Caught up with some old colleagues the other day and we were chatting about this and that and the subject of communication came up through a discussion about someone leaving the company and the subsequent, overly engineered and verbose email that followed from the boss in an attempt to explain the rather quick exit.
A common line in all these missives is a reference to the fact that the recipients “will probably already have heard through the grapevine” followed by an explanation of the obvious. In fact throughout my career, during difficult or challenging times especially, there were many instances where we spent huge amounts of effort and time trying to circumvent, beat or otherwise undermine the ‘grapevine’ on the basis that we wanted to ‘control the message’ or “get there first”.
Seems to me, reflecting back on this habit in the light of our new social world, that in our obsession with control we are missing the obvious – Social media presents us with a real opportunity to use the grapevine instead of trying to out-do it. This is a fundamental that gets a little lost, especially by HR, in our rather negative perception of social connecting within organisations.
I’m not saying that it’s not important to ensure a message is ‘on message’ and do appreciate that the grapevine can distort the facts somewhat. However, there are couple of things HR professionals should consider:
Be part of it – If you embrace social tools, like Yammer specifically, and invest the time to be ‘part of the conversation’ and not just a ‘lurker’ or ‘monitor’ then you will find that you can keep the dialogue on message as the conversation develops.
The power of the crowd – I’ve said this before when talking people through the fear of ‘someone saying something bad’ on social channels. If the person saying something bad is either maliciious or ill informed (In other words wrong) then the ‘crowd’ will put them right/put them down/shut them up.
It’s important to remember though that people are not stupid – if you are covering something up, then no manner of control or spin will hide it. Without trust, it doesn’t matter what communication channel you use, you will be outed.
So go on, embrace the grapevine, surf the wave of water-cooler conversations and start participating in the conversation instead of trying to manage it. You never know, you might just learn something…
Real communication is participative. Try to manage it and you are left with broadcasting. People often say they want more communication. I have yet to hear folk ask for more broadcasting. Your points about trust and the power of the crowd are the essence of what good communication is and how it can feel. Or so the rumour goes. Good work Gareth.
Amen to that Gareth, spot on – embrace that grapevine!