First of all, I think it is stupid to spy on your colleagues/employees. If you have people in your organization that you need to spy on, the fault is not of these individuals but those who hire and manage them. That is why it is such a waste of resources to install all those gadgets and software to monitor what your employees are doing. I often tell my associates that if their employees have enough time to waste on the Internet then it’s not their fault – the responsibility lies with the incompetent managers.
What if you must spy on colleagues?
Indeed, there may be valid reasons to spy on your colleagues (or board members as Hewlett-Packard did). Like competitive intelligence, you should follow simply steps that will make sure that you are not doing anything illegal: (Related: Best practices for competitive intelligence)
- Seek help of law enforcement authorities – if you suspect anything illegal, it is probably their jurisdiction anyway, they are good at it, and have the legal authority do it. Do not take the law into your own hands.
- Do not hire an outsider – even if it is an attorney or a private investigator or a “consultant” – they are more likely to break the law no matter what they say.
- Do not push the provider (provided you hire an outsider) too hard – it will only encourage them to venture into gray area. While negotiating the deal, discuss what is reasonable to expect. Some of these people can cross the lines in their enthusiasm to impress the client and seek repeat business.
- Do not let the provider loose and go on a beach vacation. Monitor progress closely and regularly. You may be able to catch a problem early on.
- Finally, just talk to the suspect. Most people are pretty bad at telling lies.