Are Employees Griping About Your Product? Maybe You Should Let Them

So the stars have aligned, you’ve worked weeks on end to release a product, and it finally goes live. You get the press you want, some criticism, and you continue work on it.

Then you get word that one of your employees has accidentally posted a screed online ripping your product to bits. Worst of all, your product is a social network and the place he ripped on your product is your product. Your employee tries to make the post private, but the cat is already out of the bag.

If you’re Google, that’s what you’re facing this week as one of it’s engineers posted a rant that has quickly spread across the web. If they are smart, they might deal with it a bit internally but they won’t can him for it. And you could learn something from that, too.

Silicon Valley candor

With the speed of innovation in Silicon Valley, politeness and political correctness is a luxury few can afford. So if you read the entire post (available here), you’ll be surprised to know that this was meant to be shared internally with all of Google’s team (including their most senior officials). There’s some tough language,  but here’s an excerpt to give you the flavor of it:

Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo). We all don’t get it. The Golden Rule of platforms is that you Eat Your Own Dogfood. The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought. We had no API at all at launch, and last I checked, we had one measly API call. One of the team members marched in and told me about it when they launched, and I asked: “So is it the Stalker API?” She got all glum and said “Yeah.” I mean, I was joking, but no… the only API call we offer is to get someone’s stream. So I guess the joke was on me.

Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product.

Brutal, right? Even for just an internal discussion, this would be out of place in many organizations.

But Silicon Valley is different…

I can see the complaints now about this post. “My company isn’t based in the Bay though. It is based in (Nashville/Phoenix/Atlanta) and this just wouldn’t fly.

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And sure, Silicon Valley is different and it makes it hard to always take examples from what they do there. But in this instance, I think it makes sense to look a little closer at the message. Kris Dunn had a great take at The HR Capitalist about why this should mean something to the 99 percent of companies who work outside of the Bay Area:

I like to have fun with Google and challenge the conventional wisdom that they’re the golden child, but I’ll say this. If an employee can write a rant like this, distribute it to the company and the world and the response of the company is to think about the content instead of being pissed, that would be the type of company I’d want to work for.

It would also be the type of company you and I would want to build.”

Yes, Google is different. In this case, it is different for the better.

Lessons learned

There are some key things from this scenario that I think employers can learn from when it comes to dealing with employees talking (sometimes unfavorably) about your company online:

  1. Is the gripe legitimate? I’m not asking if you agree with their call 100 percent, but I am asking if it makes sense and is trying to be helpful. If it is just complaining for complaining’s sake, that would be one thing. In this instance, it clearly isn’t.
  2. Was the intent to be harmful? Clearly the employee attempted to post it internally instead of publicly. This wasn’t a rant that was just for ranting’s sake (as evidenced by the fact that he called out the most senior leaders). We can confidently assume this is all about exchanging dialog about a young product.
  3. Was confidential data exposed? Certainly that’s the one the lawyers are always concerned about. In this case, it isn’t an issue but if there is, there might need to be damage control as well.
  4. Can you look at it as an opportunity? Google+ has certainly done fairly well for a new social network but it hasn’t exploded. Being open to the criticism, improving it, and then showing the world that your listening to the content of criticism and not reacting to the criticism itself is a huge opportunity for a company like Google to demonstrate their own savvy.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out and (hopefully) how other companies learn from Google’s example. Sometimes you just need a simple reminder that firing or severe discipline isn’t the only way to deal with a social media faux pas.


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