In 1971, 99 Park Ave. in New York City became a significant address that gained notoriety because of a man named Iron Eyes Cody.

That was the year a nonprofit organization called “Keep America Beautiful” joined with the Ad Council to produce a public service announcement that captured a lot of attention.

In that announcement, Cody paddles his canoe down a river, which becomes increasingly polluted until he walks alongside a freeway — where a bag of trash from a car window lands at his feet. The end of the spot features a close-up of Cody looking into the camera with the most iconic tear in American television history rolling down his cheek. The tear became a still frame and ended up on billboards and print ads for years.

The call to action was for Americans to become community volunteers and “write to Keep American Beautiful Inc., 99 Park Ave., New York, NY, 10016.”

“Keep America Beautiful.” “Put litter in its place.” The past 50 years have given us social movement after social movement to clean up after ourselves. Recent years have pushed that message upstream of the trash bag, attempting to impact what even ends up in that bag. Biodegradable elements, calls to recycle, and a focus on eliminating types of waste that can end up in the ocean are efforts that could significantly change the composition of the next bag of trash thrown on the highway, if not eliminate it.

The same sense of social responsibility that compels most of us to find a trash can is the same responsibility that business leaders need to drive with employees to become better digital citizens.

There is a tremendous need for a democratization of tech responsibility. That flows from how consumers manage their data to how they configure their home network.

Because employee attitudes toward technology impact everything from security to file storage, executives and business leaders must impact this process. How is a business supposed to change employees’ attitudes who expect others to clean up their digital mess? On a personal level, most individuals consider data management and security as an afterthought. Data is often overlooked because it doesn’t stack up or stink like trash. How are companies to change those minds and the associated behavior? Consider one empirical truth and one suggestion.

Mark Hodges

Truth: Employees do not magically get smarter just because they show up at work. The bad digital habits they have at home are the foundation for how they operate at work, and most consumers have really bad digital habits at home:

  • Reused passwords.
  • Home networks that still have default equipment passwords.
  • Sensitive information hanging out on unencrypted drives.

The expectation that people get smart when they walk in the doors of their workplace has to stop being our default position.

Suggestion: Flip the script. Stop talking about security simply from a workplace perspective. Change the discussion to a matter of personal digital responsibility. Teach your employees skills that move upstream into their personal lives. Help them to become more well-rounded, secure individuals. Simply putting up fences at work tends to be seen as an employee inconvenience. Clean desk policies and password change rules are all good, but they only attempt to impact behavior for a few hours every day.

If an individual does not change their mode of operation on a personal level, they will slip up and cost you time and money.

Good digital citizenship does not just happen. It evolves. Invest in helping your employees see the value of securing themselves.

Only then will we see behavior become more consistent in the workplace. When digital citizenship and security become personal, your business will mature in ways no simple training program can take you.

Mark Hodges is chief growth officer of Arkansas IT services firm Edafio Technology Partners. The opinions expressed are those of the author.