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Should Company Employees Use a Rival’s Products?

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What do you do when you work for a company that produces something, but you prefer a competitor’s product? Seem like an unlikely scenario? Let’s be more specific: imagine you work for Microsoft, but you prefer Apple’s iPhone as your portable communications device. Should that be a problem, or should you be free to choose as you see fit?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is quite clear on the subject: at a recent company retreat, he (almost literally) told employees that his policy is “Work for Ford, drive a Ford.” (Partly that’s because he grew up in Detroit with a father who worked for Ford. Partly, though, it’s likely because “work for Microsoft, use a cell phone that runs on Microsoft’s cell phone software” has slightly less snap, crackle and pop to it.)

Other Microsoft executives have apparently followed suit, with one, according to the WSJ, having gone as far as destroying his iPhone in a blender upon joining the company. That’s left employees who like their iPhones in something of a bind, with many feeling that they have to hide their iPhone usage to avoid falling out of favor with superiors. Further complicating the picture is the fact that some units at Microsoft actually make products that run on Apple technology.

Whether the situation’s any different over at Apple HQ, I’m not entirely sure, but I am reminded of a recent interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, in which he touted the Google Android as the best smartphone on the market, and confessed to toting around products from all of Apple’s rivals as a means of keeping in touch with what they were up to. Presumably that list also includes phones that run on Microsoft platforms.

I’m curious as to what other examples there are of  companies trying to prevent employees from using rival products–either as a matter of policy or by frowning upon the practice informally, as Microsoft seems to be doing (for now). Feel free to share any examples you’ve experienced or know of—use the comments field or find us on Twitter. While you’re at it, why not take our poll on the subject?

All told, my take on the subject would be as follows: when your employees are preferring a rival’s products over your own, that’s probably a sign that you should focus on making your own products better, rather than trying to restrict usage of your rival’s.

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Written by Phil Stott

March 16, 2010 at 11:10 am

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