An informal communication network can be regular source of leader anxiety due to the fact it is normally more trusted, biased to a few individual’s point of view, not easily influenced or controlled, and highly effective at impacting opinion. Most of us would rather communicate when we have to or have time while employees wait anxiously for the next morsel of information. Instead, we know that most human beings are going to seek information on their own or speculate with others.
A great English video that presents a very humorous treatment of the network can be found at: http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-find-out-office-gossip-if-youre-the-boss
Although the four options are presented in a funny way, there is a kernel of truth in the presentation.
Experience has shown there are three viable options to countering the network:
• Form your own network
• Use the informal network
• Discredit the current anchor
Form Your Own Network
One of the simplest approaches is to replace the informal network with a formal one. It is human nature to question and analyze events and actions. Consequently, some of the most successful leaders through an “open door policy” or team discussion sessions take the fun out of conspiring with the leader of the informal network. If I have the right answers, I can ask questions, I understand the circumstances, and I have less of a need to seek information and speculate. One of the best approaches is to have regular sessions where your employees come together and discuss the current situation, potential future actions, and you answer questions.
Use the Informal Network
I have worked with more than a few organizations that their leaders have taken the approach of “if you cannot beat them, join them.” Even in the best communicating organizations, employees will find something to talk about on a regular basis. If leaders become part of the informal network they can become one of the trusted sources. I have seen this approach utilized very effectively when an organization is undergoing major change and they want the buy-in of the staff. By taking your message to the anchors first, there is a greater chance the message will have validity when it is presented to the employees in a more formal fashion.
Discredit the Current Anchor
The last option basically destroys the network from the inside out and combines elements of the first two approaches. If an anchor consistently has the wrong information, the credibility of the network will be questioned over time. As the quality of the product decreases, employees will shop elsewhere. This approach necessitates a preplanned effort to provide incorrect information to the anchor and offer alternative information through other sources.
The important thing to consider when deciding what to do about an informal network is how is it impacting the quality of service you provide, productivity of your team, and morale of your staff.