Trying to build a social business without trust

building trustState of the industry reports like the recent IBM paper suggest that many organisations are now dabbling with social tools within the workplace.  Whilst few seem to have a clear ROI in mind for their tools, or indeed a clear purpose, the fact that they’re trying is at least a positive step.

I can’t help but have the feeling however that handicapping any attempts at creating a social business is a distinct lack of trust, both in employees by management and in management by employees.

Bring me your device

Take for instance the IT policies at most organisations.  How many of us at work can modify our computers?  We’re living in an age of Bring Your Own Device.  It’s an age when it’s quite possible, even probable, that the devices we use at home are better suited to allowing us to prosper at work than the devices we’re asked to use at work.  Most offices are still reliant upon Internet Explorer for instance, whilst most people at home now use Firefox or Chrome, yet the option to install these browsers is often denied us for various security reasons.

That we manage to maintain and update our personal computers with minimal fuss seems irrelevant when we’re not trusted to maintain the computers we’re provided with at work.  If we can’t be trusted to do such a simple task can we be trusted to collaborate spontaneously with our peers or speak on behalf of our employer to a customer on social media?

Trusting your employees

There’s often a similar fear eminating from communications teams that have such rigid control over the ‘brand message’ that anything posted to social media has to go through numerous checks and approvals, thus rinsing it of any of the spontenaity or humanity that makes social so, well, social.  By all means have guidelines in place to help people understand what’s expected of them, but to be truely social there needs to be a degree of trust that the people you’re hiring to do a job can be trusted to get on and do that job to the best of their ability.

If you want to create an army of brand ambassadors then it needs to be made as easy as possible for them to get out there and start engaging with people.  Your job as a manager should be to remove the hurdles that stand in their way, not build them up.  You should exist to guide them on the best way to do so and report back on how they’re doing.  It’s a mentoring role not a nannying one.

A two way street

Trust of course has to flow both ways.  Employees need to be able to trust that their managers want to hear candid feedback on how products are doing in the marketplace or on how they’re performing as managers.  There needs to be faith that their organisation will operate as a meritocracy rather than relying on status to determine the virtue of an idea.  There needs to be a confidence that good suggestions will be acted upon and won’t end up in a suggestion box to nowhere.

Central to this culture of trust is how mistakes are handled.  Innovation, and indeed learning, relies upon being able to experiment and learn from these experiences to continously improve how you operate.  If you adopt the nannying approach of trying to prevent any mistakes from happening however it cuts off this innovation at its source.

A social business is a trusting business

It isn’t possible to be a social business unless you have that implied trust flowing throughout your organisation.  You may implement social tools and pay lip service to being social, but as the examples in this post show, without trust flowing between employees and their managers, it’s never going to be any more than a superficial attempt.

I wrote earlier this year about the importance of understanding the emotional pillars that will support your social endeavours.  Trust is central to that, so before you get your cheque book out and invest in tools, make sure you have that in place.



4 thoughts on “Trying to build a social business without trust

  1. I believe it was Scott Stratten who once said: "if you can't trust your employees to behave on social media, you don't have a social media issue. You have a hiring issue!"
    It's so true what you say about IT and most employees who can manage their own equipment and be more productive than what they are entrusted to do. How many company employees still have to deal with blackberries just because IT or Legal has not authorized the switch to Android or iOS, for example?
    Trust, it's a powerful thing, yet it's so tough to achieve and so easy to lose…

  2. IT departments are quite often awful and seem to do more to obstruct work than actually help it. Really is baffling how they get away with it.

  3. First, let's be clear that I don't work for the IT/IM dept. And…

    It's very easy to point fingers at the 'others' and say, "it's your fault".

    Now, imagine that you work on the IT staff. You have a 12 year old 'system' that only works on IE6. The C-suite says, 'hey, it ain't broke – don't fix it'. So, as much you'd love to build a new platform that is accessible from any device, anywhere – you can't get the resources to do it. Happens all the time.

    Now, imagine that you have 30% of your staff who insist on using the password 'password'. Oh, and by the way, if anyone hacks into your network and causes major outages… a) everyone from top to bottom screams at you for not being able todo their job, and b) you are the one who gets fired – not the 34 people who's password is 'password'.

    Trust is a two way street. And many, many 'knowledge workers' have not earned the trust that they are supposed to be taking advantage of.

    Before we start hanging the IT folks out to dry, stop for a minute. If your own income depended upon trusting people who are seemingly incapable of managing their personal passwords in any mature fashion, and who click on every link in every email that they receive – how would you proceed?

    • Hi Geoff,

      Thanks for the comment. I come from an IT background and have worked in network admin roles in the past, so quite agree that the trust has to come from both sides.

      I can't help feeling at the moment however that things are locked down on the off chance that something might happen rather than actually as a measured response to events as they happen.

      How do folks earn the trust if they're not given the chance to do so?

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