Social media and conflict in the workplace

Today I am at Manchester Metropolitan University, sitting on a panel to talk about social media and its impact on employee relations, and specifically on conflict at work.

The panel is mostly academic types, and I am there to provide the practitioner viewpoint. I seem to be one of the only tweeters, so I guess I might be providing the advocate viewpoint too.

So in advance, I am collecting my thoughts on the topic.

Whilst there are other theoretical positions, I think most people will agree on a practical level, conflict at work is inevitable. Frankly, so is social media.  Whilst there are plenty of individuals who aren’t interested in it, and many organisations still yet to catch on, in a world where there are 2billion people on one network, we can be assured it isn’t going away.

Social media has fundamentally and irrevocably shifted the way we communicate – at work and at home. The ever increasing blurring of home life and work life sees a spill over of technology and social media into every corner of our lives.  Social media is a place in which conflict can arise or present itself.  In many ways, it is merely the medium, not the cause.  But this spill over has the potential to move it out of the workplace.  Conflict doesn’t end at 5pm when we can connect so easily with colleagues in a virtual space.

The expectations of employees are changing as a result of technology. As consumers, we are used to ordering goods to arrive on the same day, tweeting a brand to share our dissatisfaction, having information at our fingertips via the devices in our pockets.  Why wouldn’t we want this at work too?

Consider typical methods of conflict resolution. A lengthy grievance procedure.  Multiple meetings.  Letters and policy.  Who has got time for that?  I read a paper recently on innovation in conflict management.  This so-called innovation involved rolling out internal mediation.  Hardly my definition of innovation.  I trained as a mediator a decade ago, and it was old school then.

These days, our employees are much more likely to post a bad review on Glassdoor or share their frustrations on Facebook. And here is where social media changes workplace conflict in another way – what used to be contained within a letter in the HR office or to a few friends down the pub, can be seen by the many – and lasts longer too.

For the social media generation (which spans age related stereotypes) are we likely to see them raise a formal grievance, or just tweet about it instead?

There are plenty of people queuing up to tell you about the risks social media can bring to your workplace. Companies still fighting the inevitable and blocking sites on the corporate network.  But when we consider the risks, we must also acknowledge the significant rewards too.

My view is that just maybe, social media, instead of being a place for conflict, could just be your best employee relations opportunity.

Social media is about conversation. Transparency.  Community.  Interaction. It is about building trust.  Availability of information.

And so is good employee relations.

If I go back to the theory for a moment, trust is at the heart of a good employee relations culture. When there is trust, there is less of a requirement for formal, traditional mechanisms.

The theory also tells us about the importance of employee voice. For many writing about employee relations, this means formal structures for employee representation.  Personally, I’d rather find my CEO on Twitter and engage with him or her there than raise an issue through the inevitable bureaucracy of trade union consultation.

In many organisations that I have worked in, there has been a gap. A gap of communication and information.  A gap in visible leadership.  A gap where meaningful voice can be spoken and heard.   A gap in trust.

Social media has the potential to fill some of these gaps. If we take the time, if we invest in it.

Although social media has been around for a while now, in many ways, in the workplace it is still an unfolding dynamic. For organisations it is still new space.

But for those places who want what the employee engagement lobby promises but doesn’t always deliver, maybe social media the place to start.

Employer brand. It’s a crowd thing.

I saw a post over on LinkedIn recently, in which a recruiter criticised a candidate who dropped out of an interview process after reading negative reviews about the company on Glassdoor. The post suggested that this was a ridiculous reason to decline an interview.  It had generated a whole range of responses, some agreeing and some not.

My thoughts are these. If that candidate made a ridiculous decision, then I am guilty too.  Because I once did exactly the same thing.

Recruitment today is in many ways no different to other types of consumer behaviour. When we are on shopping sites we read the reviews from other people who have already purchased the product.  If we want to go on holiday, we head over to TripAdvisor or the like, and read what previous guests had to say about their experience.

Guess what? We don’t know these people.  We are willing to put our trust in the crowd.

So why should recruitment be any different?

It’s the world we live in. I’ve decided against buying certain things over on Amazon because there were too many reviews making the same criticisms about quality.  I’ve also decided against applying for a job at an organisation where a few too many people talked about the terrible culture and management style.  I take note on how many reviews there are in total.  I look at the average star ratings before getting the credit card out.

We live in a world in which what people think about you can be shared easily.  You can’t control your employer brand, no matter how hard you try.  The stuff that used to be said in the pub to a handful of mates can now be shared and seen on a massive scale.

From a trust perspective, many folk will take the views of the many, even if they are strangers, over the corporate brand message.

Here’s the thing.  You can either embrace it, or ignore it.  But isn’t going away.

Better to do the former.

I’ve heard of organisations unwilling to set up a company Facebook page or Twitter account ‘because people might say something negative’.

Stating the obvious klaxon perhaps, but there’s probably a bigger elephant in the room if that is your reason for avoiding social media.  For the most part, people will only say yours is a bad place to work, if it’s a bad place to work.  Maybe that should be the starting point instead.

If you have bad reviews about your company find out why. Just as importantly, acknowledge them, where they are.  If people have had a bad experience working or interviewing with you, acknowledge it.  Offer space to take it off line for a proper discussion.  Apologise if you need to.  It is better to be part of the conversation, than unaware of it.

But either way be assured people are making their mind up about whether or not they are interested in working for you based on the opinions of the anonymous crowd.  This is the social world.

Hang back or get ahead.

 

Be you, dive in, share stuff

Today, I am speaking at an International Women’s Day event at Launch 22 in Liverpool.  My talk, somewhat unsurprisingly for anyone who knows me, is about social media.  About what it can do for your career, your business, you personally.  Later this week I’m working with 50 or so folks who want to know how to use social media to build their corporate brand and attract talent.

Different venues, different needs, but similar advice.

I talk a lot about social media.  About how to recruit with it.  About how to manage the legal risks.  How to blog for your business.  About addressing the myths.  About how to practically do social stuff.

This is what I know, the core of what I have to offer.  When it comes to all things social, whether you want to use it to make connections, learn, recruit or build your business, it starts with you and it starts with skills.

You have to know how.  You to pick your platforms and learn the lingo and create the content.

But first, these three things, familiar to anyone who has read our books:

Be you.

Dive in.

Share stuff.

Social media is a place to be yourself.  Mostly. You can keep any dubious political views to yourself. But for the most part, it is a place to show up, as a person.  To be authentic.  It’s not about broadcasting your awesomeness.  It’s about telling your story.

As for diving in….it is the best way to learn.  Don’t worry too much about it. Instead, JFDI.  There isn’t all that much you can mess up.  Yes, you can find some trolls and some people that have some very strange views on social media, but mostly you will find the benefits massively outweigh the negatives.

Sharing is a fundamental part of being social. Through sharing, your own stuff and that of others, you contribute to the community.  You become a useful human.  It is also a great way to build early those connections, to help you find your tribe.

There is much to learn about social.  But if you start with these simple rules, your social journey will begin.  Good luck!

black-and-white, dive, header

 

The #SocialLeaders Series – Peter Cheese

This is the second blog in our Social Leaders series exploring how real life leaders are using social media to connect with their customers, employees and stakeholders and seeking their advice for aspiring social leaders.

Today we have Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.  As HR professionals, he’s kind of our boss, so we were chuffed that he was happy to talk to us about how he sees the role of social media in leadership.

Peter is recognised as a leading consultant, speaker and writer in the field of human capital and organisation, having worked with many organisations, practitioners and thought leaders in this field.  He was voted as the UKs most influential thinker in HR for 2013 by HR Magazine. He is also a Non-Executive Director at BPP University and sits on the Advisory Board of the Open University Business School.  Prior to joining the CIPD, Peter was Global Managing Director of Accenture’s Talent and Organisation Performance consulting practice.

We say he is also a great example of social leadership.  He uses Twitter to engage with the people that work with him and who are members of the organisation he leads.  He shares content not only from the CIPD but other relevant sources (one of our key recommendations on being social!) and isn’t afraid to engage in a bit of social recognition.  You can find Peter on Twitter as @Cheese_Peter.

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Tim had a Skype with Peter to put our questions to him about all things social leadership…..

You can watch the video here…….

Or just check out the transcript……

 

What are your social media platforms of choice and why?

My social media platforms of choice, which are really the ones I engage with the most, are Twitter and Linkedin primarily. I am also on Facebook but rather less active on that and I do from time to time in a more social context (and I do think it is interesting to think about it in my business context, professional context and social context) engage a bit with Snapchat and Instagram.

As a business the CIPD is across pretty much all of those channels.  Like any business we have a large constituency we are trying to communicate with and we are really working across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and trying to make use of all of the channels.

But personally, I most engage with Linkedin and Twitter.

 

How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?

I think the use of social media for leaders is really interesting. We have talked for a long time about authenticity and leaders, and being able to hear them as real individuals.  These channels do provide that opportunity, they provide the opportunity for us to speak.  I recognise that not all leaders who are speaking on these channels are speaking for themselves and are getting others to do it for them – but it is my voice coming through these channels.  I think that is very powerful and first and foremost it allows people to see me in a more holistic way, to see me in a perhaps a slightly different or informal context and hear the kinds of things I am thinking about and what is on my mind.  It has benefited me through that kind of outreach and that connectivity.  It is very interesting to see how people react to that and how they react to what I push into these channels.

The second point to recognise is that they are fantastic learning channels for me personally. I am always saying to people through these sorts of social media outlets that they are wonderful learning opportunities. I do follow a lot of different people – it is quite extraordinary to think before we had Twitter how we did all of these this.  It is the other really, really important part of social media – it creates an incredible learning platform and opportunity to stay connected to what is happening and as a leader in the modern world I think that is more important than it has ever been.

 

How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media? 

We have created a Yammer-like internal social media platform at the CIPD and we are trying to use that across the organisation.  We have offices internationally as well and we are trying that same technique across our organisation – we are trying to help people connect – that to me is what social media is all about.

We are promoting that but as with so many of these things, you have to create that movement of change.  Some of it is a bit viral and some of it is what you can direct from the top.  I personally, of course, need to be visible on these platforms. So that is one aspect – how we are using it within our own organisation.

Then, more broadly, it is about how are we seeing our own employees out on social media platforms themselves. Are they on Twitter or LinkedIn?  I continually try to encourage people back to the points I made earlier: this is not just using social media to express your innermost thoughts or what you had for breakfast, it is a fantastic vehicle for learning and keeping in touch so I am always encouraging them that way.  I say the same things when I speak to HR professionals – you should be on Twitter as a good example because it is such a great learning platform.

 

What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?

I have, like many of us, lots of conversations with business leaders about things like this. You can divide it into various camps. There are some leaders who feel quite exposed – they feel that if they are on social media platforms they always need to be commenting or always writing stuff. “I may not say the right thing”: there is a real fear of saying something inappropriate or inadvertent.

There are also concerns, and it was part of my concern when I got onto things like Twitter for example, of your sheer attention span.  We are already overwhelmed with emails and texts and other forms of communication.  Some people say ‘oh my goodness you now expect me to on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn and blogging and I don’t have the capacity to keep up with it all!’. That is a genuine issue.  How do we make sure that we managing these different channels but not overwhelming ourselves and finding that they become a huge distraction? I don’t know that I have entirely cracked it myself – but the great thing about social media is that you can access it any time, any place, anywhere.  I tend to do things like Twitter when I am on a train journey or in a taxi. You can do it very quickly.  That is the trick to this – not to think that you have to carve out an hour a day to do social media. You just interject it into those blank moments or whatever because it is so accessible.

Those are the two primary barriers that I hear: one is the time and attention and the other is what am I supposed to be saying – “if I’m a leader in a public enterprise, I’d better have my PR team telling me what to say”, that sort of thing. Those concerns have to be taken seriously and we do have to coach leaders in how to use social media platforms in ways that won’t get them into any “trouble”, if you will.

 

How have you used social media to connect with customers/service users/key stakeholders?

As a business, I often describe the CIPD as an “ecosystem”. We have 300 plus employees, a thousand plus volunteers – from people who run branches through to examiners and assessors and we also have a lot of consultants.  It is a big ecosystem and therefore the value of social media to connect that ecosystem is very powerful.

It has got to work two ways – you have got to have the people in the ecosystem themselves on social media and linked to us so we monitor that very closely. We have people who monitor all the stats about how many people are following us on LinkedIn and all these other channels. What are the subjects that get most interest – what gets the attention?  We are always learning how best to communicate through these channels.  Those are fundamental points – understanding, as with any communication, that if you want to use social media to communicate out, it is a two-way street – you have to know that people are listening in, and then use it not just for outbound communication but as an opportunity to hear from the wider ecosystem, the members and all the other stakeholders.

That is very important as well. We are, for sure, experimenting with Twitter chats and other things like online hacks through social media to ask questions of the community, get them to comment and bring ideas together.

Or, of course – and this is another wonderful thing about social media – people can be in some ways more challenging through social media.  They haven’t got to write a long email to me as Chief Exec – they can just challenge. We also know that there are some downsides to that – people do it, they think, anonymously and you get “trolling”, but in a professional business context I don’t see very much of that.  The reality is that It is a great channel for us to hear honest feedback, contribution to ideas and thinking. I am very excited about the opportunities for us to continue to grow, though social media, that ability to connect and recognise that, as I said, it is a two-way connection as well as a peer-to-peer connection which is so powerful.

 

What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?

The advice that I would give to other leaders thinking about social media is to do it consciously. You do need to understand what it is you are seeking to get from it, how to approach it.  Having said that, you can also do it in real baby steps.  Twitter is such a good example, you can just get on and start to follow people, you don’t even necessarily need to say anything yourself at all. You can just begin to get the tone of communication, look at others, follow other people, find things that are interesting and then evolve towards it. Those would be two obvious points of guidance: don’t do it lightly and understand what you are trying to get from it.

I have described a lot about how I see social media as such an important vehicle for us to communicate and connect but that is not the only reason, there can be others as well. Think about it consciously and you can go into it with relatively baby steps.

To come back to my platforms of choice, Twitter is very easy, the easiest of all in my experience to get onto and engage with.  Linkedin is a bit more sophisticated and people are using it for a whole variety of reasons – I think that for the most part in the modern business world, most people are on LinkedIn in some shape or form.  But this is a channel that is evolving, going from “telling everyone who I am” to one that you can also write and blog and communicate through.  That is another step that people can think about around LinkedIn.

Some of these others – it is personal preference and choice, and where perhaps in different sectors or industries or communities, different social media platforms have a greater resonance, but that is why I tend stick mostly to Twitter and Linkedin, as they seem to be the ones that have the greatest connection to our communities.

I am not particularly interested in using Facebook, if I am honest, in a business context but that is also evolving and Facebook for business is evolving as a channel.  That perhaps is the third thought – keep an eye on what channels are evolving and how the communities that you are working with are using them and if you are seeing a movement towards another channel then probably you need to get onto it.

 

A huge thank you from us to Peter for sharing his thoughts on all things social.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series we hand over to Rebecca Jeffery of Apprentice fame, who shares all about how she has built her business through using social media.

The #SocialLeaders Series – Tom Riordan

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The time for social leadership is now.  To engage with customers and employees alike, to create a personal brand, to lead authentically and openly. To share and collaborate in a different way. To role model the digital skills that all organisations need now and tomorrow. We need social leaders.  But they are still few and far between.

This is the first in a series of conversations with leaders who already get this stuff.  Who are effectively using social media as part of their leadership role to engage and connect with employees, customers and service users.  We have asked a range of leaders from different industry sectors exactly why they use social media and how do they feel it benefits them in their role – as well as to share their advice to anyone who thinks they should be getting a little more social.

First up is Tom Riordan.  Tom is CEO of Leeds City Council, and an active Tweeter – he has even got himself a coveted blue tick.  He uses Twitter to share news about the Council, its work and its people.  He engages with followers and isn’t afraid to bring his whole self to Twitter, including pictures of his family, and a bio that tells you about him as a person, not just a CEO.

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This is what Tom had to say about leading socially….

What is your social media platform of choice and why?

Twitter is my platform of choice. I was quite an early adopter because I like its mix of brevity, openness, wide reach, content and security (i.e. unacceptable behaviour can be blocked).

How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?

It’s allowed me a direct communication route to the outside world from a big organisation and to “walk the talk” of one of our main values of openness and honesty. I’ve tried to give more of a human face to a CEO role often seen as distant and protected, and to champion Leeds, public services and local government.

How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media? 

Increasingly. Social media has become much more central to people’s lives over the last five years, and in that time the organisation has engaged with it more and more.  There are some great role models within the council, such as Phil Jewitt an excellent social media user who recently won a lifetime achievement unconference award. Many of our councillors now use social media widely now, which also helps.

What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?

99 percent of people are great to engage with on social media.  You have to take care at times not to be provoked by the 1 percent who, often anonymously, just want to cause trouble.  Never tweet when you’re angry is not a bad rule of thumb.

How have you used social media to connect with customers/service users/key stakeholders?

I’ve used it to get more direct messages out to a wider audience about what the council does, especially those front-line workers who make the city tick. Twitter has allowed me to contact a wide range of innovators both in the city and across the world and led directly to inward investment, new approaches on open data and great new ideas from people within and outside Leeds. I also get a pretty good idea of what people think about the council and the city!

What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?

Don’t see it as a panacea but do treat it as a vital communication and engagement mechanism. Only do what you’re comfortable with and what suits your own personal style. Make sure your priority is enhancing the city or organisation, not your personal image or standing, because you’re almost bound to trip up if you think it’s all about you.

We’d like to send a big thanks to Tom for his insight.  If you are a leader who wants to use social media for their role then check out his Twitter feed for a great example on how to do this social stuff well.  And if you want to know more about social leadership – both the why and the how – then we’ve just released our latest book on Putting Social Media to Work – a version dedicated to just that subject.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series…. Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD shares his thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recruitment & social media – how far is too far?

I got into a Twitter chat recently about social media and recruitment.  Specifically, whether or not it is okay to check out people’s social media feeds during the recruitment process.

Now I’ve seen some fairly risk-averse advice on the subject that cautions you on the risk of (among other things) discrimination claims.

My view on it is simple.

It depends where you go.

On my CV, I am open about much of my social media.  There are links to my Twitter bio (hoping that prospective employers or clients will overlook my frequent Prosecco references), my LinkedIn profile and my blog.  When it comes to applying for jobs, my blog is going to give anyone reading it a sense of who I am and what I believe about my work more than a 2-page CV ever will. What isn’t on there is a link to either my Instagram or Facebook profiles.  The reason for that is that they aren’t about work.  They are for family and friends, or at the very least people I know, sometimes through other social networks.  My regular selfies of me and my significant other (#sorrynotsorry) are not for strangers… or employers.

Those sites that are professional should expect to be reviewed.  When I have been hiring, it is the first place I go and I would expect anyone thinking of hiring me to do the same.  If someone wants to scroll through my unlocked Twitter feed, fill your boots.  You will find a few mentions of One Direction too.  But the other stuff… not so much.

In our social world, platforms are ever-evolving.  There are no rules, apart from your own, about what is public and what is private.  There are fewer expectations of privacy than those of previous generations.  Even if you opt not to use social media, or are even too young to do so, you can still very much have a digital footprint.

So to job seekers I say this… expect to be looked for and at.  Google searched.  If you want stuff to be private, set it that way.

And to employers… if you are going to search people’s social media feeds then say so up front.  Put it on the ATS or the job advert.  Better still, openly ask people to send you their online stuff.  Allow links on your system.  Actively encourage it.  Go to the professional networking sites and read what you need to. But you don’t need to, and should not, trawl through what is clearly something else.  Personal photos.  Shares from many years ago.  Student day stuff.  What someone intends to be personal, platform aside, is probably obvious.

You wouldn’t follow someone down the pub and listen to their conversation before deciding to give them a job.  So leave their social social media alone.

 

The time for #SocialLeaders is now

Tim Scott and I have written a third version of our practical guides to using social media.  This time, it is aimed at the busy business leader.

The time for social leadership is now.  To engage with customers and employees alike, to create a personal brand, to lead authentically and openly. To share and collaborate in a different way.  To role model the digital skills that all organisations need now and tomorrow.

It is still a rare thing to see leaders using social media really well.  There are some excellent examples but they are  few and far between.  Previous research into Fortune 500 CEO’s found that whilst most of them could be found on LinkedIn, they weren’t exactly active.  Those that had managed to find their way to other platforms like Twitter still weren’t really all that social.

This book is, as with all of my books with Tim Scott, about practicality. There is advice on picking the right platforms, getting started, taking your organisation with you, and how to avoid social media fails.  We hope that it also makes a compelling case to why leaders should use social media and encourage their organisations to do the same.

Next week, to complement the book, we begin a blog series on social leadership, by interviewing examples from a range of sectors and organisations – talking to the people that already do it well in order to find out why and how they do it.  Look out for the hashtag #SocialLeaders on Twitter.

You can follow the series here and if you want to read the book, here’s the link!

Happy reading!

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