and has never advertised – all of her work comes from networking and referrals and her website.

Gordon is a luminary in the ICT industry who was responsible for, amongst many other things, the PDP6 and VAX, and who is currently working at Microsoft as a researcher and indulging in the occasional angel investment.

Yet, what marked out these people for me was their passion and humility. Both are recognized as leaders in their field and yet each is willing to talk openly with people who share their passion. Each shares their learnings freely, and seeks to generate interest and growth in their area of passion. Most refreshing of all is their enthusiasm for both their area of expertise and for life in general. Perhaps Robyn summed it up best when she advised “Avoid keeping tabs on what you do for others: Give Without Expectations”.


F.Y.I. the host organizations for these events were:

Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications (FITT) is a network of women who have come together to encourage and support women and girls who want to reach their full potential in the information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) industry.

The Australian Venture Capital Association Limited (AVCAL) is the national association that represents the venture capital industry’s participants, promotes the industry and encourages investment in growing business enterprises.

Women and getting ahead in business

Just had an anonymous comment on an old post.

The commenter said:

“Honey, you must be very young. It’s not just about how hard you work. The ole’ boy’s network is alive and well – you just haven’t reached a high enough level in the corporate hierarchy to see it yet. “

The comment is welcome on several levels:

1) I love being told I’m young (more people should tell me that), which probably reveals that I’m older than the commenter thinks.

2) I have worked as a senior executive in large corporations for quite a few years.

3) Many of my female friends are senior executives, ‘C’ level executives or board directors. Many of the women I mentor are aspiring to those roles.

My personal history is instructive because it does not fit the ‘normal’ pattern of how you get ahead in the corporate world. I was born into a poor family and lived in a socio-economically deprived part of the city; I also have attention deficit disorder together with some learning difficulties. When I finally did get to university I dropped out in third year to assist my four younger siblings when my parents died. I had to go out and get a job. Without a completed degree the only option available was an entry level clerical job, and I watched other people with better educations and less personal responsibilities zoom past me. Over the years I worked hard and smart to get promoted and eventually I got to parity with those peers who had zoomed past me. Then I started to go past some of those peers, they had not been working as hard or remaining as focused (i.e. they went home while I stayed at the office). But the important thing is that I found something I had a passion for, and that makes it easy to stay focused. With a thirst for knowledge in my area I became the go-to person in that area. Eventually I went back to university and studied while I held down a C level job in a major corporation, finally obtaining a masters degree in business. Along the way I was also Chairman and President of a number of industry and professional associations.

Over the years in corporate life there are a few things I have learned:

  • There are only a few top jobs in each company, and those that get them are those who have no other life. You need to be dedicated, focused and committed. There are very few people in top jobs who have not put in 12 hour days for many years. Fair or not, work life balance does not get you to the top in business (not yet anyway).
  • Nobody is going to just offer you these top jobs; you have to go for them. You need to put up your hand for tough assignments and get noticed.
  • You need to work out what the networks are in the organization and link into them. In one company the power network was the smokers who used to go downstairs and stand outside for a smoke. I did not smoke so I used to grab a coffee and stand with them while I drank it (ensuring never to stand down wind of them).
  • You need to take risks and show the powers that be that you are the solution to some of their problems. I have always worked on the ‘no surprises’ principle for my boss and other stakeholders, and have always been the provider of solutions rather than just pointing out problems.
  • You will never get ahead if you leave it to chance. It is important to work out what you want to achieve and the steps necessary to achieve it. A plan is a good and useful thing.
  • You will meet people of ill will, it is important to get used to this and to develop your own strategies for dealing with them. Sometimes those people of ill will and your boss will be one and the same. The options are: stay and manage the person and situation, cry and be a victim, or vote with your feet.

On the whole, I am tired of the woman as victim theme. Women have choices, lots more than men in many cases. Many men also do not get ahead in business. The men that I know who got ahead have all worked longer and harder than their peers, have networked more ferociously, and have become well respected in their specialty area. The case is precisely the same for the women who have been successful. One thing I know for sure, none of these successful people sat around whingeing that nobody was giving them a chance. They set the agenda, took the risks and showed why they should be given more opportunities.

Article: Businesses don’t have social responsibilities; people do

This article has been reproduced in full below, it raises some very important issues about corporate and individual responsibility. Even staff in the Nazi concentration camps were assisted in rationalising terrible acts because they were only following orders. Thus they could abrogate individual responsibility to act in humane ways. We are in danger of pushing the accountability for good behaviour out there into someone else’s domain, not keeping our own accountability to do what is right.

Remember the well known humorous story:

“This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got upset about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.”


Herald.com 07/21/2004: “Businesses don’t have social responsibilities; people do
BY HENRY MILLER www.project-syndicate.cz

Calvin Coolidge once said that the business of America is business. He might have added that the business of business everywhere is to pursue profits. Lately, some corporate leaders seem to have lost sight of that elementary precept.

Daniel Vasella, the chairman and CEO of Switzerland-based Novartis, the world’s fifth-largest pharmaceutical company, recently wrote that multinational companies “have a duty to adhere to fundamental values and to support and promote them.”

If he were referring to corporate values such as honesty, innovation, voluntary exchange and the wisdom of the marketplace, he would be right. But what he meant was “collaborat[ing] constructively with the U.N. and civil society to define the best way to improve human rights.”

The extension of human rights is a worthy goal, to be sure, but Vasella’s saccharine altruism brings to mind economist Milton Friedman’s reproachful observation that ‘businessmen believe that they are defending free enterprise when they declaim that business is not concerned `merely’ with profit but also with promoting desirable ‘social’ ends; that business has a ‘social conscience’ and takes seriously its responsibilities for providing employment, eliminating discrimination . . . and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of reformers.”

Friedman accused such executives of being “unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society.”

The current catchwords are ”human rights” and ”corporate citizenship,” which prompts businesses trying to ”do good” (or perhaps just trying to look good) to deviate from their primary purpose. Take, for example, McDonald’s ending its popular ”supersized” portions in the name of discouraging obesity and businesses adopting less efficient, more ”sustainable” practices.

Businesses do not have social responsibilities; only people do. Inasmuch as corporate leaders work for the owners of the business, their responsibility is to pursue the best interests of their employers — interests that relate primarily to making as much money as possible while conforming to the legal rules and ethical norms of society. By taking actions on behalf of the company that he arbitrarily decides are ”socially responsible,” a corporate executive is, in effect, spending someone else’s money by reducing returns to shareholders.

One of the easiest things to do is to spend other people’s money on causes in which you believe; one of the most difficult, but most meaningful, is to spend your own money. If these executives donated even 5 percent of their salaries to such causes, they would be worthy of admiration, even if the causes were repugnant to some of us.

Diverting resources
Neither free enterprise nor the human condition is likely to benefit if companies decide to follow Vasella’s model. Their actions would, however, raise the cost of doing business, lower corporate productivity and feed the United Nations’ predilections for meddling. By diverting resources away from productive uses, businesses would end up hurting many of the very people they claim to want to help.

Henry Miller is a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. From 1979 to 1994, he was an official with the Food and Drug Administration.
©2004 Project Syndicate

More on Bullies @ work

Recently I posted on bullies @ work & made some fairly harsh comments about a colleague who had been doing this sort of thing often and openly. The other day I actually had some time to talk with this person and discovered that they had been going through a very difficult time at work. It seems that the behaviour I was seeing was a reflection of the behaviour that was being displayed by this person’s own superior. Also the other day I was under a lot of pressure from senior management and was very snappy with a few of my own team members. This really got me thinking that bullying is not just an incident – it is really a culture.

The nature of bullying is that it is tied to the power relations of a workplace. These are still essentially hierarchical (in spite of what organisational management theorists would have use believe). Further, the threat of job loss or downsizing means many people operate in a fearful way. All of this goes towards making bullying almost inevitable.

What can people do about this? How can people low down on the food chain make it stop? I do not have the answer, but many folk I know are going out on their own to escape. It is definitely one response. But those of us in management positions have to ask ourselves do we want to leave the world of work just as dysfunctional when we leave it as when we arrived?

The great maternity leave debate

I do not have children, nor do I plan to reproduce – so I suppose you could say I have no skin in this particular game. But I’ve been thinking about the debates around maternity leave and the low birthrate that have occurred recently in Australia.

The key problem does not actually seem to be paid maternity leave for a number of weeks after the birth, rather it seems to be the fact that one must support the child for at least 18 years after the birth. Nowadays there are few women who do not have to return to work to support their families. Given this situation it seems to me that the real problem is not maternity leave, instead it is the lack of cheap and available childcare.

The solution to this problem is obvious! The government should provide childcare on the same basis as it does school education. It should be a universal right in this country. Since many women (and men) would like to have children this would support a rise in the birth rate by removing a key impediment to child rearing. I must admit I would prefer my taxes go to universal childcare than to some other things.

Professionalism & IT (or not as the case may be)

Aaargh!!
It is an unending source of amazement to me that our society will not let a hairdresser cut your hair or a mechanic fix your car unless they’ve done a multi-year apprenticeship BUT they will let any half-wit who thinks they have a clue play with mission critical computers.

Since computers are now a central part of modern life this course of action seems at best imprudent and at worst plain stupid and dangerous! In recent times I’ve seen some configurations that are criminally stupid and risky, and these could only have been implemented by people without any idea of what the were doing.

An equivalent disaster to the big blackout in the east USA could happen at any time because there are complete clowns being allowed to ‘play’ with essential computer systems and infrastructure. If only people realized how scary the world of technology really is!

The case of a defined body of knowledge that practitioners must master before being let loose on our systems is a most pressing issue. How can we have homeland defense when there are people who don’t know how to patch their systems against worms, trojans, and viruses. Heaps of the recent attacks had patches out months earlier.

Again, a lack of professionalism in the IT industry.