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In defense of Big Brother

Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt is the Managing Director and Chief Strategy Officer at N2growth and author of Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual.

Recent news headlines have been littered with examples of private and public sector employees losing their jobs over the indiscriminate use of company technology, or participation in endeavors deemed inappropriate while off the job.

Think of SEC employees surfing for porn while on the job, a police SWAT officer engaging in sexually explicit email correspondence on his company Blackberry, and a well-known Geico spokesman making inappropriate comments while calling-in to a radio talk show.

So here's the conundrum: As a leader attempting to build a friendly, cohesive & performance oriented culture, how do you instill corporate accountability, ethical work practices and safeguard the corporate brand without your employees feeling like Big Brother is getting even bigger?

Long gone are the days when a boss's biggest fear was that an employee might make a personal phone call during working hours. With the burgeoning use of social media sites like, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, etc., the lines between an employee's work life and private life have become fuzzy at best. Corporate executives and entrepreneurs have little choice these days about the need to aggressively monitor of all forms of digital communications resulting in an employee's personal life and opinions becoming subject to scrutiny.

These trends beg the question of where, if at all, does an employer's right to information infringe upon an employee's right to privacy? Does an employee's private opinion expressed in a personal blog have anything to do with company business? What about a video that's uploaded to the web which captures an employee participating in some form of over-enthusiastic after-hours celebration? Do you ever wonder if personal emails, voicemails or text messages sent by employees will come back to haunt you? If you've been paying attention to the news lately, you know that all the issues noted in the questions above have resulted in corporate brand being damaged and employees' losing their jobs.

This is more than just a human resources issue -- it's a leadership issue. Leaders who don't create the right culture, who don't instill a sense of pride in the corporate brand, and who don't clearly communicate the corporate values & vision to all employees are going to have issues regardless of what HR does or does not do. Your obligation as a leader is to model appropriate behavior and create a culture where everyone views themselves as guardians of the corporate brand. You goal as a leader is to have your employees use technology to leverage brand equity and not taint it.

So why does an employer need to have so much access to the personal information of its employees? The answer is simple: An employee is a direct representative of the company, and his or her actions, either on or off the job, are a direct reflection on the employer's brand, reputation, and image in the marketplace. Companies are in reality most frequently judged upon the quality, integrity, and character of their employees.

Unless the employer crosses a clear legal boundary, all is fair in the employer's pursuit of the protection of the corporate brand. Requiring drug tests, recording phone conversations, monitoring e-mail, web browsing habits, social media activity, and information stored on company computers are perfectly acceptable measures for an employer to take in safeguarding the reputation and security of the enterprise.

As a leader it is your responsibility to insure that employees understand the corporate values and what constitutes unacceptable behavior. These areas should be clearly addressed in employee handbooks (all handbooks should have a written communications and social media policy), job descriptions and employment agreements, which the employee must read and sign before starting work. These documents should clearly outline company practices, procedures and processes.

All employees should have very clear visibility with respect to company expectations before they ever show-up for their first day of work. Moreover, leaders should ensure these expectations are consistently reinforced in day-to-day operating behaviors, training programs, and development plans. If corporate leadership has the right systems in place, employees should be well informed as to company practices, and have the ability to make an informed decision with respect to whether or not they desire to comply with those policies.

Executives need to lead by example. Companies who are not social media savvy and leaders who do not engage in social media are at the greatest risk for having employees running amok in cyberspace. If your employees know that company leadership is active on the same platforms they are, they will be far less likely to wander astray.

The bottom line is leaders need to clearly communicate the brand vision, actively engage in social media, and use a values based approach to hiring. Leaders who model appropriate behavior, who are up front about corporate values, and who clearly communicate employee expectations & responsibilities will find fewer conflicts to resolve and disputes to arbitrate.

By Mike Myatt

 |  May 14, 2010; 6:45 AM ET |  Category:  Business Leadership , Leadership advice Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Wow! Myatt knows his paycheck isn't written by the workers of the world doesn't he? To blindly suggest blind loyalty to the corporate brand is to do zero service to the intelligence to the employee. And everybody in the company is an employee of the corporation. By extension Mike, kids should have no play because it might interfere with their studies.
Mike Myatt is what people like me who work for a living call an educated idiot. He overlooks the ethical absence of management to corral workers for behavior issues one responsible adult approves of and another doesn't. He is part of the 'do as I say, not as I do' culture of management. He is part of the tattle tale, personal suck up success story only his wife would approve. His 'point the finger at workers not management' view is why corporate success is not judged by how many community members have jobs but instead by how much MONEY I have. Mike learned nothing about being a better, more thoughtful person in college or in church.

Posted by: citizen625 | May 17, 2010 9:01 AM

Torture, phony wars, Gulagtanamo, false memory syndrome, serial killers, undisciplined fiscal meltdown, bank-breaking corporate malfeasance, philandering public figures at every turn -- and now this, extolling the under appreciated virtues of the police state.

21st century America is just one sick society.

Posted by: politbureau | May 17, 2010 8:21 AM

You know as I read these words I could not help thinking that Mike Myatt was guilty of failed double think. A case for immediate investigation and indeed a job for O'Brien over at the ministry of truth (properly designated Minitrue)— obviously Myatt merely desires to be in the inner circle and thus he will need further programming, but this will not be possible because otherwise he would have been properly programmed at the start. Thus Myatt while being “potential” can never be “actual” and is thus at best outer-party potential or which means that for the protection of the inner party he must be cast down among the Proles and then dealt with as a thought crime criminal.

We must always recall the principles of Big Brother:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.. ”

Posted by: jafrasch | May 17, 2010 2:19 AM

Mike Myatt's thesis can be boiled down to these simple words:

"After you join our organization, we own
you 24/7."

Posted by: chuck8 | May 16, 2010 11:58 PM

Take it from someone who knows. Anyone who wants to play Big Brother needs to receive a little old-school union negotiation. The kind where the main points are made with tire-irons. Maybe then they'd think twice about how much they really need to know.

Or maybe they need to get a taste of what what they dish out. Some clever employees can spy on an overly nosy boss, see how much he drinks, what his coke and prostitute habits are, etc. Sent to the right places, such information could be destructive enough that some would prefer the tire-iron approach.

What goes around comes around. Don't forget that.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | May 16, 2010 5:35 PM

Allow me to rephrase the question: Is it appropriate for an employer to exercise control over an employee's conduct in an age in which employees exercise little self control?

If SEC drones were watching porn on the taxpayers' dime, the fault wasn't the SEC's or its supervisory staff's, it wasn't the fault of technology or porn producers, it was the employees' want of ethical standards that's to blame.

The calculus is simple. A person is employed to work and, when at the place of business, the employee has a duty to do only those things for which his services were engaged. The problem is that too many people today do not have the moral and ethical compass necessary to recognize the pursuit of their own inclinations on employers' time as theft of wages, plain and simple. Taking money, to which one has no rightful claim, by deception is stealing - it is an offense against morals and against the law.

Don't steal. Period. But people don't think that way anymore. There's no such thing as stealing - just "redistributing wealth."

And what of conduct on one's own time that might reflect poorly on an employer? How about employer's conduct that reflects poorly on its employees? I can't suppose that many Goldman Sachs employees are particularly happy with how their bosses' conduct reflects on them. The duties of employer and employee are reciprocal, even including care for image and reputations of both parties. If employers have a legitimate interest in monitoring the private conduct of its employees, employees have just as legitimate an interest in monitoring the private conduct of their employer - and employers DO engage in private conduct, or incidents such as the Bernie Maddoff affair would not be possible. Or, maybe, we should be able to expect people think about what they're doing before they do it, and to be able to demand that what they do is ethical and respectful of those they are in a position to harm.

Wow, what a novel idea - people being expected to be moral and responsible for themselves. Too bad it would never catch on.

Posted by: dryrunfarm1 | May 16, 2010 6:10 AM

Your moral argument about "brand protection" as a justification to monitor employee is weak bordering on vacuous.

Most other civilized countries have robust legal protections against such frivolous or privacy-infringing dismissals. The USA, enamored as it is with corporatism, still accords employees all the rights of medieval serfs; "if you don't like it you're welcome to quit (and starve)" is the sole legal recourse granted to abused employees.

Posted by: kcx7 | May 16, 2010 1:18 AM

The term Big Brother evokes thoughts of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World written in 1932. Cameras are everywhere in London and New York, with software designed to ID people by facial characteristics. We are so terrified of terrorism we give up our liberties and any hope for privacy.

We have school districts spying on students and employers spying on employees. To get employment today you are subject to a urinalysis. Freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose... Janis Joplin.

Posted by: alance | May 16, 2010 1:07 AM

An employee is a direct representative of the company, and his or her actions, either on or off the job, are a direct reflection on the employer's brand, reputation, and image in the marketplace....Executives need to lead by example.
In Japan, up to a few years ago, this would not have been a problem - workers were hired out of college, and expected life-time employment in return for life-time loyalty. Example: recently, the president of Toyota publically apologized to customers for a sub-standard product.

Please compare that with the behavior of the representatives of Haliburton, Transocean and BP in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. “It’s not MY fault, it’s somebody else’s”. And it’s turning out that the regulators were not only ignoring the problems along with these drillers, they were falsifying reports and accepting bribes. And the direct result of all this cozy dealing is that 11 men died and four states have their environment ruined for decades.

So are these companies worthy of employee loyalty? Any ruination of “brand” didn’t come from the 11 guys that lost their lives in a drilling rig explosion, but their superiors who skimped on or modified required safety equipment to save a few bucks. What it boils down to is the old-fashioned notion that top management must be ethical and lead by example. Somehow that concept vanished in the “Get all you can, as fast as you can by any means possible” business climate.

Posted by: shadowmagician | May 14, 2010 6:40 PM

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