Many people own a safe. They use it to store valuable items, which they don’t use every day and want to protect, like passports, birth certificates, diplomas, the deed to a house, money or jewelry. I don’t have a safe at home. Call me naive, but I’ve never understood the concept of keeping your valuables locked up so no one can see them. I use my passport to travel and I like to wear my jewelry. Last year, when I bought a diamond ring, the jeweler made it very clear that I was supposed to wear it every day, and assured me that normal wear and tear would not damage the stones. In fact, the ring would get better as it got older. And as for cash, oh well, suffice it to say a bank makes a lot more sense to me.
Nobody ever asks if there is a safe at work. Does that mean we don’t have any valuables that we would like to protect? Of course we do, but if you work in the service economy, like I do, the valuables are stored in the minds of your employees. My workplace consists of a bunch of very talented employees, without whom we would be unable to deliver our services to customers. And even though lately a lot of posts have appeared on the subject of “employee poaching”, I’ve never felt the need to lock them up or safeguard them. It’s exactly the opposite: I want our employees to go out as much as possible, to get in touch with the world, to be observant, absorb what is going on, what others are doing and bring that back to incorporate it into our offerings, so we can build better services.
I am fully aware of the fact that there are all kinds of temptations outside: better money, nicer office buildings, great benefits and the company car of your dreams. Social media tools make it easy for employees to get in touch with others: I’ve experienced it myself. Since I joined Twitter, I am discussing HR topics with experts all over the world, people I will never meet in real live. I’ve renewed contact with people that I once worked with, and yes, I have received a number of job offers. For me however, the knowledge I have gained offsets the occasional “job poacher”. From an employer’s point of view however, this openness could be scary and employers might consider limiting access to social media in order to “protect” their workforce.
There is a great video on motivation by Daniel Pink that demonstrates (based on scientific evidence) that people are motivated by 3 things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. People will do well, as long as these 3 needs are satisfied. If you give your employees the autonomy to decide how to complete their tasks, then you have to let them choose how to accomplish that. Many of them, especially when they are younger, will use their network to ask questions, get advice and find information. This is how they work: they would never consider limiting themselves to the internal company network, they don’t even think in “internal” and “external”. They operate in the cloud and will use their complete network to achieve their goals. Access to the outside world is therefor a basic requirement in their way of working. If you take that away in order to protect your company, you will achieve exactly the opposite of what you intended.
Let´s also be realistic: life-long employment is a thing of the past and employees will eventually leave. In case that happens and an employee decides to leave the firm, well, I’ve also seen how that creates chances for others to move up. So, if you want to put something valuable in a safe, by all means, do that at home. Don’t ever try that at work.