The day they (may) stop sharing

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1995

Many current projects among enterprises rely on well known beliefs and needs : a better sharing and circulation of information are key to business performance, people share a lot on the web so organization have to provide them with the means to do the same at work.

Experience shows that it’s not that easy. Personal life is one thing, worklife is another one. That’s not because peope adopt some behaviors in one case that they’ll do the same in the other case in a natural fashion. Most of all, everybody now know that only less than 10% are actual content producers on the web. 10% on the web is a critical mass but 10% in an organization can be very few people so it implies to design work-specific approaches.

Anyway, more and and more businesses achieve it successfully. But we can already wonder how long it will last.

The web being less passive than the typical organizartion, we can often see there what will happen in the workplace a few years later. Weeks ago, Dennis Howlett decided to stop sharing everything for free with his audience. Soon after, Taylor Ellwood reminded us these wise words : “Inform for free, how to for a fee”. In this last case it was about free consultancy halve hours he used to deliver. But, as many “expert bloggers” noticed, many emails that come through our contact forms are nothing but request for free consultancy that are considered as dues by the sender. “You’re blogging for free ? So why don’t you answer my question for free ?”. Last year, a famous french blogger told me :”one day everything will stop and all those who do the job for others will gather and close the doors. After all, do we ask for free products ?” No…so…”

Maybe it’s only a secondary phenomenon and, in this case, the debate is over. But what if it was a serious trend ? And what what should organizations learn from that ? One thing is sure, because it’s as old as the world : of passion and good will help to start things, reason and sense are needed if we want things to last.

The issue is about how people value the time they spend to share informations, thoughts. Feeling they don’t get anything in return, bloggers reduce their investment to reposition themselve in an “acceptable gratuitousness zone” and may either stay there or offer to do more on a case by case basis, for a fee.

Will it be the same in the workplace ?

In the one hand, we can have the following reasoning : those who will share more, help others, make them successful, who’ll go beyind their job description may slowly reduce their effort if their are not recognized, if no extra attention is paid to them. Of course they learn by doing so and it helps them to be better at work, they can also be satisfied to help others being better, to contribute to something a little bit wider than their day to day work. But they can also be frustrated to give a lot without getting anything back, even a “thank you”, to see others get benefits from their work without anything in return. Thanks and congratulations are the required miniumum to make things last at least on mid-term. But after  ? Is there a point where the balance can break and people withdraw ? Will HR have to change the incentive model ? To reinvent job descriptions ? Evaluation criterias ?

In the other and, just because the worplace is not the web, we could think that sharing is an expected and normal behavior and there’s no reason why people should get more while they are only doing the job they’re paid for. As a matter of fact, we have to keep in mind that, in the above mentioned cases, blogging was not a part of these people’s work, only a side activity. Things may have been different if they had been paid for blogging on top of their work.

I don’t have any answer to these questions but I’m sure the issue will become more and more trendy as new collaborative practices spread into the workplace. Maybe it will be a good opportunity for HR guys who have missed the train to have a second occasion to jump on the wagon to give the project a second life ?