While watching an episode of the late 1990’s sitcom “Sport Night” this weekend, I was reminded, yet again, of the important role that managers play in communicating in the workplace.
The episode centered around a Wall Street Journal article on speculation that the broadcasting company’s owner was planning to fire the head of the sport network.
In one of the early scenes, the network head gathers the senior staff in a conference room to deliver this very short announcement: “There’s going to be a piece in the Journal tomorrow. Don’t worry about it.”
After delivering that ominous-sounding announcement, he walks out without answering any questions. The senior staff is left to speculate what the announcement could be and what it might mean to them, their team, their jobs and their futures.
I imagine that type of ineffective“heads up” happens quite often in the workplace. In fact, I remember sitting in a few of those huddles myself, being told that something big was going to happen, and wondering how I’m supposed to handle the inevitable questions from my staff.
Because, let’s face it, there are very few actual secrets in the workplace. If two people know something confidential, chances are pretty good that one of them is going to tell someone else. And so on.
Employees keep their ears to the ground and rely on the rumor mill to stay on top of changes in the workplace. But in most cases employees will turn to their manager to verify or dispel the rumors and get more information.
Unfortunately, managers are often caught off-guard. They are either left in the dark to hear the information at the same time as their employees, or they are given insufficient direction for handling questions and dealing with concerns.
So the next time you are working on a big organizational change, or the next time there is a major change in the workplace, devote some energy to pre-informing your supervisory team and developing advance materials (FAQs, talking points, etc.) to help managers field questions from their staff.
Sure, it won’t eliminate the gossip and speculation, but it will reduce their impact and get employees refocused on business.