A friend once said that a secret is something shared with one other person; and that comment has never left me. If, when we are told something in confidence, we share that information with our spouse, best friend or close work colleague and they do the same; pretty soon that gem has been shared with the rest of the office or you’re the topic of conversation at the neighbour’s dinner table.
That’s how the company rumour mill starts I imagine, except that it might not always be the result of a direct conversation.
I remember arriving at the Manchester branch of a previous employer for the third time since joining the company. I was operating in a regional Human Resources role at the time and so travelled around the North of England supporting senior managers across the different offices.
At the start of each visit I would always put down my bag and ‘walk the floor’ checking in with everyone and giving them the opportunity to schedule some time with me if they wanted it. On this occasion, during the first one-to-one, a manager asked me “Do you have a sacking jacket?” Surprised by the question I had to ask him what he meant. He said, “Your predecessor had a sacking jacket; it was shocking pink. Whenever she arrived wearing that jacket we knew someone would lose their job that day. We haven’t been able to work out whether you have one and what colour it is!”
To say I was horrified by the implication was an understatement. Whether or not my predecessor was power dressing; the fact she’d assigned a specific outfit for situations in which she wanted to assert her authority, was not the most troubling issue. I was more perturbed by the fact she clearly didn’t tell managers her purpose for visiting or engage with people whilst she was there.
Had that manager not summoned the courage to confront me about it, I would’ve been left wondering why everyone was so cagey; without having a clue what had caused that reaction. What is worse, during that time I did actually own trouser suits in both dark red and turquoise; it was simply coincidence that I hadn’t yet chosen to wear one of them during my visits!
I’m sure you would all accept that communication could be much better within organisations. I think it’s also fair to say that leaders underestimate the margin of improvement required.