Change Communication: Rumour Watch

21 Nov

Following on from my post about Change (My favourite word beginning with C) I’ve been giving some though to the common issues that arise during a Change process and some potential tools that could be used to overcome them. Today I’m thinking about Rumours.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘Rumour’ as thus:

Rumour (Noun): Information, often a mixture of truth and untruth, passed around verbally.

My experience is The Organisation is afraid of rumours, they see them as an issue that should be eradicated and come up with a number of solutions to this end that, invariably, will fail. It strikes me you’re as likely to succeed stamping out rumours with reactionary activity as you are to prevent the flow of glacial ice by giving it a stern talking-t0. I think, all-too-often The Organisation looks at rumours in the wrong way.

For me rumours are a good indication of two things about any organisation. Firstly, on the positive side, I always see rumours as a good indication of organisational health, the desire to pass on a piece of information points to an informal information sharing network, which only tend to spring up when you have a workforce who care about the work they do. Rather than worrying that you have rumours in your organisation, start to worry you don’t and no one cares enough to informally pass on information.

The more negative side of rumour is that they often become most prevalent at a time when staff do not feel like they are getting enough information about things that are taking place. During a change process, information is often the most valuable currency; if you’re going through change and suddenly see an increase in the number of rumours circulating throughout the organisation, I would be be inclined to see this as a very clear message from staff: We do not have the information we need around this process. There is no doubt, in this interpretation, that rumours can be damaging to the Change process and, in extreme cases, increase the time it takes staff to engage, but how can you combat the rumours?

One thought I had for helping The Organisation to address rumours during the change process is to run a organisation wide Rumour Watch scheme. Just to say I’ve searched to see if there are any accounts of company’s using anything similar and have not managed to find any, but that doesn’t mean there are not. Likewise, if you like the sound of this idea by all means take it and make it your own; I’m not precious, if it’s used somewhere and  proven to be effective then I will be happy!

The Idea

  • Using existing channels, encourage staff to send in the rumours that they have hard circulating around change in the organisation. It would need to be made clear that no areas should be seen as taboo and that no questions will go unanswered, while reassuring that those who wish it will allowed to remain anonymous.
  • It might be difficult to encourage people to be honest about the rumours they have heard to begin with, so perhaps start by addressing rumours that have already come to the attention of managers.
  • Once you have rumours coming in, it’s time to start answering them. Pick somewhere well used, such as intranet or electronic notice board, and publish the rumours and explanations of the reality on a weekly basis, drawing staff attention to this through normal internal communication channels.

This approach will only work if you are prepared to be completely honest with your workforce. Sometimes rumours will be raised that are entirely accurate but that you were not expecting your staff be aware of yet, deal with it! If they do know about something you thought was secret, then there is little use continuing to pretend that they don’t or that no one else will find out, all the effort you make trying to prevent it will be futile, the evil of the world cannot be forced back into Pandora’s Box!

Love to hear if people have any thoughts on this: Does it seem like an good solution to the ‘problem’ of rumours within organisations? Do you know of similar schemes being operated by organisations during Change? Do you have any organisation rumour horror stories? I’d be interested to hear from you, why not post me a comment below.

Please note: I make frequent references to ‘The Organisation’, this is used as a generic term, it does not immediately (or logically) follow that I am necessarily referring to the organisation that I work for or any other particular organisation.

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