A former boss of mine was not a big fan of democracy in the workplace; he wasn't keen about collaboration and didn't place much value on feedback from the staff. "Letting the inmates run the asylum" was how he typically described late-'80s concepts such as employee empowerment and team building. I was reminded of his management philosophy as I contemplated the business impact of the recent WikiLeaks data dumps. For the WikiLeaks organization, transparency and information dissemination is an end in and of itself. Nothing -- at least nothing that is in the possession of the United States government or major U.S. businesses, including banks -- should be considered confidential, according to the WikiLeaks adherents.
Whether you believe that the WikiLeaks mission is wrong, dangerous and immoral, or that it is in fact serving the public good, it's clear that there is no going back. With each leak of diplomatic cables, government reports or (potentially, at press time) banker communications, our society becomes that much more accustomed to the availability of this kind of information.
It's not just WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, that are changing peoples' expectations about information availability and confidentiality. Social media and the reality that individuals will gladly share personal and professional information on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter not only are blurring the lines between what's private and what's public; they also are changing expectations about who owns and who drives the sharing of this kind of information. Banks that are trying to figure out where social media fits into their marketing, service and product development strategies eventually grasp that it's unrealistic to try to control or direct the dynamic of these kinds of peer-to-peer and customer-to-bank interactions.
There is evidence all around us that we are working in a very different kind of environment, where "proprietary" and even "confidential" are elusive concepts. At the same time, it's not about giving up on information security -- data integrity, fraud prevention and security compliance are more important than ever. This is a sometimes contradictory model that presents many challenges for bankers, whether IT or business focused.
One thing is for sure -- these are not good times for control freaks and anal-retentive personalities (such as my long-ago boss). So if you are used to controlling communications, information and relationships, it's time to rethink your priorities.