Risks and incidents: opening a Management Development forum to all staff

This is linked to a previous discussion that I opened in LSG last year (how do you implement an online management development site).  With the help of replies I got from some of you lovely people, we launched our in-house Management Development site about six months ago and it has been going on relatively well :)


At the launch we only allowed access to the site for our existing managers and other staff who have shown an interest in management development.  This was mainly because the site had an open forum for users to raise any management related questions and help each other out.  As this was our first open forum within the organisation we wanted to take a controlled approach because we didn't know how an open forum will work. This was brand new territory for us.


Now we've seen how the site works, we are considering opening that site up to all our staff members. I am trying to do a bit of a risk assessment to prepare our site moderators and senior managers on 'what to expect' and 'how to manage' challenging conversations popping up in the forum.


I recently watched a TED video by Clay Shirky: How Social Media can make History and it gives a lot of insight on how to (or more importantly 'how not to') manage forums. I am interested to see if any of you have experience managing or using an all staff open forum within your organisations and have any examples of issues or incidents and how they were managed (or not managed) well or badly.





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Hi Susith, 

Some years ago (2005 I think!), when I was in a corporate L&D team we set up a management development site for 90 high performing/high potential managers. This was relatively easy to manage, but we were much more nervous when we decided to open it up to the entire management population (around 3,000 people) and give access to all new management recruits. However, I'm pleased to say that the whole thing worked without incident (almost - see exception below) although that's not to say there weren't a few learnings:

  • Initially we tried to over organise the site; creating a structure based on what we thought managers would like to talk about (or more likely, what we wanted them to talk about). Nearly all of the conversations took place in the 'general' forum, so we just removed the structure that we put in place and let them create their own.
  • We made a decision to moderate by exception. All posts were published instantly and users could flag something as inappropriate - nobody ever did.
  • When we invited people to enrol on the site we told them that we would moderate things that way, and pointed out that it also meant we would not be removing posts if they said something stupid - and reminded them that the most likely outcome of inappropriate posting was that they would make themselves look silly in the eyes of their peers.

I spoke about this at LT in 2008:


I did say there was one exception - we had a complaint from one manager that another manager was using the private message system to pester them for a date. After it was raised with us, the local management dealt with it. The same situation could have happened by email, phone or in person, so I don't think it any way reflects upon the use of this kind of site.

This kind of site is much more common these days, but I still find clients struggling with this issue of risk. My experience is that the perceived risk is much greater than the actual risk, and most organisations already have policies in place that cover any kind of unwelcome behaviour (irrespective of whether that are online or not). The only exceptions I find are when the organisation is using an external service and there needs to be a specific policy around ownership of logins and data (such as LinkedIn connections).

If you're having issues convincing people about the risk issue take a look at this Slidehare from Norman Lamont:


You might also get some use from this Pecha Kucha presentation I did back in 2010:




Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience Barry.  I haven't had a chance to check out the YouTube videos yet (IT restrictions!), so looking forward to seeing them when I go home.


What you've said helps to answer quite a few questions that we are asking ourselves at the moment, i.e. how to strike the balance of organising and moderating the site.  It's also re-assuring to see that we're not alone with these questions!


Interesting story about the 'private messaging stalker' :) You're correct - most unwelcome behaviour like that can be easily handled by a policy which applies to general business code of conduct. As the Norman Lamont slideshow suggests (great slideshow by the way... thanks for recommending that), an open forum is simply another form of communication.


However... the only difference of an open forum is that all posts on a forum are instantly visible to all users of the site, in comparison to other traditional communication methods where an individual has to take a conscious decision to reach a mass audience (talking to a group instead of talking to an individual, conducting a call conference instead of calling an individual, etc.).  A discussion in a forum can happen between just two people, but it'll always be visible to all users of the site even if they don't get involved.


For example: a staff member post a comment about how they disagree with the way they are managed within their team/department.  In my opinion, this is a totally rational and reasonable comment to make.  It's hard to imagine any code of conduct policy will cover instances like these.  However how would the managers of that team/department feel about having their internal issues out in display for the whole organisation to see? How would they react?  Again, to me, the management team needs to be brave and not take any knee jerk reactions when replying to such feedback, or worse... using their authority to delete that comment.


I guess these types of scenarios come under what you were saying about "moderating by exception".  Have you had any experience in preparing or guiding managers in similar situations? 


I may be thinking far too seriously here... and don't need to worry myself about imaginary 'worse case scenarios', because I totally get what you said about "perceived risk is much greater than the actual risk".  What do you think?





Hi Susith,

My experience from some years ago is very similar to Barry's story.  Before joining WillowDNA, I was responsible for Online Communities at Orange Global back in 2005 where forums and community sites were gaining traction.  However, just as you expressed there was some concern over the use of forums, should they would be used at all, whether they would be used inappropriately, how to moderate them etc.  

The biggest surprise to us all was how well users would moderate for themselves - the best example of this was when an employee forum was set up in one company in Europe undergoing a reorganisation.  Therefore the subjects under discussion were often difficult and emotive, yet contributors did an incredible job at self policing and it was an incredibly powerful tool in supporting people during a difficult period of change.  It's a lesson I've taken with me and one we regularly explore with our customers when they are nervous about using discussion forums as part of their learning programmes.  However I would go as far as saying that discussions are often the most useful element of online learning programmes, it contextualises learning and keeps it contemporary so I would say, go for it!  Moderation is important but for me, it's much more about facilitating great conversation and provoking comment, rather than true moderation.  Someone who cares about the dialogue is incredibly important in helping maximise learning. The only inappropriate use of forums I have seen on any programmes recently has been where the contributor adds an inane contribution to a thread - adding 'I agree' is not a post, must try harder!

Thanks for your reply and encouraging words Lisa. I think the biggest motivator for me from all these responses we've had so far (from LSG and other forums where we raised this question) is that no one had that much negatives, warnings or 'horror stories' to share about open forums at workplace. That's always a good sign! :)

One of my colleagues came across this CIPD research paper http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/research/social-media-employee-v..., which I think will also come handy to convince stakeholders who just might be a bit nervous about opening up forums to all staff.

Wish me luck!

Thanks again.




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