The biggest movie of 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens left open a few mysteries. Is Rey Luke’s daughter? How did Poe survive the tie-fighter crash? Why is C-3PO’s arm red? Is Captain Phasma still in the trash compactor?
The internet is abuzz with speculation about a familiar galaxy far, far away.
What does internet speculation about a space fantasy have to do with leadership? It’s simple. When people do not have information about something they care about, they fill in the blanks with their own story.
Companies who are, either by circumstance or design, secretive or slow to share information invite rumors and speculation among team members. There is no quicker poison to a company’s culture than gossip over rumors.
Companies and leaders sometimes plead the Fifth, choosing silence over explanation. For example, when a high-profile person within the company is let go, many companies make the mistake of pretending it never happened. They trudge along without addressing the missing elephant in the room. Their reasons might be sound (for example, they may not want to smear somebody’s reputation who was a long-time and popular employee but was caught stealing and justly fired). Nonetheless, by not addressing the obvious they leave the story on a cliffhanger… and people chime in with their interpretation of the rest of the story.
Transparency is clearly important (ha–see what I did there?). The message does not have to be, “Attention Everyone: we just fired John because he’s a scumbag thief!” The message only has to address what happened honestly and tactfully, “Team, we’re sorry to tell you John is no longer with the company. Out of respect for everyone, we can’t really share details around why we parted ways, but we wish John well and hope to lean on many team members to help fill the gaps in the interim. Please direct any questions to Michael in HR. Thanks.”
Rumors might still crop up, but with a polite and timely message, the nature of the information being filled in will put the company in better light. In other words, team members will assume the best (Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter) instead of the worst (Poe is secretly a double agent) .