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Avoid Risk. Behave as if You are on TV (or YouTube or Twitter . . .)

Anthony Weiner, NYC, May 2011 (Pre-"Weine...Image by Tony the Misfit via Flicker

A recent New York Times article addressed the Economics of Men Behaving Badly. Bad behavior has potential personal and business costs. In this technological age, the risks are heightened.

Historically, liability for bad behavior could be hidden or limited by plausible deniability, as many accusations of bad behavior turned into a “he said she said” debate. Now, a moderately priced cell phone offers a plethora of methods to capture bad behavior for mass distribution. Any of the following can become 'exhibit 1':

  • Social media content (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube…)
  • Emails
  • Voicemails
  • Photos
  • Videos (surveillance or just some kid with a cell phone)
  • Audio recordings
  • Texts

Bad behavior resulting in liability (and embarrassment) can occur at all levels of a business. Transmission of an illicit photo may be harassment. Intimate emails on the corporate PDA could be misuse of company property. Either could be a breach of contract.

Customer service gaffes are abundant on the web (Warning: Explicit language).  A captured gaffe may be a PR snag, but a video may be prima facie evidence of a breach of contract or even a criminal actViolations of sanitary requirements are the subject of stings. Work conditions are broadcast. Fired by Facebook is now a reality (and has at least one Facebook page).  Anti-business Facebook pages can have thousands of “friends.”   

Bad behavior is fodder for amateur journalists and competitors. Diligence and planning may stave off future issues resulting from bad behavior. To avoid a personal injury action, assume your entire business is on a surveillance camera. To avoid a sexual harassment suit, assume each conversation is recorded. To avoid a charge of misappropriation of funds or breach of fiduciary duty action, assume that each transaction is recorded and shared. To avoid administrative penalties, assume that your business activities will be audited. To avoid penalties for unsafe work conditions, assume that the next visitor or employee is using a camera to record the conditions.   

An unfortunate technological reality is that computers and cell phones transform rumors into allegations into facts. What can you do?

  • Assume you are always being watched.
  • Live accordingly.
  • Encourage your employees to do the same.
  • Every time you consider questionable behavior, weigh the benefits.
  • Coach your employees. Sit down. Show them videos of ‘caught’ behavior.
  • Make a plan for how technology will  help you benchmark your business aspirations for safety, compliance, customer service, and integrity.

In 1933, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis stated, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” The Digital Age has brought new methods for “sunlight” to peer into a business. The best path to avoiding an embarrassing discovery is to have nothing to hide.

In my next blog . . . tips if you decide to monitor your employees.

- Christine Branstad



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