Managing organizational change is never easy, largely because it triggers insecurity and uncertainty among the impacted employees. Even when you have a strong foundation of trust with employees, the grapevine often goes into overdrive whenever big changes loom. There exists a natural hunger for information, and that hunger can either be fed by official or unofficial channels of communication.
Office rumors develop when an employee's desire to know something is confronted with incomplete information. As MindTools, a career skills consultant, explains, "when people don't have complete information, they may fill in the gaps with suppositions that may not be accurate. Fortunately, a little bit of accurate information goes a long way to stop the need to spread rumors." As rumors float, they sow a landscape of wasted time, damaged reputations, personal and departmental division, heightened anxiety and a productivity-killing work climate of uncertainty.
Here are three tips to stop the office rumor mill before it has a chance to start.
1. Share Information as Early and Often as Possible
Pertinent information should be delivered through as many relevant channels as possible, including meetings, emails, enterprise intranet and social media and newsletters. The more space taken up by official channels of communication, the less air the grapevine can consume. Proactive communication via official channels stops rumors in their tracks because it takes away their reason for being. Err on the side of too much communication, rather than too little.
Harvard Business Review further explains that, "in addition to laying out the plan [for change] in clear terms, let employees know how you intend to update them as the change initiative unfolds. Will you call a special meeting each week to update them on the change? Send out a weekly email?"
However you decide to carry out your communication plan, it must be consistent in order to build momentum behind the change.
2. Be Open and Honest About the Changes
As much as possible, personalize the message to the audience, explaining how the change impacts their work. For example, don't try to spin bad news for one department as good news. Good communication is good because it maintains credibility. Be realistic about the costs of the change, as well as the benefits.
3. Encourage Feedback
Being available to field employee questions and hear concerns is vital when introducing a shake-up. When sponsors of change don't make it clear that everyone's opinion is valuable, those views will go underground and thrive in the dark in a way that undermines change.
Listening shows respect and can also defuse (and defang) opposition. According to Forbes, "leaders should cultivate rapport with a few select employees who stay tuned in to grapevine issues. These employees can let you know what burning issues are being discussed so you can address them properly." You can also walk around and listen, even asking employees to share the latest rumors they've heard, so that you can then swiftly set the record straight.
Managing organizational change requires clear and consistent communication with employees through a variety of channels. By providing accurate and timely information, encouraging feedback and directly addressing falsehoods as they arise, you should be able quash the rumor mill before it grinds the wheels of change to a halt.
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