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Substituting Social Software Policy for Good Management

By Anthony J. Bradley | June 02, 2009 | 0 Comments

In the course of my work advising clients I review numerous enterprise policy documents on social computing. Yesterday I spoke with an organization that was stipulating in their policy that employees could spend no more than 15 minutes per day on social networks. A different company last week had verbiage in their draft policy that set a 30% social computing limit on employee time. In both cases I asked the how they arrived at those blanket numbers. They were arbitrary. I also asked to see the rest of the story. How much time were they allotted at the vending machine, water cooler, bathroom, neighboring cubicle, or on the phone. I then asked how they were going to measure, monitor, and enforce the restrictions. How were they going to discern productive social networking time from unproductive? Are you going to adjust that number as the technology and its utilization evolves? If, so, when and how? Coming up with the restrictive number was the easy part. One other tough question, “How will these blanket restrictions be viewed by prospective employees (of any generation) who use the social Web and believe it is a tremendous productivity tool?”   

Social software policy is not a substitute for good management that measures results not whereabouts. Social computing policy is about the how, not the where and the when. Guidance on how to participate and behave when participating (positive as well as negative) in the social Web is appropriate and necessary. Dictating where (e.g., a facebook policy, a blog policy, etc.) is incomplete and full of holes. Instead you need guidance on overall Web participation (reading and writing). See Gartner’s publicly disclosed Web Participation Guidelines. Establishing when (e.g., 15 min max per day) is an arbitrary blanket restriction that can negatively impact productivity, encourage people to waste that amount of time on the social Web, or more likely, cause a loss of organizational credibility because employees won’t pay any attention to the unmeasurable and unenforceable restriction.

Guidance for productive Web participation is not easy or trivial. It should be well thought out and both strategic and tactical. Here are a few key Gartner documents to assist in these efforts (available to Gartner clients or for a fee).

Has anyone experienced success in blanket restrictions? I’m all ears to counter arguments (or supporting statements).

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