A healthy business culture is something we all aspire to. We hold up shining examples like Zappos or Southwest Airlines when we talk about the kind of personality and mindset we want to portray to our employees and customers.
There’s an important element in defining that culture that we sometimes discuss, but rarely pointedly, because it’s not comfortable.
Your values as a company are demonstrated – and judged – through the people you entrust to embody them.
It’s why having people you can trust on your team is so very pivotal. And by trust, I mean the ability to rely on individuals to demonstrate discretion, professionalism, decorum, and sound judgment in potentially crunchy situations.
Humans become a magnifying glass, especially online. And as much as we’d like to believe that we can separate our personal selves from our professional selves merely by drawing imaginary lines between our profiles, it simply doesn’t work that way.
Emotionally and rationally, those that do business with us connect the dots among the people that comprise our organization, both online and off. We hold individuals in high esteem or not, and in turn extrapolate a picture or a perception of the organizations they represent. We look at them as an indicative, smaller part of a larger whole, for better or for worse. The individuals we choose to represent our collective organizations leave impressions with people by their actions and interactions with others, and those behaviors inevitably drive people to draw conclusions about our business and its attitude.
If we empower and unleash brilliant, innovative minds that contribute to larger ideas and offer constructive, well-thought dialogue or debate, people notice.
If we empower and unleash self-important, arrogant individuals that create or fuel petty conflict, sling insults or make pejorative comments as a way of communicating their position, people notice that, too.
And both of them – however incrementally – create associations between that person, our organizations, and our potential customers. Those associations affect our company reputation, credibility, and brand.
If we encourage our teams to be present and engaged online as I believe we should, we must also recognize that in doing so, we are empowering them not just with the ability to be advocates for our organization, but to negatively influence the perception that others may have of us.
I won’t advocate as a solution to instill command-and-control tactics to try to mitigate the risk, because those are rarely effective and perpetuate a sense amongst individuals of being “babysat” or worse, watched. Trust is mutual in its impact. Nor am I suggesting that interactions and discussions online be devoid of individual thought or opinion. The answer isn’t in locks and keys or overt censorship of ideas.
But it does bring to mind an important thing we must not ignore: using a discerning eye to both bring aboard people that exhibit the same kinds of behavior and values upon which we’d like our organizational culture to be judged, and to have potentially difficult and uncomfortable conversations with the people who exhibit everything from a slip of judgment to an outright abuse of their representative role. Above all, we must be holding ourselves to the same standard to which we’d hold others.
Our companies are judged in large part on our efficacy as leaders and managers, and how we embody our work in the interpersonal dealings we have. It’s always been so, whether over coffee or cocktails or on the golf course.
And in our quest to become more social businesses, we must accept the difficult balance that comes with the rewards of engaging our customers and communities online, embrace the intertwined reality of our personal and professional selves, and insist on standards of behavior and professionalism among our organizational representatives – and ourselves – that do our hard work and hard-earned reputation justice.