Office Gossip – Management Creates or Prevents

Office gossip has many forms, mostly bad, but it is management that sets the tone for any resulting good or evil. At its worst, office gossip is slanderous with appropriate penalties from termination to being sued for civil damages. Certainly the spreading of untruths is harmful to individuals and the work place culture. Office gossip in any form is a reflection of the manner in which management does or does not communicate with and/or support employees.

Workers look for control over their work output, recognition when deserved and security for their being and performance. Gossip in the workplace that is untrue undermines employee control, recognition and security. Most businesses have created written policies that address office gossip. However many businesses simply have policies on office gossip without an understanding how communication and processes either prevent or encourage office gossip.

What if the gossip is true? What if the president is having an affair with one of the sales people? What if the director indeed was arrested for drunken driving? What if the CEO tolerates senior management holing up in their offices with their cronies both tapping and feeding the gossip/rumor mill to protect their turf and/or smear rivals?

When a company culture is reticent to communications, is insensitive to processes that encourage performance output, employee recognition or job security, or tolerates bad character behavior, office gossip develops as employees feel left out of the organization, resent their management and lack confidence that the organization can compete for their long term employment security.

Most of the recent articles on office gossip target the problem as being the employee and in a few cases this may be true. However office gossip is a business cultural phenomenon and therefore the responsibility of management to prevent…not by hands off written policies but by accountable management behaviors that employees understand, respect and emulate. Key behaviors should be:

Management

-Communicate regularly with a consistent positive message. Industry trends, organizational changes and why done, new products, promotions, retirements. Newsletters and emails are just a start. Quarterly meetings by group/team with senior level managers sharing brief overviews allowing Q&A from employees. If reasonable questions surface, commit to timely responses and make sure answered. If information to be shared is less than positive, be direct and honest without a deceiving spin.

-Actions speak louder than words. Management must be visible, accessible and approachable. Too many managers hide in their offices, avoid employees and are purposely evasive when asked reasonable questions. Insecurity and fear in managers is unfortunately common, a reflection of their bosses hiring cronies without performance accountability and reluctance to make necessary management changes. If management wants what best for the organization than for themselves, they must behave accordingly. Daily interaction with employees is a must, saying hello, asking how a project is going and listening sincerely. Survey after survey reflect a majority of managers feel they do the right things but the majority of employees say otherwise.

-Carrots work better than sticks. Managers often reluctant to acknowledge good performance for fear of not getting credit or spoiling employees. Employees consistently tell surveys they hear nine negatives to any one positive from their managers. Praise builds teams and esteem, criticism divides and tears down.

-Stop internal competitions as only divide departments, employees and distract from a needed focus on core competencies and customer needs. Performance measures and rewards should be based on what value delivered to clients, not the trickle down politics of management.

Employees

-Take personal accountability for your performance. Employment is a privilege not an entitlement. Your company must be competitive in value and price which means constant changes including work done and employees required. Add value and your employment is secure… just float along and your job will be vulnerable. Gossiping to deflect attention from you to those offending or not respected often backfires on the gossiper.

-Office gossip is often juicy, fun and sometimes insightful…however it is better to focus on listening skills and speak only when can add value to organization. Either you have confidence and respect for your management or you leave… sticking around to gossip is a waste of your time now and potential elsewhere.

-Avoid labeling fellow employees. Prejudice, bias, hard feelings, jealousies and the like bring no value to the organization and only reflects poorly on offending employees…as well as being potentially libelous. Interesting to see someone label an employee as a “backstabber” but then what does that make them? As the old saying goes, be careful when you point a finger as then there are three more pointing back at you.

The presence of office gossip should be seen by management as a reflection of their performance and organizational effectiveness. The more prevalent gossip, no doubt the more human resource issues will surface and work performance sink. The problem should be addressed with more emphasis on clear, consistent communications and sincere management involvement with employees. Stated policies against office gossip with strong penalties only increase employee distrust and diminishes any respect as management appears insensitive to the needs of employee communications, understanding, recognition and mutual respect and security…encouraging, much less diminishing the gossip.

Change will be a constant in the workplace reflecting the marketplace and competition. Companies that embrace employees as sources of fresh ideas for products, services, enhancements, productivity, are reaping the rewards of change. Management insecurity and fears are a reflection of the leadership of owners, board and senior officers who fear change. Old economy command and control organizations are breading grounds for office gossip. New economy entrepreneurial organizations embrace change, moving so quickly, with incentised participants to a common cause, that there is simply no time for office gossip, just great performance numbers, job security and recognition from many quarters.

Management must accept accountability of their actions/inactions that create a culture where gossip can either thrive or diminish. Employees must accept responsibility for their livelihoods and deliver their best value where at, or change to an employer more appreciative of their deliverables.

People Management – The Objectives in Managing People

The new Manager will generally have great expertise in the technical side of the role, and high performance here will have gained them the promotion to people manager or supervisor. However, in every walk of life the newly appointed supervisor will have less developed people management, communication and people skills. Whether the work is in the shop floor, a hospital, an office or a business, the new Manager will have technical expertise but will require to build their people management and team building skills.

The Objectives of People Management

Identifying clear objectives will help any Manager begin to build the competencies they need to manage people effectively. These objectives are:

1. To Achieve through the Results of Others. Up to now, the Manager has been responsible for his or her own performance and results. Now, you will be measured on the results of your team members. Success in people management is having team members that outperform the best of the best, and they do it without the Manager’s help.

2. To Win Followers. It is the job of the leader to win the respect of the followers and to show them the direction forward. An effective people manager does not want to be liked, but they do want to show respect and to gain respect. Success is when the Team Members trust that they have a captain of the ship who will both keep them safe, and who will build the high performing team that will succeed.

3. To Build Personal Leadership. You cannot lead others if you cannot lead yourself. Before being a Manager, you could be loose cannon. Now you must control everything you do to ensure you win the respect of others and motivate them to achieve their goals. Appreciate that your attitude and behaviour will influence your team members either positively or negatively. Use your behaviour positively to encourage others to improve and achieve.

4. To Structure and Organise the World Load Effectively. People management involves knowing the strengths of your people and ensuring that you use those strengths effectively to achieve high results. That does not necessarily mean building a team of individual specialists, quite the reverse. Effective people management means building the right team to achieve your team’s objectives. You may need to build flexible people who can step in to each other’s role, or a team who can brainstorm and problem solve any aspect of the team’s workload. Start with the end in mind. Identify what type of team you want, and work out how you will train individuals and the team to get there.

5. To Build Effective Team Processes. Team processes are the systems we use to enable the team to achieve its goals. How do we solve problems, address issues, generate new ideas, monitor throughput of work or review how we are working together as a team? Think in terms of process as the solution to most work issues is to have the right process to deal with this. Success is when the team have an identifiable process they can call on to removing any block or implement any improvement. A high performing team will use this without the leader being present.

6. To Build Positive Working Relationships with Senior Management and other Colleagues. People Management involves not just managing your own people, and yourself, but managing your relationships with everyone. It is the role of the Manager to be capable of drawing down resources for the Team and ensuring that we work productively with other departments. Your team will want a leader who can influence and persuade others. A Manager must know what type of relationship is effective and they will go about building positive working relationships with a network of people throughout the organisation. Success is when everyone wants to do business with you and others will listen to your viewpoint.

7. To Build the Habit of Setting Short-term Goals to Achieve Long-term Objectives. An effective People Manager takes steps forward every week and every month. Those steps are in identifiable goals, and those goals must be foundation bricks so that further goals will be more achievable. Managers walk and talk goals and goal achievement. Goals are motivational for the team members and for the Manager.

8. Celebrate Success. Good people management is about recognising milestones, goal achievements or individual breakthroughs, and celebrating these with the team. Life should be fun, and the best celebrations are small, personal recognitions. A homemade cake is more powerful that an insignificant bonus! Managing people is about knowing people, and knowing what will be rewarding for each.

The Matrix Management Fad

The matrix style of project management came into existence in the 1970s as a result of continuous efforts to improve organizational structure and operations. A matrix organization uses a structure that has functional managers who are in charge of groups of employees who perform similar roles. The structure of such organizations led to managers seeing this change as a threat to their area of control. This results in what can be called, unnecessary tensions between the project managers and the functional managers because of the need to perform different activities with the same set of employees.

Initially introduced to cope up with the growing complexity of projects in the aerospace industry, this structure of project management has been adopted in many cases to deal with internal and external problems of an organization. There are manifold advantages that such a style of management offers. To start with, there is better coordination on shared resources and technologies across the organizations. It also improves the coordination and communication across the business along with increasing the employees’ access to a broad range of skills. Matrix management works best when an organization has goals that have defined clearly and it is properly cascaded to the goals of the horizontal and vertical components within the matrix. Apart from these advantages, the matrix management style also has a few major challenges.

The segregation of the reporting structure to project managers and functional managers can lead to conflict and stress in the organization. These multiple reporting lines can result in people not taking accountability for their work, which in turn can erode the organizational culture. Such organizations are vulnerable to constant and repeated reorganization. Reorganization can disrupt the normal functioning of the organization and the know-how of the same.

Often, we have also noticed that the matrix management has its focus on short-term goals rather than long-term success. The root of this problem lies in the fact that there is no clarity on who is responsible for what and people also have no idea whom to address for information that is needed to solve a problem or take a decision. This not only causes immediate issues but also leads to long-term problems. One of the other biggest challenges to the concept of matrix management is getting “buy in” from those affected. Matrix management is often regarded as another popular fad of the month as it lays emphasis on core competencies because of which the employees are suspicious of management. Companies are resorting to matrix management as a standard for rebuilding organizations and this is evident from the market demands these days.