Hello Jesse - Thanks for raising this great question. When launching our customer community a few years ago, some employees asked "What if customers bash our products in the community?" My response, "Customers are talking about us anyway. If they want to bash us, better for them to do it in a place where we are participating, have the opportunity to see the concerns and respond directly."
I think this opportunity holds true for internal communities too. Just recently, an employee asked about the status of a product. His discussion subject line was a bit inflammatory, "Is [xyz product] dead?" Another employee took issue and immediately responded that he would request the discussion thread to be deleted. When I reviewed the original question, I did not see anything that warranted deletion of the discussion. Again, this is an opportunity for the company to see the concerns and respond, which we did.
My suggestions are:
- Acknowledge the fears that your team may have about the sensitive topic
- Set the expectation that IF the fear materializes, it will be addressed
- Set some guidelines ahead of time on how to respond. What information about the business issue can be shared with employees?
If employees become vocal enough about a particular issue, it is an opportunity for any number of things to happen:
- More open dialogue about the issue
- Business transparency
- Education and / or resetting expectations
I hope this is helpful!
Trisha, I couldn't agree with you more. Like you said, the conversations are happening anyway, either in the hallway, the bathroom, on IM. Better to tackle the issue head on, even if it is by saying that it is really something they can't or won't discuss. Best yet is if they DO address it, try to uncover what is really behind the question/discussion. As with anything else, what is driving the discussion turns out to be something very easily handled rather than the "big scary" thing that everyone fears.
Taking it even further, if they do address it head on, the "bad" part of the discussion won't leak outside of the company and do even more damage.
In some ways, they are the same arguments you use with your kids when you talk about telling the truth and them coming to you when they've done something wrong. "Wouldn't you rather tell me what really happened than for me to hear it from someone else and then make up my own stories as to how/why?"
Taking ownership and being transparent can be pretty scary things to face, but they can also be pretty freeing in the end because they allow the focus to be on getting work done.
You raise an interesting point. I think I know what you are talking about, but it can be a 3rd rail and I don't want to state it specifically in a post. The tricky part is that while the content may be considered "undesirable" by some, it may be illegal to prevent it, especially in the US.
I'd love to see a discussion on it.
Or maybe I've totally missed your point .
Everyone has been fantastically on point in this discussion and the take away is all legitimate communities should be treated the same way. However, if this were a a game of "Hot and Cold," Chris would be in a tank top and shorts right about now. Which is why there will never be a discussion about "it" not cloaked in plausible deniability.