July 25, 2008
I had a conversation with a client the other day about Blogging at work. The question came up, as it often does, how to ensure that employees blog appropriately at work. We spoke about corporate policies regarding appropriate use of the intranet, discussing if they really make an impact on behavior, or if they only exist as leverage when it comes time to take action.
It occurred to me that there is a simple analogy that all professionals can relate to, which brings clarity to the issue: How do you determine what to wear to work?
At every company I have ever worked in (with the exception of Forrester, ironic), there was an explicit policy about dress code. In some organizations, men are expected to show up in a pressed shirt, perhaps a tie and jacket. In others, the code is more lax, but denim jeans are verboten. Of course, men have it much easier, we have fewer choices and they all work pretty well for us. In my last company, a memo forbidding open-toe shoes angered many women in my team, including my boss, who loved her shoe collection. Why forbid open-toe shoes? Perhaps it could lead to sandals – or, heaven forefend – crocs! Crocs in the workplace – oh my word, that could be terrible!
Dress-code is a real issue for the upwardly mobile professional. We learn early on to dress for the job we want; or the corollary – to follow our management’s lead when it comes to dressing to work. Your uniform declares your membership to a group. Are you wearing a suit, scrubs, or a lab coat? Or a ripped t-shirt and baseball cap?
Dress codes are not something you can blissfully ignore and boldly violate. According to Linda Wong, partner at Wong Fleming, a law firm specializing in employment law, "Reasonable dress code policies usually hold up in court." (Business Week)
Now what happens when someone inadvertently comes to work dressed improperly? Perhaps the sandals or shorts send an overly casual message, perhaps the cut of the clothing sends a message that would be best delivered outside the workplace, like in a single’s bar. Typically, the office can survive this judgment gaffe. And usually, the most appropriate action would be a direct but friendly guidance from a manager. Ignoring it leads to a bigger problem – others might follow the behavior. Leading to – crocs at work! Oy vey.
Blogging at work is quite similar in this regard. We express ourselves in how we dress and what we say; and others form an opinion about us. Much like a dress code policy, you should articulate a blogging policy. It sets down what you want others to know and do. And indeed, after the memo about open-toe shoes – behavior did change. Was the change a direct result of the policy? I’m not sure. I suspect that people follow the lead of those they admire. Covered toes became the norm from the top of the management chain on down. The policy may have simply made this explicit and unambiguous.
Aside from a statement of policy, you actually set the dress code in your company by example, and others will follow it. Those who don’t are given gentle corrective guidance. We survive the drama, it is not a big problem for most organization. We don’t ban clothing for fear that someone will wear the wrong clothing to work.
And therefore, you can set the preferred blogging practice by example by having your thought-leaders blog. Employees will follow successful patterns of behavior. Correct blogging gaffes with gentle guidance (you might have to remove a few blog posts from the server). A well-written policy can really help clarify expectations, but great examples take the message even farther. If you want to be really cool – blog about the blogging policy. (I just did.)