Why Do Managers Fear Internal Social Computing?


    I think everyone can safely say that for businesses external social computing is definitely a go forth and use. Internally on the other hand, that is definitely not the case. I have been participating on many efforts internally and have witnessed a very long list of fears. Are these fears real or just roadblocks?

     Here are some of the fears that I think managers are putting forth:

  1. What is the business value? Or what is the ROI for deploying professional networking, blogging, micro-blogging, wiki’s and whatever else is out there? When you talk about the various use cases and how each of these could help with productivity and collaboration – the normal response is that is nice, but what is the real value (dollars).
  2. These tools are really nice and all for the outside (personal use), they take up a lot of cycles for the user and frankly it is like goofing off. Managers need their folks to be focused on the tasks at hand, not spending time with these toys. The fact that an employee put out a micro-blog on a question about something that they were working on – and within minutes got plenty of answers – was not viewed as productive. 
  3. People are posting very sensitive material, we can not let our intellectual property get out (to the outside world or even to employee’s inside that don’t have the right to know).  You can put in safe guards, but it all really comes down to people. Seems that people are not to be trusted to do what is right or procedure.
  4. Perception is all people do is bitch. These tools are a forum for folks to bitch somewhat anonymously.  Trying to point out that these are opportunities for two way communications, just does not cut it.

    These are fears… Fear of losing some command and control. As a manager, I like when folks come to me for answers or bounce ideas off me for potential input. If I let them use these tools, I could lose some of my worth? Not really, I want to participate. That is not how most other managers feel.  I remember back in the days when teams were being asked to be more self directed… When it failed, it failed from the supervisor or manager level. They were afraid that this was going to take away some of their job and make them expendable. I remember sitting with my fellow supervisors in training, listening to them point out all the ways that this will fail. For some of them, those failures came true. I personally did everything that I could to make it work – and it worked out well. Fast forward to now and the social tools, for everything that I am allowed to use internally, I do everything to try to get my team to participate. Slowly the team is seeing the value and are using them. For the stuff that is not internal yet, I still use – just to keep getting the necessary information to help me internally (and externally) but I do not discuss what is going on internally with the external world.

     Does anyone have any internal social computing? Are you seeing the same fears? Have you been able to address them?


  • Hi Steve, great post! In working with my clients the size of your organization, I can tell you that the FUD you describe is definitely prevalent.

    What I’ve seen work a bit is to sit down with the managers I call “known obstacles” and ask them what their managed business objectives are – what keeps them up at night? Then, help them understand at a use case level how the internal social computing environment(s) can help them achieve those objectives faster, better, smarter, and let them sleep more. 😉

    Typically, this means doing some work to understand their specific use cases so that you can effectively map them to, “Hey, you can do it better using social computing, in this manner. Let me show you…”

    The trick, I’ve found, is to get the most vocal, most influential “obstacles” on board in this way, then work to get their people to internalize that story and start using social computing. From there, it’s a slow process, but others start to see it. “Well, if Jerry is letting his people us it, it must be useful.”

  • You are right on target here. Fear is at play. Someone with power may loose that power. And this is a big challenge. But these challenges can be dealt with in a number of ways, as Gia mentions. Work is all about overcoming challenges, and real-world experience helps.

    One observation that I gathered in my travels here: as much as success stories help, failure events are much more devastating. So we have to be very careful to avoid creating an event that other nay-sayers will point to. Get people that know what they are doing to help you.

  • @Gia – I agree 100%, definitely is more work, but all change has to start with one. Taking on a tough customer is a challenge – and the rewards can be huge, especially when they become advocates.

    @Gil – You only get a small window with scary tools and if failure is all folks see, then good luck moving forward. Perception is reality in most minds.

    Thanks for the comments.

  • Steve, well put! This is what all of us as managers and consultants are faced with right now. As you and I discussed, this is the same attitude that upper management had about email when it first came out, then it was the internet, then the resistance to ecommerce for fear of fraud, and now it’s the next fear, social media. And it’s equally as ignorant. Fear of the unknown will always haunt mankind, the only solution is, turn on the light, show them under the bed, and look in the closet. Nothing to be afraid of. The best way to loose control is to not take it!

  • @ Lon – thanks. The part that scares me the most is that I have worked in all of those changes and I have never seen so much resistance to any of them – like I see with social computing. Is it that leaders are growing more afraid? Is it the fact that the word “social” is attached? Or control? I believe is all of the above.