Whether you like it or not, a grapevine exists in your small business – and it always will. But you do have the ability to limit its potential for demotivating staff by feeding it accurate information that reinforces business messages.
To stimulate the flow of good news, start sharing important information faster. As soon as big news happens in your company, someone, somewhere knows about it. And soon the number of people in the know multiplies. You need to acknowledge what's going on before the message becomes distorted. Just think about the "telephone" game, where one person whispers a message in the ear of the person next to him, who then repeats it to the person next to him. By the time the message travels through the chain, it ends up totally distorted.
Here are some tips to help manage your company's grapevine:
- Provide accurate information. Set the record straight by proactively communicating to all employees. Otherwise, distorted half-truths will make the rounds – so nip these destructive rumors in the bud.
- Share information quickly. Your employees are more likely to trust and believe you if you don't hoard information. If you take a while to convey news, people will wonder if you have a hidden agenda.
- Provide a question-and-answer session. If employees know they can ask questions, they'll be more likely to wait for an answer before spreading rumors randomly.
- Hold periodic group meetings. Your employees should be able to count on receiving information at regular intervals. If so, they'll spend less energy looking for information elsewhere.
- Avoid spin. Keep your content straightforward and concise. Everyone knows when they're hearing half-truths and propaganda-like messages.
Part of controlling the grapevine is handling speculation. When people come to you with questions, be honest. Tell them what you know. If you know what might happen, say so. If you know something is under discussion but nothing's been decided, let them know that, too. You don't want your employees to have the perception that one group knows something that another one doesn't. Employees do understand that some things are confidential; in those cases, reveal as much as you can and then let them know that the rest of the story is confidential.