Facebook and crap management

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.

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7 Responses to Facebook and crap management

  1. Bang on. Much of British corporate management, IMHO, is about control and not encouragement. Or in other words, a total lack to see the “bigger picture”.

  2. jonathan says:

    Bang on too – it’s an easy hit for crap managers.

    I don’t suppose there will be any volunteers to police people accessing facebook on mobile/wap devices ?????

    ummm thought not because that means actually confronting someone…

  3. Paulie says:

    I recall a cartoon in one of the papers a few years ago. Someone is standing at an office reception and the receptionist is playing patience with a real deck of cards. She explains “the system is down and we’re having to do everything manually.”

  4. John says:

    Great article – totally agree

    Given the so-called 90:9:1 ‘rule’ – maybe this should give some comfort to senior management of companies yet to ban these sites … as this suggests that it will be very hard to get more than 1% of their workforce as regular on-line contributors even if they encourage use of Facebook 🙂

  5. Dilip Bhatt says:

    On a slightly different perspective. I believe it’s vital to encourage social exchange within a organisation Yes I certainly agree that a blanket ban is not tackling the issues head on.

    Most organisations have an informal social network and you can’t stop people from talking at a water cooler nor should you. If however if that’s all that people do is to talk then there is performance problem as you rightly pointed out.

    As a management consultant specialising on knowledge sharing, I have advised clients to put sofas next to the coffee machine, allow blogs that related to their business and so on so forth. Some Executives took my advice and others think I am a total nutcase. Unfortunately command and control rules. Sad but true.

  6. jonathan says:

    I worked somewhere once where there was a large whiteboard near the canteen. It was a free for all – you just got the pen and wrote what you wanted to write.

    The Chief Exec rather enlightenedly even left stuff on that critised him personally.

  7. Anthony says:

    Command & control and not encouragement is alive and well in British industry, perhaps not just British though. I also believe there is a culture of just paying “lip service” to various concepts and Ideas because it is easier than actually putting in the effort and/or the bean counters don’t think its going to be cost effective in the short term.Things that come to mind are, Business continuity planning, ethical behavior, respect for the individual and the like. Long term goals don’t appear to be anything that is worth aiming for anymore. Quality is too expensive. Some large corporations are very fond of telling you how wonderful they are, how much they have grown, how much of a percentage their output/stock/acquisitions have grown. Sounds a very familiar spiel to anyone that listened to the english speaking output from the former eastern bloc countries in the 1970’s & 80’s “This months tractor output has increased by 28.4%……..”
    Perhaps I am just getting cynical in my old age??

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