Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Don't Fear the Beefer

There's this guy I know who had what can only be best described as a Jerry Maguire moment. In a fit of pique he unburdened himself about his job in a blog (but had the presence of mind to show it to his wife first for some serious vetting). I wasn't there myself, mind you, but I've heard from several reliable sources that people actually stood up at their cubes the next morning and applauded. Sounds a little Hollywood to me, maybe it happened. Maybe it didn't. But it definitely seemed to have happened in everyone's hearts. Because the story prevails.

This is a company that has blogs galore, but everyone knows what you mean when you're talking about this guy's posting. You kind of say "the blog" in a lower, more momentous voice, like you would say, "the blob."

What makes this guy a little different than Jerry Maguire, besides, well, the obvious, is that he still has his job. Which isn't to say that there wasn't a certain amount of anxiety at first (I have a feeling that his wife's taste and restraint probably had something to do with it, which is a good thing because thanks to the fact that they just adopted two children RIGHT before they discovered they're pregnant, they have an instant family. So a paycheck now and then comes in handy).

But the fact that he still has his job does speak volumes about the company -- that the founders and the leaders can take it on the chin, even rend their hair and tear their clothing just a tad -- and still be glad to see this guy in the morning. This guy is a genius, a valuable employee who has been with the company for-like-ever. And while maybe the blog might not have been the best space to have aired his grievances, there it was. So there you have it.

What this guy really did -- besides poke the leadership in the eye -- was put the company's culture to the test. The leaders have said that they want a company where all employees are free to speak their mind; that they will be listened to; and that the dream is to have a company fueled by passion.

You know...there's a problem with the whole passion notion. When employees get passionate, it's not always a happy passion. And when you have gone public with the ideal that what you want is a culture that thrives on open communication, that kind of negative vibe can be a real bummer. But there are two things that are even worse.

One is publicly declaring commitment to open communication and receptivity to all emotions and opinions, and then quashing any dissidence like Putin on a Chinese vacation.

The other is not hearing any complaints at all.

There's something about someone who is so worked up about something going on in the company that he is willing to put his job on the line. It's deeply caring about where the company is going and whether it's keeping its promises to all its stakeholders.

This guy might have been a pain in the proverbial patootie precisely *because* he's passionate about the prospects of the enterprise. The ones who don't really give a darn...well, those are the ones who are just good employees. But they're awfully quiet. It's quite possible that they're passively disengaged. And that's just one step away from being *actively* disengaged. And that's where you'll begin to have real problems.

Let the complainer have his say. He knows what's really going on in your company. And he's got valuable information and insights for you that you might not get anywhere else.

Public embarrassment of the blog kind is really too bad -- maybe even horrifying, depending on the content and the timing. But don't be afraid of the truth. Even when it's the hard truth. Just know that it will come with a side of beef.

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