A king once asked a Zen master once, “How can I eliminate the culture of gossip from my people.” The master, after a long pause, smiled and said, “You can’t eliminate gossip. You can only redirect it.”
So often we witness organizations successfully beginning Transformation initiatives only to hit a wall after a while. Once the momentum for change is built, the leaders often take a back seat assuming that it will continue on an auto-pilot mode. This is where ambiguity starts to build and misinformation spreads in the form of gossip and rumor.
As per anthropologist Robin Dunbar, 65% of our work place conversation is only gossip (talking about the good and bad deeds of others). Robin says that human gossip is a critical mechanism for social control and it evolved to enforce co-operation. So, here lies the catch 22 situation. Gossiping evolved to help individuals co-operate but when overdone, it hinders co-operation as is the case in implementing large scale change.
How do successful Transformation leaders moderate gossip and use it to strengthen the momentum of change?
Even before any transformation, these leaders establish trust within the organization – As per a 2020 report by Gallup, only 13% of employees strongly agree that the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. This implies that the rest 87% is left to interpret all the ineffective communication on its own and that creates the ideal breeding ground for gossip. Successful leaders avoid this through clear communication every time and walking their every talk to set examples. The more regular such communication is, lesser is the room available for individual interpretation and imagination to take roots.
Acknowledging and monitoring gossip – Successful leaders do not aim to eliminate gossip. They only monitor it through reliable sources to get a sense of ground reality within the organization. It helps them make changes in their future communication to sort out any misinformation early on and build greater confidence among the employees.
Sharing progress report with the employees regularly – With this, the leaders aim to keep everybody on board about the pace of the transformation. This strengthens accountability in the participants; employees become more aware of their contribution and take steps to eliminate the roadblocks ahead. All of this leads to enhanced focus and reduced uncertainty.
An open channel to reach out to leadership – Successful leaders keep a channel open through which employees can bring in the bad news, ask queries and clarify their doubts about the transformational endeavor.
Recently, Basecamp, software firm from Chicago, Illinois put a blanket ban on any form of societal and political discussion at work stating that such discussions are a distraction. In 2020, Coinbase, a crypto currency exchange platform banned employees discussions on broader societal and political topics stating a similar reason that such discussions often create a divide among groups rather than unite them.
Though these are some unconventional ways of weakening the gossip mill, the end objective is still the same and that is to build an environment where employees could focus on the bigger picture and not get derailed by intrusive and unsettling gossips.
Sustained momentum for change is built by redirecting gossip and encouraging the passive participants. In our next email series, we will talk about identifying this group and ways to turn them into active ambassadors of change!
This blog is part of the Transformational Leadership series
Transformational Leadership aims to achieve significant changes across teams and organizations by inspiring and motivating participants to work towards a common goal (inspired by their aspirations) that not only brings long term prosperity to the organization but also helps the employees expand their own potential and fulfill their intrinsic dreams.
We present to you a series of data backed posts on some of the most pressing issues of Transformational Leadership with real life business examples of how they have been overcome by some of the world’s most famous Transformational Leaders.