Center for High Performance
CFHP Center for High Performance
Issue No. 18 October 17, 2012


When the economy is uncertain and employee mistrust at an all-time high, consistent, open and accurate information is critical. However, inaccurate hallway chatter is likely to drown out formal communication channels.

I first recognized this phenomenon during the 1980s recession, when economic uncertainty and downsizing were rampant. The solution is for leaders to formalize the company grapevine, building trust and enhancing credibility. I invite you to read how to do that in this issue of the newsletter.

And for a tongue-in-cheek look at how the grapevine works, please click on the video image below.

Best regards,

Heard It Through The Grapevine

Watch more CfHP videos.

When should you formalize the grapevine?

  • If there is a discrepancy between the conversation in the formal meeting and the one at the "water cooler";

  • If the informal grapevine is providing inaccurate information;

  • Rumors are rampant;

  • The company is shifting the way it does business; or

  • If a new business strategy requires behavior change from the workforce.

Is your company grapevine working for or against you?

Every organization has a grapevine—an informal communication channel that employees rely on for news about what’s really going on within the company. And every company has unofficial leaders who may not show up on the organizational chart, but have the trust of fellow employees and always seem to know what’s going on.

Most corporate leaders view the grapevine with suspicion because they don’t use it to their advantage. They don’t realize that formalizing the grapevine and using it strategically can open up new lines of communication and facilitate culture change.

I learned the power of formalizing the grapevine years ago, when I worked with Oakleigh Thorne, then president and CEO of CCH. We instituted a program called "Just Ask Me," which included about 60 employees throughout the company. We provided training on how to defuse emotions and deal with tough questions, rumors and hostility.

We kept the Just Ask Me squad up to date and communicated with them before using traditional channels. The program was a huge success in gaining trust and increasing the credibility of company leadership. Within six months, interactions went from hostile to constructive, as employees provided suggestions to improve processes and solve problems.

We quickly learned that the grapevine could be transformed from a source of misinformation, disinformation and gossip to a powerful aid in transforming the culture. Consequently, “formalizing the grapevine” has become a staple in change programs orchestrated by the Center for High Performance. We have used this strategy in a variety of situations, from unveiling a new strategy to layoffs.

CfHP had the opportunity to work with Sonny Garg soon after he became president of Exelon Power in August 2010. At the time that organization was facing serious challenges, internal and external. Plants were closing, the company appeared to be shrinking and rumors of its demise were rampant.

In early 2011, Garg brought in CfHP to train leaders and managers to create an open, honest, non-punitive environment where new ideas could take root. Under Garg’s leadership, the company created an “Answering the Call” campaign to encourage communication and bring water cooler conversations into the meeting room.

"We took people who are well trusted by their peers and made them conduits for information," Garg explained. "We built a stronger sense of trust between leadership and employees. People want to feel that they have access to information. We treat them like adults."

It worked. Before-and-after surveys showed employee engagement and commitment to the company increased measurably as a result of the campaign.

Rather than spending time and energy to squelch the grapevine, think about using it to work for you.


Middle East update from Andrew Lee in CfHP’s Dubai office

Over the past few months, interest in CfHP’s endeavors in AMEA has been growing. We are now working with a major energy producer to help create a high-performance environment in remote locations, a major Middle Eastern airline to develop the leadership capabilities of its senior team, and a pharmaceutical firm aiming to develop competencies in a multicultural population.

The Middle East is making strides in preparing for the post-oil economy. Travel, tourism, real estate and financial sectors are growing strongly, and despite the political and social challenges faced by some countries in the region, underlying growth remains strong in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Asia and Africa.

More good news is that temperature has fallen below 110� Fahrenheit for the first time in five months!

For more information or to set up an appointment, please contact Dr. Lee at +(971) 5581 66996.

CFHP Center for High Performance

40 East Chicago Ave, Suite 183 • Chicago, Illinois 60611 • T 312.867.7710 • F 312.276.4256
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