In the olden days, when a fellow was fired from his job, there was a certain time-honored tradition that was followed. The employee would be called into the office, would get a dressing down, made to cringe, and then told, “Security will escort you to your desk to get your personal items.” The (now former) employee would be given a milk crate or cardboard box, and would take their personal items while nearby employees pretended not to notice what was happening in the next cubicle. (And, both the employee being fired as well as all the others knew the inicident would be water cooler talk for the next few days…)
The reason for the security escort was a simple one -- it ensured that the ex-employee would not try to take any company information, any proprietary information or internal documents that could hurt the business.
So what was being held from being taken away was essentially the information, the client list, the Rolodex, which belongs to the company. This would prevent the employee from quickly getting a job at a competitor with that information, or, equally disastrous, take confidential information and open in competition with his former employer. After all, no one wants to fire a guy and watch him build a company that does a better job for less than us, the company that got rid of him just a few weeks ago!
LinkedIn, quietly and stealthily, has changed that entire paradigm. It’s something you hardly, if ever, see even mentioned, because it could actually cause changes in the way businesses operate.
Imagine an office in 1983. On the desk sits a huge Rolodex, full of all the contact information for everyone you know now, or ever knew in the past. Its green, slightly rusty base creaks under the weight of the cards, some handwritten and others with a business card taped or stapled.
And, when the name of a certain someone becomes relevant, the wheel is cranked by the big dial on its side, and the person’s card is taken out -- sometimes only to find that the phone number no longer is in use, or that the person no longer works for the company. Mail sent to the address on file gets returned with a postage notice saying in big block red lettering "RETURN TO SENDER, MOVED, NO FORWARDING ADDRESS.” Kind of frustrating, of course… but what can you do? Such is the way of life.
And even as we entered the age of email, those could change, too. Change an email provider in the old days -- you remember, the ones you had to pay to have an email address -- and suddenly you were lost forever.
LinkedIn is, at its core, something spectacular. It’s a self-updating Rolodex that keeps your contacts updated—seemingly by magic--- with their latest contact information. It tells you when they get a new job, change positions within the company, and even can tell you when they have their next birthday and what updates they may have in their professional lives.
It also can tell you about their interests, who else is out there similar to them who might be relevant to you. After all, if you are looking for the vice president in charge of merchandising for a supermarket chain, then wouldn’t other people in similar positions with competing chains be the perfect person for you to reach out to spread your reach?
And., if you know that you once knew a guy at IBM, and you wanted to reach out to him, LinkedIn would ask you for his email to invite him to your network. And even if you give the email you have, which hasn’t worked because he left that company, LinkedIn will accept that email, recognized as his, and will email him at his new, current mail address letting them know that you want to connect. That’s incredible power that is little tapped and worth its weight in gold.
But here’s biggest problem with LinkedIn, from a business perspective. It’s the dilemma forcing companies to protect themselves as much as possible, even leading to litigation. It's why some companies are having employees sign a document saying that their LinkedIn profile belongs to their company, not to them personally, even if it says their name and background.
The business-changing, absolutely incredible earthquake to the way business has traditionally been done is that there is no longer any “client list' and "book of business” for companies to protect.
When an employee works for you, he carries with him his LinkedIn profile (along with a Facebook account and Twitter profile), allowing the employee to connect with people he meets while working for you. This includes suppliers, clients, and fellow employees, with whom they are now connected and privy to the contact details of at the tip of a finger. In the case of being fired, they aren’t “stealing” anything. They have it already on a silver platter.
As new technologies continue to develop and as the web matures, much like a teenager who moves into maturity, the effects and tradeoffs these platforms have to offer both in promise and in potential detriment have to be carefully weighed.
LinkedIn is not a very powerful tool. It is an entire pocketknife of tools, a Swiss army knife if you will, in which every element can turn a business on its head and take it to a whole new level.