Geeks & Gag Rules

If you’re a geek leader, are you gagging your geeks?  (No, I don’t mean with your lack of showering.  That’s probably a different post.)

Geeks & Gag RulesWhat I’m asking is whether saying certain things is verboten in your department/team/company.  Are you so paranoid that a user or customer will hear someone venting and get offended–I used to work in law firms, so I’m quite familiar with the easily, ridiculously offended phenomenon–that your geeks can’t express themselves?

I ask because this creates a very unhealthy environment for customer-facing geeks.  Heck, it’s an unhealthy environment for customer-facing ANYBODY.  Why?

  • You’ll never know the score. You won’t ever know what’s actually happening with the users/customers because your geeks are so afraid of saying something negative that they clam up.
  • You have ticking time bombs. For folks in customer-facing positions, being able to blow off steam helps keep them sane and polite to the customers.  That horrible thing they were saying about the user they had to tell for the twelfth week in a row to press pound to save a voice mail message?  They’re saying it to you so that they won’t say that horrible thing to the user in week 13.
  • Morale? Meet toilet. When people feel frustrated & gagged in their jobs, they become unhappy.  This means that when they complain, they won’t just complain about the users–they’ll complain about you/the company and your stupid rules.

Obviously, I don’t think you should gag your geeks.  Letting them complain, laugh, and blow off steam makes for a healthier environment overall.  However, there are certainly some things to avoid:

  • A bitter culture. If ALL your geeks do is complain, you end up with a pretty miserable team of geeks.  Make sure you encourage positive, happy, and fun talk as well.  Keep in mind that a lot of culture starts at the top, and make sure you act & speak consistent with the culture you’re trying to create.
  • Putting things in writing. When I worked in a law firm & helped out with e-discovery projects, I was STUNNED to see what people sent to each other in email.  Encourage your geeks to vent verbally only.
  • Disrespect. Granted, your geeks won’t always respect every user or customer, but a basic respect for the people who help employ them is very important.  If there’s no baseline of respect, your users will know it during the phone calls even if the geek plays everything else by the book.  Again, this is something you can set from the top, by having a basic respect for them yourself.

This is a balancing act, so you HAVE to communicate well with your geeks and truly listen to what they’re saying.  But please trust me when I say that you don’t want to gag your geeks.

Photo courtesy of Bernardo Borghetti