AB Thinks  →  14th June 2019

Don’t be blind to your problems

I rarely encounter something related to internal communications that leaves me conflicted, where both sides of an argument seem to hold equal weight. But this week, that’s exactly what happened.

A news report on the website Verdict suggested Tesla is blocking its employees from accessing Blind – the ‘anonymous social networking platform for professionals’.

Blind says it has more than 2,000 Tesla employees on its discussion platform. We can only speculate why Tesla may be blocking access to the site. We do know it has struggled with leaks for some time. Back in October 2018, Bloomberg reported that Tesla were asking employees to ‘renew their vows’ by signing new confidentiality agreements.

More recently (and ironically), Tesla sent an email to employees warning them not to leak company information, which was subsequently leaked to CNBC and quickly picked up by media outlets worldwide. The email, which was called “passive aggressive” by one news report, left employees in no doubt of the dire consequences of divulging sensitive information either deliberately or by accident.

What fascinates me about this tale is Blind. The company believes “the way we engage in conversations about career and work today is fundamentally broken”. Its vision is to create a space that gives “an equitable voice to everyone”.

Its website declares “through anonymity and community, we aim to flatten corporate hierarchy and remove professional barriers in order to initiate open conversations and create transparency”. This helps to “uplift voices that have been silenced”.

Stirring stuff. Curious, I joined the site. The conversations are truly diverse. They range from people seeking career advice (“I’m in talks with Netflix and wondering pros/cons about the structure and company culture?”) to people simply expressing a point of view (“I feel bad about how much money I’m making”).

As an advocate of better workplace conversation – of creating meaningful and productive dialogue at work – Blind should appeal to me. Surely anything that gives employees a voice and stimulates an open discussion is good. Right?

In truth, as the managing director of a business, the need for Blind sits uneasily with me. Feedback and opinion from across our agency are vital to the continuous improvement of what we do and how we do it. We therefore do our best to foster a culture that encourages honesty, that allows for debate and divergence. As a management team, we recognise great minds do not always think alike – sometimes it’s fools that never differ.

But while we encourage people to raise questions and concerns, we need the detail. Who? When? Where? The root cause of a problem is impossible to address without context, background and specifics. Anonymity is paralysing. Action to address a problem has to involve the person experiencing it. Otherwise, we are all merely talking to ourselves.

The very existence of Blind is a reminder of the importance of great internal communication. It reinforces the value of employees expressing themselves safely without having to step outside the walls of their organisations – and without needing the protection of a pseudonym. Controversial views and difficult questions need to be heard, acknowledged and addressed internally. Otherwise, organisations are blind to their problems.