Attending a company-wide informational meeting during the first week at her new job, Ann was impressed by her company’s forthright open-communication strategy. And then she was flabbergasted when the CEO abruptly announced that sales were way down and bonuses would be cut completely that year.
Employers can give employees too much information. And it’s also possible to provide too little intel. Honesty counts, and Ann’s CEO gets points for being brutally truthful about a major change, but sometimes complete transparency about the inner workings of a company causes widespread panic.
How do you strike the right balance?
Cut Down Your Grapevine
Would it have been better to let this bonus-zapping news leak out on its own? There are some companies that fully subscribe to the methodology of allowing the grapevine to disseminate information. In fact, “grapevine communication” is an actual thing. It’s so much of a thing that there are established patterns that the grapevine is apt to take:
- Gossip: One person is responsible for telling everyone the scoop.
- Chain: The word starts with one person who tells another person and so on down the line.
- Cluster: Communication moves in groups, where one person speaks to only those he or she trusts.
- Probability: A random method of communication where anyone tells anyone the inside story.
The grapevine, though, no matter how studied or legitimized, is unreliable. While some companies rely on the grapevine to pass news speedily, elicit genuine responses from employees about policy changes, and (supposedly) create solidarity between workers, all of these rationales give the grapevine far more power than it should have.
The grapevine is hardly dependable, no matter what line of work you’re in. The more a story is told, the more embellished, incomplete, or distorted it can become. One bad sales month can transform into a bankruptcy tale within minutes depending on who’s delivering the message. You might crave informal feedback about peoples’ opinions of the new VP of sales, but seeking gossip via subterfuge will cut a hole in employee morale.
The gossip and rumors that weave their way through an organization, no matter how unfounded or unsubstantiated, are often believed by the majority. And sometimes companies use the informal gossip mill purposely to send messages without actually owning them.
Try Something Different: Honesty
- Abandon the technical jargon and power-speak: Communicate with each of your employees by simply and clearly stating the facts so there will be no confusion.
- Be honest and forthcoming: Circulate accurate information as soon as possible. Hoarding news will turn mistrust into a divisive element of company culture.
- Encourage feedback: If you’re relying on grapevine communication to collect legitimate, unfiltered employee feedback, then you’re just being wimpy. Ask your employees to tell you how they feel, straight-up, or give them opportunities to do so anonymously so they won’t feel hindered when delivering their assessments.
- Seek feedback: Maintain company-wide meetings and incorporate Q&A sessions into them. Host an informal luncheon and legitimately engage with your employees face-to-face, asking them for their opinions about what’s working and what’s not.
Above all, don’t let the grapevine do the hard work for you. As someone who’s in charge, it’s your responsibility to tell your employees what they need to know. You might not like stating some facts, and they might not like hearing the details, but getting the word out on your own terms using the right tone lets your employees know that the most accurate information begins and ends with you in the no-spin zone.
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