Thursday, 18 February 2010

Social media staff guidelines

There continues to be a lot of discussion surrounding the issue relating to how staff should engage with others on social networks in their official capacity as an employee of an organisation. This usually involves having policies in place that employees need to adhere to. This is particularly true of local government (local and central). Employees want policies that set out the ground rules for social media engagement, that give clear guidance on how employees can and should use social networks to engage with others.

Issues that any policy needs to address could included the following:

· What is acceptable when an employee replies to a blog or forum comment?
· What is considered confidential?
· What can and cannot be discussed or revealed?

For anyone working within government (myself included) there are already a set of guidelines under the online participation guidance for civil servants, which were developed by the Minister for Digital Engagement. These guidelines are broad enough that they can and should form the basis for any social media policy, whether it be for the public or private sector.

Laurel Papworth has also created a list of 40 social media staff guidelines, so there should be enough material between these two links to create your own organisational social media policy.

The development of any policy needs to be conducted with the buy in from key representatives, including upper management, communications and anyone else who will be actively or indirectly involved. What you don’t want is your policy being created by small, very keen and possibly unrepresentative group of employees. While they may be acting with the best of intentions, any social media policy needs acceptance and buy in from upper management. This at least ensures that they have read and understood the policy, and are happy with its contents. It is best to get this the policy formally signed off as an official work policy.

Once the policy has been formally signed off, then it needs to be circulated to those employees who will be responsible for engaging with social media on the organisation’s behalf. Presumably, some of these employees will have been involved in the creation of the policy, but depending on the size of organisation, maybe not everyone will have been involved in this process.

It’s important for any organisation that wishes to engage with social media that its employees have clear and concise guidelines defining what constitutes acceptable engagement.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Will bankers never learn!

I have lost count of the articles I have now written on the banking sector, and until they turn themselves around, I will continue to criticise it. While wealthy and out of touch Royals such as Prince Andrew may see fit to defend bankers, the vast majority of the UK population do not. His comments show that he does not fully understand the financial or political dimension in which he is commenting. He asks us all to leave banks alone so that they can get back to business as normal, and that the constant barrage of criticism is not helpful.

That as it may, the criticism currently being heaped upon our bankers is entirely of their own making. They have been bailed out at taxpayer’s expense, and yet have shown little in the way of gratitude or remorse. Indeed, they continue to reward themselves with obscene bonuses whilst in the middle of a recession they have created.

I would happily leave bankers alone if I felt safe in the knowledge that they were acting with integrity, and with the greater good of the economy in mind. The flaw in the previous statement is that bankers have little concept of integrity or altruism. Their only motivation for going to work each day is to make as much money for themselves as possible, and forget about any consequences. The banking sector attracts this sort of person, with its high risk, high payout culture. So we shouldn’t be too surprised to find that our investment banking industry is populated by those with dubious scruples.

In a Utopian world, we should be able to let the banking sector get on with its job, without the interference from outside sources such as government. Laissez faire banking would provide an open and free market for banking similar to the free trade between differing countries. While this model works pretty well for trade and markets, it doesn’t seem to work for banking. The risks are too great, the payouts are excessive, and this simply attracts the wrong sort of person. Maybe the banking sector needs to be run by more traditional captains of industry from other international sectors such as retail or manufacturing.

A radical rethink needs to happen with the banking sector. It needs to look at long term planning and goal setting. If bonuses are to be paid, they need to be paid from profits over the longer term to discourage reckless short term gambling. Investment in high risk ventures need to be managed collectively so that the risks and possible impact can be assessed properly. At least then everyone would know what is involved, and the venture could be vetoed if the risks were considered too great.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Accountability in the Public Sector

I have worked in the public sector for nearly three years, and have previously written an article comparing the different career structures between them. In this follow up article, I'd like to compare them in terms of their different levels of accountability and risk appetite.

Accountability and risk appetite are very much related. Your level of accountability will correspond to a high degree with your level of risk appetite. As an example of this, you only need to look to the investment bankers who have wrought global financial crisis. With little accountability for their actions, they were free to take greater risks, and thus plunge the rest of us into recession.

The higher the level of accountability, the lower the level of risk appetite.

Local government is a public body that serves its community and citizens. It is paid for in part through the generation of revenue streams from council tax (paid for by the tax payer), and in part from central government subsidies.

Local government is therefore accountable to the tax payer, as they largely pay for it. This accountability affects the level of risk that any local government body is able to take. There would be a public outcry if a local authority or public body invested heavily in a new service, system or project, only for it to fail.

This is a scenario that has happened frequently in central government IT projects, so experience shows us the level of public dis-satisfaction when such projects become derailed.

When a new project is proposed, the risks are assessed very carefully. If the risk is too great, then the project is stopped immediately. It is far better to work on projects that have a higher degree of success, and will deliver tangible benefits to the tax payer (who pays for them remember), than to risk wasting investment on projects that carry a higher degree of risk, where there is the possibility that little or no benefit will be delivered.

In the private sector, accountability stops at the board room with the share holders. Any investment is privately funded, and so does not come from the public purse. Therefore, there is a far lesser degree of accountability, and reciprocally a higher degree of risk appetite.

In short, the private sector has a higher degree of risk appetite compared to the public sector.

Apart form the differences in public vs private funding, public sector bodies do not compete with one another. One local authority has no need to compete with another local authority. The complete reverse is found in the private sector, where businesses operating in the same market space will compete for customers and business. One way of gaining new business is to offer a product or service that your competitors don't. To do this requires investment in new technologies, skills and tools in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. This competitive model simply doesn't exist in the public sector.

The different levels of accountability and risk taking dramatically change the landscape of how projects are initiated within each of the different sectors. In the private sector, using private investment, and with the carrot of possibly gained new business and therefore increasing your revenue streams, far higher levels of risk taking can be found. In the public sector, with public investment and no competition, much lower levels of risk taking are found.

Monday, 1 February 2010

I don't need a morality guide book

I have already written previously on the subject of morality in relation to Atheism, but due to the high degree of polarity amongst theists on the subject, it is worth writing about it again.

I have seen and read many articles and posts from theists, from a variety of religions, and there definitely seems to be a consensus that only they can be moral people because they have a sacred text that teaches them about morality. The general agreement amongst theists is that without a moral guide book to tell you what is right and wrong, it is not possible to be moral.

What complete nonsense!

I would find the concept of spoon fed morality to be risible if it were not taken so seriously by theists. If you see a woman being mugged, do you really need to quickly get out your moral guide book and check whether or not you should help? If you see a starving animal being beaten by its owner, do you have to flip through your sacred text to determine if you should intervene?

These may be extreme examples, but the point being made is the same nonetheless. Morality is instinctive, it has nothing to do with the teachings of any sacred text. Sacred texts may reinforce positive messages and highlight good and bad behaviour, but they do not instill that founding sense of right and wrong that we all share and which is universal across our species.

I donate to charity regularly. In fact, just today, I donated to a children's cancer charity outside my local supermarket. Being atheist means that my act of kindness had nothing to do with sacred texts or from fear of a vengeful deity. I performed my act of kindness for the very simple reason that it was the right thing to do.

It's not as if theists can claim any high ground in terms of morality, when they have been known to perform such acts as flying planes into buildings, murdering physicians who perform abortions and slitting the throats of conscious animals (Halal and Kosher).

Another question that is raised from the superficial belief that morality comes from a book is where did we learn morality before we had religion? Christianity has its origins around the 4th century, during the time of the Roman Empire. Islam has its origins around the 7th century.

Are we seriously to believe that before these religions emerged and spread, that we were all brutal savages? Of course not. I think this in itself is conclusive proof that morality does not spring forth from a book.

Morality is innate. We are all born with the same universal predisposition towards good behaviour.