His master’s voice?

There are many different styles of blog covering an incredible range of content. Many people write about their personal life, topics unconnected with their professional roles, but equally a lot of blogs, like this one, cover topics where the author has a direct professional interest. This raises interesting questions for the author, and by extension the readers: whose voice is it, the author or the corporate? And if the author is writing their personal views, how does this relate to the views of their employer.

Since I have been writing here I have felt these questions acutely. I have also had feedback from readers that reflect these concerns. During one of the all-to-frequent gaps in my blogging, a reader ask whether I had been ‘gagged’ by my then employer following this post that strayed into the politics of research funding. I should stress that neither of my employers during the period I have been blogging, Research Councils UK and Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), have ever even suggested I shouldn’t blog or tried to remove or alter anything I have written here or posted on Twitter. And the views I express here are very much my own. This isn’t a corporate blog in disguise.

This tension, between the personal and the corporate view, is one that seems to be surfacing increasingly. Phil Ward, the author of the excellent Research Fundermentals blog, has some interesting reflections on his experience. And the pages of Times Higher Education have had a number of stories recently about universities attempts to silence academics, whose views aren’t aligned with those of the institution.

The debate is also live within HEFCE as we are exploring new ways to present our policy and analysis work, including through more use of social media. The debate centres around the processes we might use, and the extent to which the individual voice that such communications will involve should necessarily align with the corporate view. This is making us all think about how we should describe ourselves on twitter bios for personal accounts where we tweet professionally-related material. I have also been giving some thought to how a post I write here might differ, if at all, from a post on a corporate blog.

These questions go well beyond social media behaviousr, and are fundamentally about the relationship between individuals and the organisations they work for, and in some senses represent. Do organisations and their positions appear weaker because individuals who work for them hold and express contrary views? I think not. Anyone who has ever worked for an organisation knows that not everyone agrees with everything the organisation says or does. The development of organisational positions is a process of discussion, debate, negotiation and challenge. That organisations draw on, and work with a range of different view points and values is a strength not a weakness, and to surface those differences provides evidence of that strength. And if an organisation’s position can’t withstand the debate generated by expression of a contrary view, then maybe the position isn’t the right one after all.

Some organizations demand total fealty, and often that means never questioning those in authority.

Those organizations are ultimately doomed.

Respectfully challenging the status quo, combined with relentlessly iterating new ideas is the hallmark of the vibrant tribe.

Seth Godin: Confusing Loyalty with Silence

 


Written on October 13, 2014

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