Thursday’s Wall Street Journal was all a twitter about changes at Goldman Sachs to reduce the use of profanity in emails and other forms of communication. The article points out that such rough language has become part of the rough and tumble world of competitive finance. And while certainly not the most professional, it was accepted. At least until now given the visibility such language played regarding Goldman’s reared SEC fine.
My point here is not to debate the merits or demerits of course language. I have been known to use such language myself, although I am not proud of it. The point here is the way Wall Street firms are looking to enforce the changes — with technology.
The article discusses how firms have installed software that pre-scan email messages and will not allow people to send out email with profanity or event acronyms base on profanity. The technology works and is largely silent except when you are working with people named Richard, discussing religious issues, supporting health charities or typing so fast that you for get to add the “o” in hello.
The point here is not that technology can monitor or in this case, pre-monitor your communications. Rather the observation that such pre-monitoring absolves managers from having to do their job. That is a sign of weak management.
Profanity in the workplace does reduce the professionalism, upsets customers and co-workers and generally reflects a disregard for the work environment. I am an offender and I am not proud of it, but the effects are real.
Profanity is a social phenomenon. People use it when communicating with others and therefore it is best met with a social based solution ranging from peer pressure to management dissuasions to excluding people from customer facing and strategically sensitive opportunities. I know that sounds harsh, and it sounds self righteous particularly from an offender, but creating technology to solve an essentially social problem is just weak.
Technology may prevent more of these messages getting out, but it’s no cure for the corrosive effects of unnecessary rough language in the workplace. I know you may think its the pot calling the kettle … But who better to understand the real impact, than a repeat offender.
If Wall Street and other execs think that they need to abdicate this basic responsibility of management and leadership to technology than it says more about the strength of their ability to manage than it does about the capabilities of technology.
What do you think?
And yes I will be the first to take my own advice and be held accountable for it.