Can we identify good managers by the way their team uses the net ?

A very common discourse within companies is : “our people waste their time on social networks and, more globally, on the web. We have to restrict access to it”.

If, when talking about social networks, it depends on the way people use them, so its important to grant access to what useful for business, I find it very damageable when companies come to restrict access to the whole web.

What are the motives for that ?

First comes security. I think it’s more a convenient motive than a relevant one and is an excuse for the next point I’ll mention. Second, it’s IT depts job to ensure security without blocking everything. Did we remove doors and windows from houses and offices in order to prevent to struggle against burglars ? No, because we need to go outside, to see what’s happening by the window,
The second point is abiut productivity. It’s a waste of time and people are not here to do that during work hours. But what does companies mean by “doing that” ?

Play ? I fully agree. But perhaps we may tone down : people who want to waste their time, distract themselves, make a break, have thousands ways to do that even without access to the web. It’s an age old reality : rember that tools don’t create deviancies. People do. Instead of fighting against every possible cause of distraction, why not wonder why people need escapes, why they sometimes balk at work ? Perhaps it may force some managers to face the very nature of their own job ?  What’s a pity. This said, every people with few common sens will tell you no one could be continously active 8 hours a day. Not even 6 with a break. It’s not lazyness, it’s physiological, and the best way to see individual performance decrease, to see occupational disease increase, motivation drop, is to consider that people never need even a small break. Of course everybody knows that but seems to do everyting not to remind it when necessary.

Find information ? But wouldn’t it be an important part of their job ? Aren’t people asked to know more and more, to anticipate, to be reactive ? Are they expected to find the needed informations by reading in tea leaves ? Let’s be honnest : if they don’t have this “information monitoring” activity, they’ll be blamed when this disconnection from the real world will impact their professional performance, and in the other way if they wait to be at home to search, use their networks, they’ll slow down at the office knowing they’ll have to do part of their job at home instead of having a rest. Ok, I’m not objective : most managers know many have a “self learning” activity that should take, according to Peter Drucker, 30% of a knowledgeworker’s time. But they obviously want their people to have this kind of professional activity at home, out of work hours. Let guess why….(by the way I have some ideas about that but this post is not about the illusion of control, the myth of presenteism, the fact people have to seem busy to show they work and the pathetic legacy of the workshop manager that comes to the surface).

As a conclusion, everydbody knows, everybody understands but “can you understand sir, it’s cultural, we can’t change things, and people have lived without net or social networks for decades and it didn’t prevent them from doing their job”. That’s true. But thinking thiw way may may also consider people people used to live without electricity for centuries, without running water too. There was also a time where being not able to rread or write was very common and didn’t prevent them from doing their job. Ah ? This would not be possible now ? Because doing one’s job requires peole to read and write ? Ok…we’re in the right direction..

That said, I talked with two directors from a very well known french company in july (perhaps they’ll recognize themselves…).

Our people can’t afford not knowing what’s happening, what’s being said, what are the current trends and analysis. They need that to do their job. Not knowing or knowing too late has a direct impact on their performance. They have to spend at least 10% of their time getting relevant information, and in order to do that they need complete access to the net. Not doing that is a professional misdeed.

Whatever, and even if we can see that in similar situations we can see two opposite conceptions of people’s role and day do day job, we can wonder if there’s not something else behind that. I see three points (to be completed…)

• The difference between instant producitivity, even if it compromises employee’s abitilty to stay successful on a long trend, and the will to help people keeping the suitable level in the future.

• The difference between a control centric organization (but which control ?) and the illusion of power on one side, and an organization that gives people the needed autonomy (and the accountability that comes with it).

• The difference between an organization that trust people and an organization that doesn’t.

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Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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