CEO’s, Web 2.0, and “Ostrich” Leadership


June 29, 2010

As I am following the SHRM Annual Conference on Twitter from home this week, there is some great information being shared.  For instance, I’ve already gathered data on unions and EFCA.  That said, as the sessions get rolling, tweets during one of the social media sessions about the harmful effects of Web 2.0 caught my attention.  I felt I had to jump into the fray:

TrishMcFarlane's avatar
TrishMcFarlane says:  Companies who block social media will learn they have lost their competitive advantage.Soc Med. is a tool, not the devil #SHRM10
CincyRecruiter's avatar
CincyRecruiter says:  About 1/2 of the attendees in this session are banning social media at work…”There’s an App for that. The smart phone.” @ryanestis #shrm10
TrishMcFarlane's avatar
TrishMcFarlane says:  @CincyRecruiter No kidding. They need to understand all the employees are already on SM during the day via phone. #SHRM10
CincyRecruiter's avatar
CincyRecruiter says:  @TrishMcFarlane I’m not sure why companies/leaders aren’t getting that. THEY are using their smart phones. Why wouldn’t their employees?

Jen McClure (a.k.a. @CincyRecruiter) is right.  CEO’s and other leaders are using smart phones so why don’t they see that their employees are too?  I could throw a lot of facts and figures at you about how many CEO’s use smart phones, what percent of the population uses them, and probably what percent of  employees use their smart phones at work to check social media sites.  But I won’t.  The numbers really don’t matter here.  What matters is this:

  • Employees ARE using Web 2.0 at work from their phones
  • Social media is a tool to communicate and can just as easily be used in a business setting.
  • Employers who do not use Web 2.0 will begin to lose candidates for their jobs as this becomes more important for employees.  They will also lose good employees who go elsewhere to work for more technologically progressive employers.
  • CEOs who block and ban Web 2.0 in the workplace from desktops and laptops will lose competitive advantage.

Lose competitive advantage, you say?   Why?

Because this is not a fad that is going away.  It’s the NEW media and it is how this generation is starting to do business. Consumers use social media to gain information on your company, your products and your employees.  Ultimately, they are giving you free advertising if you’re good and they are sharing with the world when your customer service is poor.

Are there risks with using Web 2.0?  Absolutely and those can be managed.  They are the same risks that you have when you put a telephone in your employee’s hand  or assign an e-mail address to them and ask them to represent you in that way. Employees are loose cannons, right?  They could just say anything.  Or not.

The bottom line is that employees are adults.  If you treat them like they are and set the expectations of what “proper” communication looks like for your company regardless of the medium used, you’ll be just fine.  Stop acting like an ostrich with your head under ground.  If you don’t, you will soon find that your business has been passed by and all you wound up with is a mouth full of sand.


  • I do understand why employers don’t want their employees having access to web 2.0, mainly due to the worries about productivity and viruses on the work computers. But in light of people using smart phones for their internet browsing (my cell phone is a distant cousin of two tin cans and twine, by the way) and just (what I see) as inane texting whilst work needs to get done, will CEO’s catch on and ask their employees to check their phones at the door?

    I understand why you feel that employers need to get their head out of the sand, but it’s like the whole “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” sort of philosophy. Give the employees access to the web, and they will pollute the company computers with spyware and everything else. After all, we did see one employee of a financial institution viewing questionable material on a work computer on TV (some news show), and the employee in question had no idea his computer screen was in full view of the world!!!! In the live, wired world, you never know who is watching you…

    Maybe with proper management, these issues can be resolved. But I have to say this: I am so sick of seeing kids (and adults) with their noses buried in their telephones. I can’t see how this is productive in the least!!! People are in danger of not being able to interact one-on-one.

    Call me a curmudgeon, if you will.

  • I agree with you Trish. And to address the curmudgeon (said in the sweetest way)…

    Isn’t it easier to manage the exception? You see the idiot looking at questionable material, and you discipline him for that behavior. I’ve worked for two companies that said “no hourly employee shall have their phone on their person while on the clock” – a rule that promptly either got ignored, or made me the cell phone police.

    The CEO of one of those companies spent a large amount of time tending his “farm” on Farmville…. and would admit to it in meetings! At leat when I was utilizing SM in the workplace, I was interacting with my peers and gaining knowledge that benefitted the company. (discussing HR issues, with HR people)

    You may not see how it productive, but as an HR pro, I see no downside to an employee spending a few minutes on the web, particularly if I am asking them to be leashed to a blackberry and answer email from me at all hours. If productivity falls, then we address the failing performance. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    This technology can benefit companies large and small, its just a matter of not being afraid to utilize the functionality, and put good security/virus software in place.

    I’m probably not going to change your mind, but maybe my .02 will get you thinking about the benefits, and not just the pitfalls.

  • I feel the more we tell people they cannot do things, the more they will want to do it – or go to work at a place where they can. Employees already have access to the web either via their computer or smartphone. Whether you want to believe it or not, employees are on social networking sites (Facebook), job boards/Linked In/Monster, reading news, shopping, and/or conducting work. Why not embrace social media and the web and show employees how to apply it to their work? I do agree that some may abuse the privilege – these people should then be addressed.

    Regarding the comment that people do not interact one-on-one, I have not experienced this. I see more people in each other’s office discussing what they found and sharing techniques. The online discussions are typically with those not in the same location.

    Thanks for the article Trish.

  • Thanks Chris… I just wish I could edit and fix the typos! Cat on the computer today. Didn’t notice the missed letters until I hit “send”! 😉

  • As an IT consultant I am fully aware that IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. Palo Alto networks came up with a whitepaper,, which will explore the issues surrounding social media in the workplace. It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company’s greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server’s safety and security.

  • Here we go again, the younger generation trying to change the way people should do business. The drawback of course is that they don’t want to work. They just want to be paid because they are special. I could careless if this type of employee leaves, in this economy let them find another job. After searching for a long time or making little to no money maybe then they will face the reality that one must actually work to earn a decent living. Those that don’t; often blame everyone else for their problems or claim no understands them.

    • @Doug- Well, I don’t think we’ll get to the point of checking cell phones at the door in most industries. I think part of the restriction is for the reason of IT security but personally, I don’t buy that. Why is it that millions of people can use these sites without problem on their home computers and the anti-virus software they have, but we can’t do it at work because we can’t protect our networks? I’m sure that IT can do it, they just don’t want to do it. Again, I think we’re panicking and managing to the few and not the majority of responsible employees. So glad you brought up the other side.

      @Tammy- Great story of the CEO and farmville. I am sure that is happening in more organizations than we know. And I agree with you about not managing to the exception. Don’t let leaders make HR the cell phone police, if you do, you’ve just set us back 30 years in the evolution of our industry. Thanks for the comment.

      @Chris- The conversations and learning from these online sites from a work perspective can far outweigh the value of the reasons not to allow it. Great point!

      @Steve- Thanks much!

      @Kelly- Thanks for sharing the link to the whitepaper and for brining in the IT opinion. I agree with some but I have to tell you that I completely disagree with IT being the ones to determine if it is a productive use of time. HR shouldn’t do that either. The MANAGER should have that role to determine if how their employees are using social media in the workplace is adding value to the day. In my opinion. So glad you joined the conversation. Thanks.

      @aguy- While your view on the younger generation may be correct in some venues, in this one it’s off target. I am not part of the Gen Y crowd, I’m in leadership, so trying to change from the top, not the entry level. I assure you, there are many Gen X and Boomers who “get” how to use social media for business and we do. Shame the rest can’t open their eyes and minds to see some benefits. It has nothing to do with not working hard or blaming others for problems. The mark was missed….. But, glad you took the time to comment. I’d be interested in why you personally do not think it makes sense from a business standpoint and not from the standpoint of just finger pointing at the Gen Yers.

  • Trish,

    I agree with you. The question is how do we spread the word and educate the masses on the benefits of social media or the means in which we can monitor and train our staff to use properly? The conversations need to happen and we are battling against employment law attorneys who are recommending not allowing access to remove their liability but with the popularity of smart phones I don’t see how this could ever happen. In fact, I have yet to meet an employment law attorney who has an open mind and agrees with our collective point of view.

    Mike Vandervort and I met an attorney at SHRM10 this week in the Expo Hall. Mike had received a press release from the law firm and I tagged along with him. The attorney had a clear understanding of the basic social media tools but is recommending to her clients that they disallow employees to tweet and post because they may violate FTC regulations and believes the companies would be fined. Basically, an employee can post something without providing the reader notice that they are being compensated by the company in which they are promoting on social media channels. I questioned whether this was actually realistic given the sheer numbers of tweets that occur daily along with the fact that twitter only actively stores tweets for 14 days. It’s not realistic for the FTC to employ teams of thousands at the Library of Congress either.

    And yet she will continue to educate and train her clients on these defensive tactics. We questioned her whether she incorporates a total approach outside of just training defense, and her response was no. This is where our (the HR Social Media Community) opportunity lies and it starts with picking our battles, speaking, and working with large organizations like SHRM to educate and influence them on what the attorneys don’t and won’t understand.



    • @Jessica- Wow! What an example. I’m glad to hear that you challenged the idea/ interpretation of the FTC regulations and the way they will be applied. What a shame that she’ll continue to train her clients on this without showing the other side. Thanks for going to SHRM and all the other organizations you speak to. You’re really out there demonstrating how we all need to spread the word. Thanks for the comment.

  • I think this is a lot more complicated issue than most believe it to be. The two naysayers Douglas and aguy have very valid business points that should not just be ignored or pooh poohed as being out-of-touch, old curmudgeons.

    Likewise the social media proponents make equally valid arguments that the way employees live and work is changing. Technology has really blended people’s lives in completely new ways. We used to talk about work family balance on a scale with two ends. Today it’s all sort of jumbled together.

    Like Douglas and aguy and being an old curmudgeon myself, I’m not comfortable with this change either. I, too, want to shout to people to stop playing while at work. And I completely sympathize with aguy’s point of being happy to lose those employees who would leave because they are being to asked to work during the work day.

    The problem for Douglas, aguy and myself is that the change is coming at us like a tsunami (or like lava flow?). It doesn’t seem (at this time anyway) to be stoppable. And if we can’t stop it, we need to better understand it, develop creative ways to manage it and learn how to use it to our advantage rather than our detriment.

    It’s not as easy as saying let employees do whatever they want nor is it as easy as saying ban everything.

    Exempt employees can be focused on results and if they choose to “goof off” during the day they have nights and weekends to catch up. (Though I do worry about the lack of concentration during the work days which may result in poorer performance than normal.)

    Non-exempt or hourly employees are a greater challenge in that we are paying them specifically for their time. If the time is being divided between work and play, that is inappropriate. We may see a change coming in the whole concept of hourly workers.

    In the meanwhile, is it possible to limit non-exempt employees’ social endeavors to their break time and encourage focus during non-breaks.

    • @Beth- You know, I really like the last line in your comment. I think there is a definite difference in what employers can expect to allow from a social media access for non-exempt employees. And, I agree that if even an exempt employee is not getting work done, meeting work goals, or goofing off all day, they should be dealt with. My point is that what about teaching employees how to use social media and the internet for WORK and show that there are many benefits when used properly and not excessively. I can tell you that most of my online time occurs from home. Even my tweeting is limited to before work, maybe a few during “lunch” time, and the rest from home at night. I use social media responsibly and I also find specific ways to leverage it in my daily work. I then can show my boss specific results of how it was beneficial. I think we’ll see a blending of these things in the coming years. Thanks so much for weighing in. As a CEO, your perspective is similar to many global CEO’s. Those in favor of using social media at work will need to do a better job of touting the business benefits.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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