Stop treating your employees like children (or stop considering an internal social network)

“You are so in for it. You have no idea.”

I hear this a lot these days. Upon learning I’ve got a couple of daughters about to become teens, people I barely know become strangely comfortable projecting their own experiences onto my children. There must be some comfort in universalizing a private hell.

I’ve always thought that if you believe your kids are going to be terrible toddlers or teens, then they probably will be. Reality has a way of conforming to our fixations.

I was reminded of this the other day when talking with a corporate leader about his company’s internal social network. The idea of it was fine, he said, as long as we strictly police every posting. He was pushing for the whole company to adopt the rather fear-inducing “rules of engagement” he’d developed for his own team.

I agreed these rules would effectively curb any inappropriate engagement on the network — in fact, they’d probably curb any engagement at all.

“Employees are like kids,” I’ve heard this same leader say. “They need boundaries.”

Okay, but look, the power of an enterprise social network lies in its ability to create a free flow of information, knowledge sharing, and collaboration.  The point is to remove boundaries.

The key (and challenge) is that you have to trust your employees to act appropriately and make good decisions.

That means giving them some room to get it wrong, especially in the early stages. More importantly, it means the active involvement of leaders to model appropriate participation – rather than trying to control it.

If your starting point is the assumption that an internal social network is as much a danger as an opportunity, it’s probably not much of either.

But go into it with the belief that your employees want to be more productive, connected, and collaborative… want a better way to share ideas and ask questions… can be trusted to know what kinds of conversations are appropriate in a public work forum… and you might just find that you were right.