They shouldn’t hear it through the grapevine

Isn’t it fun being a “shroom?”

Shroom, of course, is short for mushroom, the variety that gets left alone in the cold and dark, has no idea what’s going on in the world — and occasionally gets fed a load of crap.

If you’re an employee, you know there’s nothing worse than being a shroom.

If you’re an employer, you should know there are few things worse than raising shrooms.

Why? An engaged employee is a happy employee, a productive employee. Employees like to hear important news — first, before the rest of the world gets an earful. Employees like to be consulted. Listened to. And employees like to talk.

That’s right, talk.

If you sit down with communication professionals, you’ll hear that internal communications is, well, sort of like new. It’s a discipline that until recently didn’t get a lot of attention. We were all preoccupied with getting the word outside the organization to the rest of the world. We would throw a few newsletters and bulletin boards at staff and figure the job was done. An enlightened office would make a suggestion box available. Or maybe hold the odd senior management walkabout. And how did employees thank us communication gurus for everything we did for them?

They set up their own internal communications system — the grapevine. They talked amongst themselves — and usually left the management team out of the conversation.

Which makes you wonder: who was “shrooming” who?

Internal communication is about two-way communication. Feedback from subordinates can help a manager determine if top-down communication was effectively delivered and understood. And information coming back just might help improve a process, procedure or policy. After all, it’s common knowledge managers don’t have a monopoly on sensible thinking.

Messaging should be delivered consistently. It should be accurate. And it should be timely. An organization’s formal internal communications system should get the word out before the grapevine does.

Messaging is best delivered by an immediate supervisor. (I would add face-to-face, but, well, that’s all; out the window now, isn’t it?) Studies indicate employees like to get their organizational information this way. The big picture stuff can come from the top, but when it comes to discussing how something might affect the immediate work environment, the supervisor chatting with his team is the best bet.

When working with public-sector clients, I always strongly encourage news they are preparing for constituents or clients — and eventually the media — be first delivered to employees.

The reason? Chances are pretty good someone hearing the news will want to talk about it (even if just in passing) if and when they make contact with one of your employees — either at a counter, by phone or standing six feet away from them in a grocery store. It really helps the effort if your employees know what they’re talking about.

Your employees are ambassadors; successful organizations treat them as such. It’s great for business. It’s great for your clients and constituents. And it’s great for employees.

Photo by Alex Green/Pexels