You Might Die Today from a Lethal Spider Bite, and Other Pressing Enterprise Concerns

Enterprise employees, take note: today you might die from a lethal spider bite.

I realize that the chances are slim, but the possibility is there – when you least expect it, out from the corner of your office might creep a small black widow, aching to attack your ankle with its venomous teeth. It will bite. And then you’ll probably die.

But you’re a valuable employee, and your company would hate to lose you to a lethal spider bite. It’s probably best that Legal, HR and Compliance come together and create a formal “No Spider policy” to ensure that employees don’t bring them into the office. Lethal spider policies can save lives, people.

Ridiculous? Yes. But think about your enterprise social network and how the fear of any possible negative outcome is highlighted by frightened, risk-averse groups worried about compliance and the what-ifs of human behavior that can’t be governed and controlled.

  • What if Salty Sam says a bad word?
  • What if Angry Amy posts a rant about the company’s benefit policy?
  • What if Forgetful Fred accidentally posts a customer’s account number/social security number/private information/scanned fingerprint inside the community?

We should definitely regulate against all of these possibilities, and more, right?

Wrong.

Yesterday, there was a great discussion on the first Twitter-based #ESNchat, hosted by Humana internal community manager Jeff Ross (who, in my opinion, is one of the best out there), about how to properly govern an internal social community. During the chat, I mentioned my oft-used “No Spider Policy” analogy, and with some positive feedback, decided to finally publish it for others to see and use. So here it is.

Your company doesn’t have a “No Spider policy” that restricts employees from bringing lethal insects into the office. But an employee could, very easily, sneak in a deadly spider that might end up taking the life of a valuable colleague. So, why isn’t there a No Spider policy? Because, in short, your company trusts its employees not to do stupid things. Your company hired each employee, vetted his or her credentials, and agreed upon a fit. You fundamentally believe that your employees will not bring deadly spiders to work.

Why is it then, when launching an enterprise social network, companies often scramble to create dictionary-length books of rules, policies, and do’s and don’t's that seek to govern every type of possible behavior inside an enterprise social network?

Companies must accept that they cannot micromanage every aspect of employee communication. But they CAN enact general rules that assume that everyone at the company is a smart, trustworthy individual who won’t release poisonous spiders or post sensitive data. Instead of scaring employees away with a myriad of specific rules, regulations, and prohibitions specific to an enterprise social network, make sure that your communication policies are up to date and social media (internal and external) are thoroughly addressed therein.

When we trust our employees, we don’t worry about what might happen, because we know that mistakes will occur, but a culture of empowerment and confidence in people will shape positive behavior.

Photo Credit: © 2010 Guido Bohne, ‘big-eyed jumping spider from W-Java – Yellow-lined Epeus'