This post from Guru reminded me to have a rant about the row over using Facebook and MySpace at work. As he says, there is nothing new about this. Ever since Solitaire and Minesweeper appeared, people have been pretending to work while messing about on their computers. I once knew a secretary who could do Minesweeper in around two minutes. You don’t get that good without practice.
A number of organisations have already blocked access to Facebook and MySpace, including Kent County Council, Credit Suisse and Transport for London. Others are stopping short of a full ban and issuing policies and guidelines on whether and when it is acceptable to use the sites.
All this activity makes senior executives look as if they are managing the problem. But, actually, issuing bans, policies and guidelines is what people do instead of managing the problem.
This is a straightforward performance management issue. If people are not doing enough work of the required quality in the time allocated, managers should be monitoring them and doing something about it. It doesn’t matter whether they are logging into Facebook, gossiping around the water-cooler or spending hours in pointless meetings.
That’s the problem, though, isn’t it? Most managers hate confrontation. Many would sooner hide in their offices than talk to their staff about anything, let alone their performance. New policies, guidleines and outright bans have two distinct advantages over proper performance management.
Firstly, you can send them out on an email. You don’t actually have to confront anybody about their time-wasting – or even raise the issue in conversation. Secondly, bans and policies are general. They apply across the board, so no-one can accuse you of having a go at them. Furthermore, they apply to managers too, so you can have a discreet moan along with everyone else in a nothing-to-do-with-me-not-my-idea sort of way. Performance management, by contrast, is horribly specific. You have to identify individuals, gather data on their performance and talk to them about it.
These blanket bans and attempts to restrict people from using networking sites are simply a subsititute for proper management. If you ban Facebook, shouldn’t you also have rules on how long people can spend chatting at the coffee machine or on the phone? After all, it amounts to the same thing - talking to your mates instead of working.
Hiding behind generalised policies and bans is a sign of passive and weak management. Good managers know which members of their teams are not performing and take the appropriate action.
Facebook and MySpace might be new but the problem isn’t. It’s simply one of managing people effectively, which is what senior executives are paid to do.