It is not about you

There are two previous jobs that I have held that have taught me more about business and people than any other experience I have had to date. The first was my years of waiting on tables and the second was my first job out of college as an IT recruiter.

One of the things I learned while waiting on tables is that employees will do what is best for them no matter what the company policy says.

This can work to the benefit or detriment of an organization, depending on how well they understand and manage people based on this principle.

I often tell the story of when it was both the law and of course company policy to not sell alcohol to minors at restaurants. We were told to id anyone who looked under 30. The consequence of serving alcohol  to a minor was the restaurant getting fined and potentially closed down. Most servers complied when they could. On really busy nights many people were not asked for their id. Why? Because it was not in the servers best interest to stop and ask for an id when they had so many other paying guests to serve. The consequences of such a decision was on the restaurant, not the server.

Fast forward a few years and the law was passed to “certify” servers to sell alcohol. If a server was caught serving alcohol to a minor that server would get fined, potentially go to jail, and not be allowed to serve alcohol anymore. All of a sudden, no matter how busy anyone was, it was in their best interest to ask for id.

I tell this story to illustrate the similarities in telling employees how to or not to represent themselves or their employers on the social web. The perceived consequences of most organization’s approach is that the employee could be disciplined and the brand would be harmed. This is not enough incentive for an employee to be conscientious to their online behavior. However if organizations switched their message away from protecting the corporate brand and more toward long term benefits and consequences to an employee’s personal brand, than the end result would be both the organization’s brand would be protected as well as the employees perceiving that their company is looking out for their best interest.

The thing is, it has to be presented as benefiting the employee as a person, not just as an employee. For example, I hear many “egos” say that the consequences of losing their job should be enough of a deterrent, they do not need to coach their employees on their own personal brand.

Why is this wrong? Because people do not care enough about losing their jobs. Just the same as those servers did not care enough that not only would they lose their job but everyone who worked there could lose there job if the restaurant was closed. It was only when the consequence of not being able to get another, similar job and also having a mark on there record was imposed that people took note.

People are not in jobs for the long haul anymore. No one is working until they get a watch. That is what I learned when I was an IT Recruiter. I placed people in “permanent” positions. Our guidelines when reviewing resumes was if a person had not been at their previous jobs for at least a year, they were not stable. If they had been at a job for more than 5 years they were getting a little stale. That’s right – 5 years at a job made a person less marketable. We are conditioned that we will work several jobs throughout our life. The consequences of losing a job is not a big consequence when you expect to change jobs multiple times throughout your life.

Now of course I hear a few oldtimers talk about how terrible it is  that there is no loyalty anymore…well 100 years ago, even Henry Ford had to confront his ego and come to the realization that he could not dictate to people how they should live their lives or represent their personal brand.

Below is a slideshare deck of a presentation I will be delivering on Monday that compares the challenges Ford had 100 years ago to the challenges managers face today. What Ford learned and what today’s managers need to learn is “it is not about you.”