Last week Greg Smith published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs. It was a scathing review of a collapse in culture, ethics and identity at his employer of twelve years.
Regardless of what you think about Goldman’s culture or the substance of Smith’s piece, the phenomenon of how this conversation has unfolded in the public square is interesting as a separate question. Might your company be next?
THE EMPLOYEE REVOLUTION WILL BE TWEETED
Not every company will grab the headlines of traditional media in the way that an anti-Goldman rant can, but the fact is that the conversation about internal employee experience on public channels has been growing rapidly, thanks to the rise of social media.
Even a basic search uncovers reams of dialogue among networked employee communities – grocery store employees, truck drivers – all discussing which companies are better employers than others. Job sites like Glassdoor.com provide social forums for these conversations to reach prospective employees.
While Smith’s op-ed made a big splash in the high-visibility New York Times, many stories about workplace experience start small but go viral. Ask Starbucks about the singing barista rant on YouTube, JetBlue about the memorable flight attendant onboard tirade and subsequent escape down the emergency slide, or Walmart about sites like walmartsucks.org.
Over a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle pioneered muckraking journalism, bringing the harrowing experience of American meatpackers to public light. The new muckrakers don’t need a publisher or a book deal – any employee with a video camera, Twitter account or Facebook network can and is talking about their work in a public way.
Why does employee conversation on social media matter? Because as trust in government and business is eroding, trust in media is on the rise. In fact, trust in social media is growing faster than any other media type. According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, while traditional news sources are still the most trusted media sources, trust in social media saw a 75% boost last year, reaching near parity with corporate media sources.
Source credibility is changing too. We trust what we hear from average employees more than what corporate leaders have to say. The Edelman report asked respondents when forming an opinion of a company, if you heard information about a company from each of these people, how credible would the information be? Between 2011 and 2012, respondents’ view of CEOs as “credible” or “very credible” fell from 50% to 38%. In the same period, the credibility of “a person like yourself” jumped from 43% to 65%, and the credibility of a “regular employee” jumped from 34% to 50%.
Attention corporations: the conversation is growing in both volume and credibility whether you want it to or not. It’s not about controlling the conversation any more. It’s about giving the conversation its due importance within your organization.
WHICH CAMP ARE YOU IN?
Besides the “Head in the Sand” crowd, perhaps we can divide the socially-calibrated corporate world into two legitimate camps:
The Radical Transparency Camp – these companies espouse the view that public transparency is inevitable and therefore they should focus resources on building an environment they wouldn’t mind sharing with the world. Employees have open channels of communication within their firm but are also encouraged to share opinions publically. Often this transparency is even part of the business model. Examples include Starbucks’ encouragement of employee ideas on My Starbucks Idea, IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit revealing methods and work practices in an open-source approach, and Redfin’s forums, which disrupted their competition in real estate by airing the industry’s dirty laundry.
The Social Inside Camp – these companies value maintaining a distinction between public and internal dialogue, perhaps because of the legal or competitive demands of their industry. However, they seek to empower employee dialogue through authentic, transparent communication channels inside the organization. For these companies, their action to support robust internal dialogue is not merely to mitigate risk of the conversation spilling into public spheres; this dialogue supports higher value benefits such as employee satisfaction, retention, client-focus, productivity, and innovation. Examples of companies building social inside include IBM’s BlueIQ program to embed social tools internally and externally, and YUM! Brands’ use of internal social tools to put employees at the center of the company.
How do you react to the increasing volume and credibility of employee voices in the public square? Which camp are you in and why?