27 December 2005

Them's Firin' Words!

Among many other people, this teacher was fired from her position at DeVry "University" in Colorado, apparently for something she had put on her blog. I say apparently, because the DeVry administration chose not to tell her specifically what they found so offensive. Nor did they give her any warning, a chance to say goodbye to colleagues and students, nor an opportunity to defend herself. Apparently, there are no laws against wrongful dismissal in Colorado.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find this bozo, an executive of the Ontario wing of the federal Liberal Party, resigning over blatantly offensive postings on his blog about NDP Leader Jack Layton, his wife and NDP candidate Olivia Chow, and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. Mike Klander's offensive blog is now offline - a case of not only the horse having bolted, but the barn having been burned to the ground. Good thing the story broke on Boxing Day when no one was paying attention.

What do these stories have in common? They both are indicative of the monumental cluelessness of the Corporate Mindset (note the capitals) relative to the effect of blogs specifically, and the effects of a UCaPP* world in general. In a nutshell, blogs amplify voice, and provide a human face - and more often a composite of many human faces - to a soulless corporation. There are two complementary effects of these actions. First, a blog can speak directly to the corporation's constituency - what are conventionally called "stakeholders" but include others in the corporation's total environment. This direct voice helps to provide the type of transparency that is increasingly becoming an important attribute of organizations that people trust, with trust becoming an important factor in choice decisions. Second - and here's the reversal - employee's blogs can reveal the "black heart" of an organization, particularly if the organization chooses to respond in an aggressive fashion. Essentially, because of the phenomenon of emergent transparency, organizations will find it exceedingly difficult to hide behind obscurity and obfuscation - spin, appeals to "confidentiality," and stonewalling.

In the case of DeVry, potential teaching staff may think twice about contracting their services. Students may reconsider education decisions based on ethical reputation. In the case of the Liberal Party of Canada, voters may consider Klander's very unfortunate blog posts as indicative of the Liberal heart. The answer to both cases is NOT to control blogging, but rather to open it up. Allow your people to reveal who and what you really are - and if who and what you really are is embarrassing, perhaps you should reconsider your actions and activities.
*UCaPP = Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate
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jo_jo said...

It seems pretty clear that this person was not told the whole truth about their firing. It smells like a knee-jerk reaction to me.

Anyway, I have a question. Is information really power? I think people and corporations try to control information flows because they believe they gain leverage by knowing stuff other people don't know, but this argument doesn't scan for me. My own opinion is that one has more power when one is transparent and honest (hence my own blog!) What do you think?

Mark said...

Thanks for the question, Jo-Jo. I suggest an approach to an answer here.