Could Government Learn From Professional Sports Teams?

I was watching Sportscenter yesterday and, as I saw Sean Avery’s idiotic comment, a crazy thought went through my head.
Avery’s comment was surely embarrassing and offensive to his team and to the NHL. His team and the league clearly would have preferred he had not said anything like that. However, both the team and the league also had to know that he would do something like this again (he doesn’t exactly have the best track record). Yet, he wasn’t barred from speaking to the media – there was no prior restraint.

Now, I’m quite sure that his views don’t represent those of his team or the NHL, and I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would make that jump. Those are Sean Avery’s comments and they represent his views, not anyone else’s. My point here is that sports teams go through this situation all the time. Players speak to the media, they blog, they tweet, and they give media interviews.

Is there any reason why government organizations can’t act in the same way? There seems to be innate fear among people in the government that they can’t be on Twitter or they can’t blog because they’re not authorized to do so. We’re not allowed to represent [insert Agency here]. So don’t! Represent yourself. Don’t be Joe, a DHS spokesperson – be Joe, a person who works at DHS. It’s time the government, and commercial organizations, for that matter, modify their policies to allow individuals to be themselves in the social media world. Wouldn’t the potential benefits of a government that’s better connected with the people outweigh the dangers of a few embarrassing comments every now and then? Do you think of the NHL any differently after hearing Avery’s comments? Of course not – you might think less of Avery (although that’d be difficult), but no one is making the leap that he was a league spokesperson.

Is this do-able? Is this realistic? There are obviously lots of things to consider and I understand that government wouldn’t be able to copy sports teams policies word for word, but I do think there’s a lot that they can learn from professional sports teams when it comes to individuals interacting with the media and with social media.

Image courtesy of Flickr user CS Smith

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Totally agree. Plus I think we all know that if we say something inappropriate, it can backfire on us. Give people some trust but hold them responsible. IBM has a good social media policy that basically says this – don’t be stupid. Don’t give out trade secrets. Don’t say you are the IBM spokesman. Don’t bad mouth your employee. Be smart. And if you are dumb, you will be held accountable. As I always say, these aren’t social media rules these are general rules. Today is basically an “online happy hour.” Same rules that apply at a happy hour but more people are at the bar.

Emi Whittle

To a certain extent – I agree. I have great internal angst when the “masses” are gagged by policies meant to control a few who do not behave well. I believe strongly in dealing with those few who do not behave well. OK, now, I am a Gemini, so the flip side of that is…. yes but, sometimes some things do need to be clarified. I also have great internal angst when the interpretation of things left “open” vary so much among those in power and those subject to the rule, that there are invariably many inadvertet rule breakers who are then punished. And, to a certain degree, en masse rulings can help with peer enforcement of good conduct.
But to flip yet again, it should be OK to make mistakes, even publicly, from time to time, recognize and repent and move on. If our public collective conscious moved to that norm, certainly it would be easier for agencies, government and not, to let people be and have some lattitude, knowing the damage would not be as harsh nor permanent….. I am encouraged, by companies like Bluewolf (?) and the IBM culture, and by GovLoop, … that it is possible to have a safe and trusting place where people mostly behave… maybe we are finally heading towards the utopia of Star Trek…. where the pettiness is left behind, and all peoples live fulfilled lives in universal harmony… ok, I know, hokey and we’re not there yet… but maybe … someday…