Leveson, Social Media and your Business

The Leveson enquiry has caused many of us to ponder our relationship with the media and it will be interesting to find out how far the government will go in implementing Leveson’s recommendations. The enquiry and subsequent proposals have sparked a debate about what it means to have a free press and how large media companies operate. Personally I think many in the press have behaved terribly. However I couldn’t help but think if all the attention on the traditional media will be something of an anti climax. Not because the government may or may not water down Leveson’s proposals but because the way we receive our news is changing.

In fact the way we access media has changed enormously in the last few years and it is down to the internet and social media. Social Media is of course a media platform and it gives every individual the chance to spread their message. Years ago this sort of power would have been reserved to media companies but now we see regular people within nothing more than a laptop become successful bloggers or receive millions of hits on You Tube. Who is going to ensure the blogger conforms to standards and how do we know if what they say has any substance whatsoever? We’ve already seen this start to impact businesses from false reviews on Trip Advisor through to poorly researched articles – the internet allows everyone to have their say.

Within the work place, the worlds of work and play are becoming increasingly blurred. I recently spoke with an HR professional who works for a global financial company. They don’t allow employees to use Facebook or Social Media sites on their work PC’s or laptops. This sort of policy might have worked 4 years ago but now every second person owns a smart phone and I’m sure those numbers will increase this Christmas! People are using these devices to connect straight onto any social media site they please (the financial services person even confessed to accessing social media during long meetings when they went a little stale) whether during working hours or their lunch breaks. The idea of telling people they can’t use social media at work just isn’t going to happen.

So if Leveson style regulation of media won’t work with ‘new media’...what’s to be done? With social media a different approach is needed and it is about having a strategy and being proactive. When used effectively social media allows businesses an opportunity to interact with both customers and staff in a positive way. It allows us to influence the conversation, both within the organisation and outside of it. Internally, we are increasingly seeing companies take innovative approaches to using social media as an internal communication tool. Social Media allows a transparency and multi user approach that email (I think e-mail is the work of the devil) doesn’t. In fact I think social media is about a gazillion times more effective for many conversations than e-mail is. Some CEO’s are using twitter as a way to interact with their staff. Do we even need expensive company intranet sites anymore...watch this space.



I've got 400 friends, sorry 'contacts', on Linkedin!

Recently I’ve been spending some time on Linkedin and I oddly feel quite proud that I have crossed the 400 plus connections mark (not friends I remind myself, friends are reserved for Facebook). I wonder perhaps if that is because as ‘social animals’ we feel some security in people validating us? This links in (drum roll...) with a conversation I had last week with a fascinating lady called Clare Robinson from Green Elephant Coaching who talked about how much basic human behaviour impacts on our current behaviour at work. In my mind this is definitely reflected in our use of social media... 

But coming back to less primeval issues and Linkedin, a big concern at the moment from many employers and HR people, is around this increasingly popular social media tool. Following on from my previous blog, the crux of the concern seems to be around the issue of ‘control’. Pre social media times (ancient history to many of the students at Edinburgh Napier University), employees in commercial roles would put their business contacts in a big black book or some sort of customer management database. When employees finished their employment with the company, those business contacts would remain with the company and the MD of that company would sleep well knowing that those hard earned contacts weren’t going to a competitor! However since the rise of the internet and social media we now have those same employees putting their contacts on Linkedin! How dare they!

A very practical example would be the recruitment industry and the recruitment consultants who work for recruitment agencies. Recruitment consultants often connect with their candidates and clients on Linkedin. These are all interactions they have had in the course of their business so there is a good argument to say they are the intellectual property of the company they work for. 

Now the concern normally arises when the consultant leaves the business. Who owns their contacts? The MD of the business might well say “They’re Mine”!! As already said this would seem plausible but what’s the solution? It is after all in the recruitment agencies interest for their clients to be on Linkedin in the first place. We also have to consider where the line in increasingly shifting sands actually is. Linkedin has been with us for a few years so it is increasingly unlikely experienced professionals will have started with the recruitment company having no contacts – in fact many people are hired partly on the strength of their contacts.

I had this discussion with one of my clients, Michael Young from MBN Recruitment Solutions in Glasgow .  Whilst he wants his business protected as best he can, he also advocates using Linkedin to build his brand and service. I agree completely. Channel your energy into using social media to build your brand as a business. In order to achieve this it is about engaging with your employees so they can really use Linkedin to maximum effect. Rather than seeking to place excessive controls, train and empower them to extract maximum leverage from a great tool. Do this and they are far more likely to promote your company in the best light. Yes, put in some sensible rules so employees know basic do’s and do not’s and put in some sensible legal clauses in their contracts. But don’t go overboard with the do not’s because you can’t fight the internet – more powerful Middle Eastern Dictators than you have tried and failed. And besides who really wins from legal action?

Take the fore mentioned positive actions and back it up by becoming known for great customer service, great products, great recruitment – or whatever it is you do and people will feel a sense of loyalty to your brand regardless of who leaves your organisation. Command and control? Not much place for it anymore I’m afraid...


Social Media, Work and 700 friends on Facebook...

This week has been a social media week for me. Now I’m not a natural social media person but nor am I complete social media dunce...I like to think I sit somewhere in the middle. For instance I use facebook and thanks to my smart phone, I probably check it more than I should – Mark Zuckerberg has really gotten a grip of me. I’m also reasonably well versed on Linkedin and as you can see from this blog, I’m now getting into blogging. I’ve also been getting some help from the very knowledgeable blogger, Sam McFarlane from Edinburgh Napier’s Bright Red Triangle.
If I’m honest I’ll never be as technically hot on social media as Sam. What interests me more than the technical aspect of using Social Media, is the implications it has for work and how people work.
So yesterday, I met an interesting social media professional, Jason King and Iater that day, I also attended the CIPD employment Law Update presented by Toni McAlindin a well known Employment Barrister. Two very different people, but there was a common theme and that was social media. Both people came at it from different angles, Jason from a marketing perspective and Toni from an employment law one.
What I sensed at the CIPD conference however, and with greatest respect to the speaker, was a lack of awareness about how people are using social media, particularly around Facebook. Certainly when I chatted with a middle aged (I’m sorry but I think the middle aged part is relevant albeit in a generalising sort of way...) HR person afterwards, she lamented “why are people so careless on social media?”
In my part time teaching capacity at the university, I recently asked 2nd year undergraduate students how many friends they have on Facebook (It’s not a question of if they’re on the facebook!). The answers which came back were numbers in the mid to high hundreds and even above a thousand!  That’s right, they are connected with a 1000 plus people – what a network! Most of these students are 19 so they have quite literally grown up with social media, firstly Bebo and now Facebook. They’ve gone through their teenage years on facebook and quite simply, having 700 friends plus isn’t about being careless - it’s how they live their lives. On many issues they simply appear to be much more open and in a way which would scare people a generation or two older. Many HR types fret about the wrongs of Facebook, the legal risks and the importance of ‘educating’ people to be more aware so as to control it. Some businesses will also try to ignore Facebook and hope it goes away.
However social media is about much, much more than employment law. A Communication professional I know talks about using employees as ‘brand ambassadors’ i.e. in a way which promotes the company. This throws up a number of key issues. A policy is certainly important but your HR policy must tie in with your communication strategy and if you’re taking it to the next level, your employer brand (I mean if someone has 1000 contacts shouldn’t you be trying to tap into that as a business!?). Above all, it should be realistic and empowering - you’re not going to stop people from using social media! My feeling is social media is evolving very quickly and we don’t quite know the implications for work, particularly with generation ‘Y’ (which includes the group of students I mentioned earlier) so it is an issue to keep abreast of. I think businesses will need to accept social media, work with it and embrace it. Crucially, the old management philosophy of command and control will not work with social media where everyone is the commander and no one is the controller!


Leadership in UK Business - Post Crash

I recently questioned the extent to which proposed changes in employment law would benefit British business. Instead I suggested effective leaders are a far better way to improve our business prospects. This is a theme I have been exploring in more detail via my own research. This research has given me the opportunity to interview key personnel in businesses across a variety of industries ranging in size from 50 staff all the way up to global blue chip companies.
To date the findings have been interesting. Firstly there is a perception that the old certainties which existed before the economic downturn do not exist and may never exist again. Quite simply, the world is a more volatile place that it was in the latter parts of the 20th century and very early 21st century. Not only do we have adverse economic issues but we increasingly have less certain resource, climate and political issues to contend with.
Consequently, many businesses are challenging their existing practices and are searching for more sustainable business models. This isn’t sustainability in the context of the environment or corporate social responsibility (although it may include both of those). Rather, sustainability is being used as a term to describe adopting a successful long term approach to business which stands in sharp contrast to the ‘profit at all costs’ model. Businesses still want to make money but the key difference is that making money now isn’t at the expense of making money in the future.
So how does a backdrop of volatility & a desire to create a sustainable business model impact our approach to leadership? Certainly, businesses who think sustainably, are accepting the need to put a bigger emphasis on leadership as opposed to management. Key themes have emerged around the type of leaders needed. Terms previously not always associated with industry such as ‘moral’ have been used. This is because the sustainable leader needs to truly consider the needs of their people, their customers and their stakeholders and not just pay lip service to them. To work successfully against a backdrop of volatility, those same leaders need to be able to put on different leadership ‘hats’ to fit different situations and be entrepreneurial. To be successful with both sustainability and volatility those leaders must be able to motivate, involve, empower and engage their people. Arguably above all else, these are leaders who can accept those at the helm of a company don’t have a monopoly on wisdom.  

KPMG Report on Minimum Wage & the UK

KPMG recently published figures (shown on yesterdays BBC website) showing that one in five workers in the UK are paid less than the basic living wage. There are arguments on both sides about the moral rights and wrongs of this and this has already been covered by many others. The only thing I will say is that I'm glad I don't have to exist on minumum wage! However what the report also does is to bring the issue of pay into the spot light.
In my experience, I have found money to be one of the most misunderstood motivators. Many of us naturally assume that everyone works for money but substantial evidence shows it is not as black and white as this. Certainly when I take people through a career coaching process it is nearly always the case that money isn’t high on their agenda – even when they first thought it was. I’m not advocating pay isn’t important, but rather, that most people are motivated by other factors too such as a nice work environment, nice colleagues, to be listened to and have a chance to do fulfilling work. The best thing of all is many of the fore mentioned are free! Pay is generally only an issue if it isn’t enough i.e. what people would perceive to be fair & equitable for the work they do. Whilst some people are undoubtedly more motivated by money than others, it is worth considering the limitations of pay when using it as a tool to motivate your staff to do their work (which when you think about it is essentially why you pay them in the first place!). Otherwise you might run the risk of losing good staff to competitors which is definitely costly.

Changes to UK Employment Law - will they work?

It appears Vince Cable thought so called ‘fire at will’ proposals were a step too far, but how much will a slackening of employee rights really help UK business? Whilst I feel some changes will be useful for employers, many of the employment issues I come across aren’t a consequence of employment law, but rather a consequence of poor leadership! In the UK we have a habit of promoting people to 'management' positions on the basis of their technical expertise as opposed to their people or leadership skills...and whilst we're at it, what the hell is a 'manager' anyway? I'd argue that most people don't need to be managed, they need to be led!
Anyway coming back to the topic, Employment disputes are often the consequence of festering issues that haven’t been tackled at source via a difficult conversation, or are themselves caused by a poor 'manager'. Similarly many businesses apply management as a bolt onto other responsibilities. Whilst this is often inevitable - particularly in smaller organisations - it can mean people management becomes an afterthought. Unfortunately this can contribute not only to problems but also a slowdown in efficiency, customer service and innovation