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Leadership Now

Is Your Boss Reading Your Texts?

If there's a sign on the office wall saying it might happen, then it's probably happening.

Your boss is reading your text messages.

Probably. As Vickie Elmer reports for Quartz, research suggests that two-thirds of companies are engaged in some sort of electronic monitoring. And in 2010 the Supreme Court said it was cool to monitor texts, so long as there was a "legitimate work-related purpose"—which sounds highly interpretable, so say the least.

But what's most annoying is that the whole spy deal is so openly hidden, like a bad plot device in a novel, as Elmer continues:

Employers in the US and in many European countries must obtain the consent of workers to monitor texts and other electronic information. Typically that means "some notice posted somewhere, possibly in a manual or before an employee uses the computer," said David Jacobs, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Once the employee agrees, almost anything is fair game."

And what's most confounding is the reasoning that we infer is underlying the spy games: that employees aren't capable of being independent entities, the sort of fear-based, reptilian disrespect that's the opposite of a highly creative culture.

IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE?!

It might be argued that companies that have their bosses browse their direct reports' texts are organizing around the wrong thing: control, with the understanding that control will breed productivity and productivity will breed profits. But such top-down, process-saturated org-personality types—what you might call bureaucracies and autocracies—are in fact the most fragile, as a landmark study of Silicon Valley startups found.

In contrast, the organizations that can handle the mess-filled roller coaster that is business are the ones that organize around trust and commitment between team members, and the internal brand of the company.

Having to a trust a person certainly is risky—and it makes you vulnerable—but that small-level risk inoculates against the high-level risk of towering, inflexible systems, like say a financial crisis. That's the whole idea of antifragility, as termed by Nassim Taleb.

So what's a manager to do?

Let's think about the central piece here: What the manger wants, most of all, is to know what the hell the employees are doing (hopefully not sexting). But is there a way to do so without spying on their electronics? Or nagging them with status reports?

Yes.

Intensely smart management thinker Dion Hinchcliffe calls it narrated work: Using a service like iDoneThis, Wunderlist, or Campfire can create a palette for people to describe the work they're doing as they're doing it, creating a record of all the things that get done, all without eroding the foundation of creativity: autonomy.

And voila: No more need to snoop.

Hat tip: Quartz

[Image: Kinetic Imagery on Shutterstock]