Dave, I’m not sure where to turn so I’m going to ask you: how much do I have to worry about what people who are part of my far-flung “virtual” corporation do when they’re not working directly for me? I can’t share too many details because the situation is touchy, as you might expect, but basically I have someone working for me as a writer, contributing material for my blog, and I have been hearing that he’s writing some pretty far out, offensive material on other sites. Do I need to worry about it?
This is a difficult situation, no question, and one that comes up more and more as we’ve moved away from employee-as-chattel-for-life and towards plug-and-play cogs in all the machines of the modern economy. I wrestle with this myself too – every time I add a short note on this site saying “thanks to Kevin” or “Leo” or whomever, do I need to worry about their other work?
My short answer: yes.
Here’s the longer explanation: When you hire people to join an organization, you are getting “the full package”, not just their output. If you hire a receptionist who molests children at night, you’ve got a child molester on staff, not just a receptionist.
When you have someone working for you, someone whose name is know by the rest of the community, by your customers, then you need to know more about them than just “do they turn in their projects on time?”
A more realistic example: the man you’ve hired to write some of your content might well be a rabid poster to a hate ‘zine, or write articles for a racist, sexist, bigoted or other non-mainstream publication, something that is not only against your company policy, but perhaps against your personal beliefs too.
The question you need to ask yourself is: what would happen to my company’s reputation if a customer put two and two together? And what if they then posted it, blogged about it, or even sent it as a tip to one of your industry publications of record?
This isn’t about numbers, or spreadsheets either, it’s about the credibility and, ultimately, viability of your business.
A book publisher who releases screeds and hate materials is forevermore tainted by them and inevitably loses credibility in the industry. A consultant who has an axe to grind is eventually out of work as potential clients learn of her biases and inability to be objective. A writer who can’t differentiate between professional work and personal writing similarly has their integrity called into question – and reasonably so – as it seems like might well be happening with your situation.
Remember, too, that if your customers are starting to talk about the other interests of your team, then you must listen and respond. If you don’t, then you have a huge problem, because a Web site, blog, or even print publication that doesn’t listen to its community is an organization that is doomed to remain irrelevant and, ultimately fail in the marketplace of ideas. In this day and age there are tons of other places people can get their news and information, and there are certainly other venues for companies to advertise their products too.
I hope that helps clarify what I believe is the core issue surrounding whether you need to pay attention to what your team does when they’re not working for you. It’s frustrating, and it’s something that should be irrelevant if everyone is acting in a completely professional manner, but it’s proactive damage control. Because if something does break, something that makes your company — and you — look really bad, then it might be a lot more difficult to extricate yourself without looking terrible.
And that’s a sobering reality.