While they can easily understand the benefits for information sharing, the flow of information, and the engagement and effectiveness of employees that an open, corporate-wide discussion tool can bring, managers often experience concerns about the implementation of an enterprise social network (ESN).
As it impacts organizational relationships and access to information, ESN can interfere with the hierarchy of and power structures within organizations.
Thus, we are regularly challenged by our customers regarding their fears of seeing their new tool become a breeding ground for all kinds of claims that may disrupt the smooth running of the company.
At the top of their frequent requests is moderation capacities for discussions. These are needed to extinguish any fires before they become too big and cause damage to the company.
Years of fieldwork have shown us that such concerns, though quite legitimate, get naturally erased after a few months of practice. In a previous article, we showed that there is an arsenal of effective moderation tools. Here we will show you why and how not to abuse them!
Create a space of trust
We generally advise our clients not to worry too soon about moderation issues. Indeed, the first challenge to be met is precisely orthogonal: to encourage the participation of employees.
A collaborative platform realizes its promise only when end users engage with it. A highly policed environment where moderation and censorship are too perceptible can undermine adoption.
Naturally, if the space of expression is considered constrained or under supervision by the collaborators, they will be more reluctant to contribute to it.
But, then, if everyone can say anything to anyone without being worried, should we not fear flame wars like those we see on social media or public forums all over the internet?
From our experience, this fear is largely unfounded. First, in an ESN, everyone is personally identified and this makes the difference between public spaces and corporate spaces. For the same reasons that you rarely see indecent behavior in the corridors of companies, you rarely encounter it in corporate digital discussions. Most employees know how to behave professionally and a form of self-restraint is exercised naturally.
Do you need a usage policy?
However, not everyone is necessarily sensitized to issues and trained in written communication. For this reason, some companies find it necessary to put in place guidelines for users. Several of our customers have chosen the classic usage policy prompt, which is displayed during the first access and that each user must accept.
At first, this sounds like a good idea so that everyone can know the rules of the game. In many cases, these guidelines already exist and were written by human resources departments or are derived from internal communication policies. Unfortunately, these documents are too often wordy and boring and ultimately get ignored.
We recommend a short, concise guide that is easy to comprehend and that focuses more on the virtuous behaviors that are desirable in digital communities.
When no policy exists, it may be interesting to approach the design of these guidelines collaboratively with the end-users themselves. By participating in its development, they make it their own. And they are more inclined to accept it and relay its spirit to newcomers. How about kicking off this topic in an open and collaborative way within the ESN itself? This could be the first collective project and perhaps even the first act in the transformation of the corporate culture?
The role of community managers
Not all companies need an official function like a community manager, but they necessarily exist in any digital collaborative environment. Indeed, even when they are not officially appointed, there are leaders in any community who emerge and spontaneously commit to this role.
They must, of course, be aware of the usage policy if it exists and strive to keep discussions within the guidelines. But the use of moderation must remain the exception rather than the rule.
Deleting content that violates an HR rule or is deliberately offensive must, of course, be done immediately. On the other hand, censoring negative comments is counterproductive. In general, people resolve disputes quickly among themselves. Even so, a community manager can enter the discussion to help instead of muting it.
Community managers are especially there to energize communities by offering members the necessary space for collective potential to be expressed. They should therefore give advice and assistance to members with kindness rather than enforcing controls and posting reminders of the rules, which can create a negative atmosphere.
The benefits of open discussions
The benefits of leaving the discussions as free as possible outweigh the risks of inappropriate conversations occurring.
Take, for example, arguments of a protest nature. It is better to be able to read them and to have the opportunity to answer them rather having that anger grow privately and end up spilling into the public space. If there is a real tension, employees will always find a way to discuss and diffuse it, sometimes via public tools on the internet! In our opinion, it is preferable to face contentious issues and give yourself the opportunity for a frank discussion, especially when dealing with tensions.
It is for management to be exemplary and open-minded in letting people express themselves. So, rather than censoring, they can answer and correct misunderstandings or provide explanations. In many cases, employees’ frustrations arise from a misperception about certain decisions that impact them. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
In fact, maintaining an open and transparent space for dialogue creates an opportunity to clarify messages and rectify misunderstandings. Also, for the management of the company, this space is ultimately a great tool for achieving alignment with all employees.
In summary, even if moderation tools are available, an organization that wants to open up digital collaboration and take full advantage of its benefits should avoid using them excessively. Energy must be spent creating a caring environment where employees feel they can communicate and express their opinions without fear of censure or punishment. We recommend investing more in user training that encourages constructive behavior.