Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Is it really a lack of trust, or a fear of connecting that leads to discouragement of social media in workplaces?

I hear a great deal of discussion by colleagues (and have engaged in it myself) about the lack of trust within organisations.

  • "There's all this process because our senior leadership doesn't trust its own staff."
  • "If they'd just trust the [Communications/Web/IT/Finance/Procurement/Program/Policy] team - we know what we are doing and have some very talented people here"
  • "If you want to influence managers, get in a consultant - bosses trust them more because they are not staff."
  • "What does someone with twenty years experience and a successful track record have to do to be trusted around here?"

What if it is not really about trust? What if fears of senior management about use of social media in the office, while expressed or viewed as trust issues, are really just about preserving professional distance.

Managers often find there is a need to stay slightly separate from their staff. They may be advised not to go out and party like a team member, or to get too close to the personal lives of younger people (particularly of the opposite gender) in the organisation.

This separation is to 'keep the relationship professional', to avoid forming personal connections which might interfere with professional responsibilities, to avoid perceptions (or actual) favouritism or bias and to preserve a sense of authority. This allows difficult business decisions to be made more objectively - people disciplined or let go, changes that are painful to individuals but better for an organisation to be made, critical information to be kept secret when needed.

Thinking about the situation in this way, it isn't that senior managers distrust their staff - in most cases they probably hold them in high regard - it is that they have been trained to maintain distance.

If so those endeavouring to introduce social tools into organisations might find a different tact works best. Managers can use social media in different ways to staff - just as they can use email and phones differently.

Sure, allow teams to socialise - humans are social creatures, we perform better and more productively when we know enough about our colleagues to work with them well.

However managers can still use them with professional distance - communicating facts and announcements teams need to know, seeking and providing feedback on work, mentoring, instructing - even chastising.

Perhaps that's some food for thought next time your senior managers appear to block a social media channel. It's not that they distrust their staff. It could be that they fear connecting too closely.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Interesting point. Maybe identifying that they can use the tool/s to connect with others in management roles would be a point to raise to help address this issue.

    Educating managers about the fact that they are in control of how they use the tools would be a good idea too. Tell them "If you don't feel comfortable being 'friends' with those that report to you don't. It's up to you. I would suggest however that you talk to them and let them know how you are going to use the tool". Maybe suggest that they use the obligatory 'about me' field in their profile to put this in writing.


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