Keep Discussion Productive and Professional on Enterprise Social Networks

By David F. Carr

By all means, share good news and congratulatory notes on the social collaboration network. What about the not-so-good news? An endless stream of happy talk seems fake after a while, particularly if everyone knows the organization faces serious challenges.

The collaboration network can be a place to share your thoughts about what’s not working right, particularly if you can do it with some tact. There are many times in business when raising a concern privately is best, particularly if there is a personal dimension to the discussion like the need to identify an individual who isn’t doing a good job. Raising an issue broadly makes more sense when the issue is one of collective responsibility, like a communications breakdown between departments that needs to be rectified, or when the best person to address the issue has yet to be determined.

If processes are breaking down or customers aren’t getting the service they deserve, raising those issues can be a way to show you care about making the business better. You may even say that it’s your duty.

Still, before you speak up, take the temperature of your organization — how open is it to self-criticism?

  • Present yourself as a problem solver. Assuming you decide to be brave, you certainly want to be polite and professional. When you share a message publicly, you must make it clear that you are seeking solutions, not just griping.

    “Transparency” is a popular word among social business advocates, but executives sometimes worry that introducing social collaboration means opening up a can of worms by giving employees a forum in which to complain and vent. You don’t want to be the person who brings all their worst fears to life. On the other hand, if the organization is at all serious about using social collaboration to solve problems, it has to be willing to acknowledge that problems exist within the organization.

  • Find a connection to company goals. If possible, tie your issue to concerns that have been raised publicly by the leaders of your organization, showing how your concern links to achieving their goals.

  • Be respectful. Never blame, insult, or demean any other individual. This has nothing to do with whether people should be held accountable if they have indeed caused problems; a social network isn’t the right place to sort out those issues.

  • Invite colleagues to communicate. On the other hand, the network can be the perfect place to sort out teamwork and communications problems. Most business processes succeed or fail based on the quality of the teamwork, not the good or bad qualities of a single player. For instance, if a customer who works with two divisions of your business is unhappy because of poor coordination between them, networking the right people together to address the sources of friction and save that customer from defecting would be a huge win.

Don’t just complain. Raise the problems you believe must be solved and then help solve them.