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You don’t need compliance rules when your employees have social media

Thomas Milburn

You don’t need compliance rules when your employees have social media.

This week I attended a debate hosted by the Debating Group. The motion was “You don’t need compliance rules when your employees have social media”. The setting was the House of Commons, which couldn’t be a more apt venue for a good old fashioned debate. The interior décor of the House of Commons is just as thrilling as the Palace of Westminster itself.

The beautiful setting aside, my interest in the motion is based the dichotomy between the role of compliance and the importance culture within companies. A title with the words “compliance rules” might have made for a dull debate, but the evening’s speakers, including the Good Relations Group’s own Amelia Torode, had the audience captivated and flip flopping back-and-forth between being ‘for’ or ‘against’ the motion.

For the motion
The argument ‘for’ was based on the premise that the companies which have endured and succeeded most over time, are those which are in touch with society and engender trust in their cultures. For example, Nordstrom, a company which has achieved over 100 years of high quality service, has the following first rule in its employee handbook – “Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules”.

The argument continued, outlining that rules are retrospective and limited. They don’t prevent people from gaming the system and can result in a tick-box approach rather than genuine behaviour change – Enron being the 21st century poster child for a company with a lot of rules, but rotten at its core.

In closing, social media was described as being part of a wider and irreversible movement towards greater transparency. Leaders who foster the right kind of cultures, and not managers that enforce rules, will inspire the correct use of social media and harness its power for good.

Against the motion
The rebuttal argued that, although social media transcends national boundaries, there is no global framework to govern it. The onus falls on companies to set standards for social media’s effective use. A set of rules to govern the use of social media also guards against its misuse and provides the means to police wrongdoing.

Furthermore, since social media is a new phenomenon and still very fluid, providing guidance to people on how and when to use and engage with social media is important. The ‘against’ argument advocated for “freedom within a framework”.

Result
While the argument for the motion won the debate, naturally the answer lies somewhere in-between the two points of view. Rules are important to setting minimum standards. How could we take action, legal or otherwise, against failures in compliance or behaviour without them? They provide a clear distinction for what is wrong. However, rules are less able to effectively govern the greyer aspects of human behaviour. For that we need to look to the leadership, strong values and accountability, which social media provides giving greater transparency. These things combined ultimately form part of the culture in our organisations.

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