Rumor Mill: Don’t let the office tabloids spin out of control

Office gossip is going to happen no matter what you do as a boss. Cliques form, people chat, opinions are formed. This is all totally fine office procedure. However, when rumors about office politics and policies start swirling, then it can be a major problem. Getting ahead of the spin, controlling the information, and more importantly, limiting the misinformation is one of the most important and least accomplished roles of a manager that I have witnessed.

Aamodt (2007) compares informal organizational communication to the grapevine communication of the Civil War, when lines of distorted telegraphs were hung on lines resembling a grapevine.  The grapevine in today’s sense provides employees with organizational information, entertainment, and power (Aamodt, 2007).  Whether one person receives the information at a time or a few people pass the information to a few others and they pass it on to a few people, informal communication can spread quickly.

Research has shown that much of the information passed along the grapevine contains some truth to it (Aamodt, 2007).  However, some truth and all of the truth are two different things.  Hearing misinformation can greatly alter the perceptions of the listener (Aamodt, 2007).  Between misinformation and rumors through informal communication that change the organization’s functioning, it is wise for the employer to keep an ear in the grapevine.

I do not agree with completely regulating the grapevine, however.  It is important for communication to exist between team members (Aamodt, 2007).  Communication can increase efficiency and teamwork (Salanova, Agut, & Peiro, 2005).  Regulating communication then can hinder the performance of workgroups.  However, if a manager, whom Aamodt (2007) mentions are the main contributors to the grapevine, hears major inconsistencies that may alter the functioning of the organization it is important that the manager clears the air and enhances communication. Without doing so will create an environment of fear, resentment, and panic.

I worked with a manager who refused to do this. He was new and started making changes left and right at a business that was established and had always resisted making any changes in the past. People started panicking that their jobs might be the next changes to be made. I informed him of the panic that was rampant and poisoning the employees but he did not care. Morale went down, performance went down, and a lot of people left.

I have consulted with a few managers who have been gun shy about what they should and should not disseminate. My advice: TELL THEM ANYTHING THAT DIRECTLY AFFECT THEM!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough! Any changes and new policies and new procedures should be told to everyone. People fear change and if you can explain to them what and why these things are happening then they will feel as if they’re a part of it, will not jump to conclusions, will have a chance to express their concerns and frustrations, etc etc. There is no good reason I can think of or that I have read that would lead me to suggest not explaining new direction.

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2007) Industrial/organizational psychology. An applied approach. (5th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Salanova, M., Agut, S., & Peiro, J.M. (2005). Linking organizational resources and work engagement to employee performance and customer loyalty: The mediation of service climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1217-1227.

Managers and parents: Why being a boss isn’t much different than being a parent

As I consulted for a local charter school a few months ago I was discussing different leadership techniques with the principal. He was wondering why he was having so much trouble getting everyone in line, to listen and respect his authority, to follow his direction, etc etc. He was having a difficult time with this which was posing problems for the entire school as everyone was off doing their own thing and didn’t really have a specific direction to go. So I ask what he was doing to get people to follow his lead. To get people to respect him. To get people to listen. To get people to know what they’re supposed to be doing. He responded by basically saying he let them figure it out for themselves. Hmmm. Not good.

 

Why would people listen to you if you’ve never expressed your desire to lead? Why would they trust you if you haven’t demonstrated you should be trusted or followed? He understood his lax style of leadership was the root cause of a lack of direction for the school and the teachers. He explained he did not want to come across as “mean” or “bossy” and so he never really did much to establish his leadership. This is something I run into a lot in managers. They compensate for not wanting to rule with an iron fist by being weak and acting like a doormat. When I explained that this would be a really bad way to parent his kids he understood.

 

There are many reasons why “management styles” and “parenting styles” have the same categories. “Authoritarian,” “Authoritative,” and “Permissive.” There isn’t much difference in how you should parent and how you should manage. In both cases you are expected to set up rules, regulations, boundaries, expectations, and let the child/employee explore how to get there. When mistakes are made, you help them to correct them. But there is a a great medium ground between being permissive and authoritarian.

Being a “permissive” parent is like being Deena Lohan or Lynne Spears. You set no ground rules, let the employee/child figure things out on their own and offer no guidance when things go awry. You want to be their friend more than their boss/parent. You are however, not there to hang out and be buddy-buddy with them. Your job is to lead and direct. To set rules and discipline when necessary. Without this direction, the employee/child will become maladjusted, immature, and entitled.

An “authoritarian” parent is kind of like an Ike Turner or Michael Lohan (understand why Lindsay is so screwed up). They rule with the aforementioned iron fist. It’s their way or the highway. They are strict and punishing when the rigid demands aren’t met. This leads to children/employees who are gun-shy, mistrustful, and apprehensive to make any decision for fear that they’ll get their heads bitten off.

The nice balance of these two is having and “authoritative” boss/parent. This is Ward Cleaver. This is someone who allows you to make mistakes and figure things out on their own but will rein you in when those mistakes are made and help you re-correct your path. Expectations are laid out, rules are established, but some leeway is given for you to figure out how to get there. Being a good boss or a parent should be the same. Give some direction, lay out to your employees/kids what you want from them, how to behave what the laws of the land are, but allow room for growth and exploration for your kids/employees.

Dr. House and Problem Solving

My dissertation topic is about problem solving and how we can help to improve it in non-native speakers. But how do we do that? How does one become a better problem solver? The article that sparked my curiosity about this issue was one titled “Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail” (Nutt, 1999). Really? More than half? I reached out to Mr. Nutt about this, read parts of his book about this and his investigation into what companies do to solve problems. Basically, it turns out that they go with the first thing that comes to their head and then go with it, never to investigate again.

Well, there’s a problem in and of itself. Where’s the brainstorming? The analysis? The follow up? When I watch “House”, as I do religiously, I notice that there’s a reason he’s the best diagnostician (ie problem solver) in the medical field (and yes I know he’s not real…but he is based on Sherlock Holmes). He sits with his team, looks at symptoms, looks at possible causes, brainstorms with his people about what could and could not be the root cause of the sickness, and then reanalyzes once they come to a conclusion.

There is no “put a bandaid on it and send them packing.” For anyone who has ever seen “House” knows, there would be a lot of dead bodies right outside the hospital door in Princeton, NJ. They always think they got it right and then everything goes horribly wrong soon after. Without fail. Now, instead of throwing in the towel, they now have more information to analyze. They usually find that they are curing symptoms and not problems.

Further analysis after a problem is assumed to be solved will always turn out more and better information for an organization. This is an opportunity to learn about what is and is not strong in your structure. What can and needs to be done to improve a process. Take the time to brainstorm, use your team to parse out what is wrong. Making knee-jerk decisions will only serve to send the patient away to be found dead later. That is not effective to anyone or the business. A problem is not solved quickly, nor is the project over until you follow up to make sure the disease is cured and the symptoms are not just masked.

 

Reference

Nutt, P. C. (1999). Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Academy of Management Academy, 13(4), 75-90. (AN 2570556).