Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blogging - when the rope hits the rudder

One of the major risks for employees who blog is that of causing offence to clients and finding themselves in the dog box as a consequence.

Let's say, for example, you attend a meeting with a client in which the client expresses a view that you disagree with. This client is by no means the only one to express this view and it is something you have addressed in various spaces, including your blog, on more than one occasion. You try to reason with the client, to no avail.

So (you think) you exercise your right to free speech and you write about it on your blog. Again. You know this is an issue many members of your network encounter, too, and you wonder how they deal with it. You point out your objections to the client's line of reasoning. You carefully omit the client's name and any other indicators that might reveal their identity.

A few people stop by your post and submit comments. Some of these are not very tactfully couched. Quite rude, in fact. But you publish them, because (you think) they're exercising their right to free speech.

Then someone from the client side who was present at the meeting stumbles across your post and identifies their organisation as being the one being referred to. They take exception. They take even greater exception to the comments, for which they hold you accountable.

They tell your company that they never want you anywhere near their project again.

This puts your manager in a difficult position. Are you guilty of gross misconduct and therefore dismissable? Can you be quietly redeployed elsewhere? Are the powers that be higher up the food chain baying for your head on a pike? Can he/she get away with slapping you on the wrist and saying "Bad blogger! Don't ever do that again"? Would/should you comply? What action could he/she take if you didn't? Where is the line? Where is the black and the white and what the heck is all this grey stuff?

Many companies have avoided formalising a policy in respect of blogging because of the minefield it constitutes - particularly in respect of privately held, professional interest blogs. It's more straightforward if yours is a corporate blog on behalf of the organisation or if, at the other end of the spectrum, yours is a blog that centres on your leisure pastimes and does not address issues within the organisation's sphere of influence. It's that one in-between that's the blighter! how do they establish a defensible, enforceable policy that restricts what you may and may not say in a blog that is your private-but-very-public property without infringing your rights?

This provides the hapless manager with no guidelines to work from. There are no formal rules that have been broken, so it's difficult ot know what course of action to take. Is a disciplinary procedure in order? Dare he/she go that route, knowing that you might retaliate with an action of your own about freedom of expression and rights and stuff?

Your manager probably hopes that you'll go quietly. Do you?


Stephen Downes said...

> Your manager probably hopes that you'll go quietly. Do you?


Companies that side with their clients against their employees deserve to be outed. So that future potential employees will know that, when things get dicey, this employer does not have their back.

Anonymous said...

I would not go quietly. Karyn, I faced the same dilemma a month back. The new organization I had joined was making courses, which I do not think would add on to any one's knowledge. These were simple re-hash of books that they were made from. Somehow I was not convinced about the relevance of these courses though they were for a ITIL. My heart was not willing to compromise and some management issues just made the decision easier. I spoke my heart out and I feel no regrets. In corporate atmosphere all this filth is always there but when one feels there is injustice, it is better to move on than live in suppression. Hugs and the posts are all wow!You contribute so much to all through your writings. it is these people's loss, not yours.You are too good for such near-sighted people.

The upsycho said...

@rina Thanks for the support, but I didn't say that this was what happened to me. Without a blogging policy (and possibly even with one), it's the sort of thing that can happen. Hope you're happier in your new situation.

The upsycho said...

@downes Thanks for the comment, Stephen - somehow the email alert wound up falling foul of my spam filter, so it got published out of sequence.

You make a good point, but it's an employer's market at the moment and I suspect few prospective employees will have the luxury of being that choosy when there are families to feed. And existing employees are all too aware that the cards are stacked against them.

It's a tricky one when you have to choose between your principles and keeping a roof over your family's head.

Duncan said...

It smacks of corporate bullying. One question to ask the manager is whether they would be considering legal action if the employee didn't work there. If the answer is no, they're abusing their position to try and moderate the employee's behaviour. If the answer is yes, (unlikely considering no names have been named) ask them on what grounds, and then consider options.

Anonymous said...

Karyn, I don't know the details of your comments or the history behind them. So my two cents is just loose change.

"Free speech" isn't "speech without consequences." In the U.S., it only really applies to freedom from government interference.

Even then, the Hatch Act legally limits the political activity (and speech) of federal employees.

If I work as an employee or a contractor, then customer Boogaloo Incorporated isn't really my client; they're my employer's.

My employer has a legitimate interest in maintaining a productive relationship. Even if they choose irascible clients to have them with.

A personal blog is as private as a bumper sticker on a car. Not that many people actually see a post, but it's there for anyone to come across (or search for).

I this Stephen's statement is a little simplistic: sometimes the employee is just plain wrong. I agree that how a company handles that is a different matter.

The manager or supervisor needs to look at what was said, and how, as well as at the client's reaction. If the client's mad and plans to stay that way, but the "offender" still has talent to bring to the project, maybe alternative ways of working exist.

You've uncovered a genuine problem: organizations haven't figured out how to cope with the personal blogs of employees and contractors. Sun Microcystems has, but I'm sure they still hit bumps on the road.

And I notice that their guidelines link to a 56-page set of corporate standards.

Manish Mohan said...

If you are an entrepreneur or an independent consultant, and you are faced with the same situation where your biggest and perhaps the only client goes away due to your blog post and you know you really have no new contracts to manage, what would you do?

I agree with the objective response by Dave. It is not always about corporates being without a back or bullying. Sometimes you get a rap on your knuckles, sometimes the manager will side with you.