The advance of technology has created an unexpected dichotomy in our relationships with the world. On the one hand, the growth of blogging and the rise of Twitter and Facebook — as well other social sites, such as Classmates.com and LinkedIn — have enormously increased the number of people we are in contact with.
Although sometimes these relationships become rich ones and maintaining even a thin connection with old classmates and business associates can be helpful if you ever need their help, for the most part, these relationships are, by their nature, somewhat superficial. One who has a few thousand “friends” on Facebook may not really have any friends at all.
On the other hand, tools such as Skype, e-mail, texting and other communication advances have enabled us to do two things: First, they have altered the nature of maintaining relationships. Without these tools — and we could also add inexpensive jet transportation — it was difficult to maintain relationships with people outside one’s geographic community. Now communities of interest can easily be maintained without regard to geography. So although neighborhood barbeques aren’t going out of style, it is also true that if you love opera, playing bridge, engaging in libertarian politics and philosophy or discussing the deli industry — you can have friends and colleagues across the country and around the world who share these interests with you.
Second, today’s tools have ramped up the intensity of interaction between those who are really close. My parents were — and are — very close, but, in the absence of emergencies, they communicated just once a day during working hours when my father, who as an executive in the food industry had somewhat unpredictable working hours, would call my mother to let her know he was on the way home so she could know to prepare dinner.
Today my wife and I will exchange more than a dozen texts and e-mails during the day, and phone calls are easier to do when you can do them from lunch, in the car, etc.
The comeuppance of all this is that in the age of technology, the people you have working in your organization are more important than ever and in ways that don’t necessarily accord with any traditional hiring profiles.
A really great national salesperson today is going to so enjoy the industry that inevitably lots of his close friends will be in the trade. He is going to use technology to maintain an intensity of contact with these friends that was impossible for previous generations of salespeople.
It means he can be highly productive. It also means that the salesperson who is just doing a job, rather than engaging a passion, is going to have a tough time competing.
It means one other thing as well: That many people will come to know your employee with a depth they didn’t have in previous generations. After all, many could put on a “front” if the contact was one convention a year or one personal visit. If one is posting on Facebook, sending out Tweets and sharing a lot of private communication with texts, e-mails and free Skype calls and maybe using Southwest and other discount airlines to visit or vacation together, a client is really going to come to know your sales rep, and the sales executive is really going to come to know a buy-side executive. And these impressions will reflect on you and your whole organization. Is this a person who keeps promises? Does he cut corners? Does he take advantage of situations to benefit himself at the expense of others? Does he cheat?
Intense social interaction teaches all this, and people, rightly or wrongly, will assume that the values this person presents are the values your organization embraces.
Recently, Scientific American featured an interesting article titled, “How the Illusion of Being Observed Can Make You a Better Person.” The gist was that people are on their best behavior when they think someone is watching.
The interesting business question is what is the implication of this for staffing? On the one hand, it argues that businesses should put in as many touch points with employees as possible. The more employees feel they are being watched, the more likely they are to follow corporate policy and behave well.
Of course, the title of the Scientific American article is not quite right. Is someone really a better person — to use the article title — if their natural inclination is to do bad things but they behave because they fear consequences when they are being observed?
In other words, is it sufficient to have someone not steal because there is a camera on them or do you want an employee who won’t steal — camera or not — because that is the nature of his character?
In truth, as the industry gathers in Anaheim for the IDDBA convention, we are reminded that, even with modern technology, there is no way for a business to always be watching its associates. So, in an age when technology means that people will have intense relationships in which a person’s true character is highly likely to be discovered, it becomes clear that technology raises the importance of people in your organization and requires organizations to notch up their requirements for hiring to include only people of good character. After all, the character your people present is a most certain reflection on your own.