You Can't Handle the Truth!


In "A Few Good Men," Keffe screams "I want the truth!" and Jessep fires back \\"You can't handle the truth!\\". A front page article in today's Salt Lake Tribune, is headlined "Some question value of state worker blogs," but a better title would be "You can't handle the truth!\\" Rebecca Walsh writes:

Reading a Weblog is a lot like reading someone's journal. Someone's highly technical, mind numbingly boring journal. Most of the time. Then there are times when techies slather their innermost thoughts, their childish pranks online. And when the writer is a state employee, blogs can be fascinating reading -- and a source of embarrassment.
Gee thanks Rebecca! I like reading your stuff too!

The article is full of interesting little tidbits, like Rep. Ralph Becker, true to form, calling for more regulation: "We should have some protocol for how we use our increasing use of e-based communication..." and an unnamed state employee saying "The intent of the blogs is to provide information. But what kind of information are they really providing? Who do they think they are?" I think its interesting that Rebecca didn't provide links to the blogs she's questioning so that readers can go decide for themselves. So, I'll provide them: take a look at my blog, Dave Fletcher's, or Dave McNamee's and decide for yourself whether there's any real information there. I think the answer is obvious.

As she was preparing this story, Rebecca sent me an email and asked:

I'm working on a story about blogs. It's my understanding that the state purchased blog software to improve communication. I wondered what your thoughts are on the medium given what happened to you and other state employees who posted comments in their blogs. Do you regret posting your apology? Do you believe blogging helps IT employees?

I responded with the following:

I wrote shortly after I and others in the state started blogging that blogging [requires] a "culture of candor." (See http://www.windley.com/2002/09/06.html#a171). I believe that organizations work best when people are honest and willing to let others be honest. The culture at the state is one of suppressing unpleasant truths and its very defensive. I think that's regrettable and probably one of the reasons I didn't get along too well there. I can think of several instances where people got themselves in trouble with their blogs (like the recent one involving Dave McNamee [that] was in the paper). In another instance, an employee honestly admitted a mistake and his co-workers, who were also involved in the mistake, jumped all over him for airing dirty laundry. I think that to the extent people are willing to be tolerant of honest expressions or letting off steam, the whole organization gains because information flows more freely. This is clearly not the culture that exists at the State.

I'm not sorry I posted my apology. The timing and the fact that it came to light right then probably cost me a job I wanted very much. But the alternative was living with a secret the would have come to light eventually and constantly wondering when that would happen and what the fallout would be. I would have looked like I was trying to hide something, which I wasn't, and my intent would have been questioned. Overall, I'm confident that being honest and forthright about it was the best thing to do. You can tell I'm not much of a politician. :-) It saved me plenty of sleepless nights and led, ultimately, to the best outcome.

I'm more convinced than ever that narrating your work in a blog is a good way to communicate. But, some organizations aren't prepared for open, honest communication and that's a shame.

You might also find these posts helpful in understanding my thoughts on candor, transparency, and using blogs in organizations:

http://www.windley.com/2003/05/28.html#a641
http://www.windley.com/2002/10/18.html
http://www.windley.com/categories/enterpriseComputing/2002/06/20.html#a38

The heart of the article and Becker's comments seems to be the question: "how can we protect state workers from blogs so their feelings don't get hurt." I think if Ralph and others in the State want to solve a real problem, they ought to ask themselves why they have an organization that can't handle the truth.