How good is your internal grapevine? Do the ‘water cooler’ moments in your organisation help or hinder internal communication? Deal and Kennedy (1982) think grapevines are often an organisation’s quickest and most effective communication system and used properly can be valuable in passing on information.

This morning we announced our new CEO and this week has proved more than ever before the prolific power of the grapevine. Employees across many departments had begun to hear whispers and were starting their own; many accurate but equally many inaccurate. We were bound by stockmarket rules so the internal and external announcement were at the same time as the company our new CEO is joining us from – so our employees heard the information at the same time as the external world and we were unable to confirm or deny anything beforehand.

I think internal grapevines do have a role to play but employees should never have to rely on them solely for information; having a robust internal comms strategy and communications channels that encourage two-way feedback and for rumours to be addressed are key. I think internal comms professionals need to know what the grapevine is saying, and believe for an internal comms team to be effective, it needs to build those concerns and whispers into its channels. This will help to ensure that what employees are talking and worried about, is being addressed through business as usual comms channels.

At Tube Lines our team (internal comms) ran a rumour busting campaign at the end of last year. There were lots of myths and speculations flying around on the grapevine and rumour mill and we decided to actively address them through a targeted campaign as well as through our usual comms channels. Our team filmed employees and asked them what rumours they had heard about the company.

We found that regardless of shift pattern, location and position, the same issues kept cropping up, which wasn’t a surprise as our network of contacts across the business meant we already had a very good idea of what was being said. We then used this direct feedback from employees and busted the lid wide open – using the video at our outgoing CEO’s review of 2008 – we showed the film at these sessions, then he addressed the concerns and provided answers.

We found this worked extremely well and feedback showed that employees were surprised the grapevine whispers were being voiced, but they liked this change. This has been followed up by regular mythbusting sections in our monthly employee magazine.

What do you think works well? How do you address rumours in your organisation? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Ref: Deal, T and Kennedy, A (1982) Corporate Culture. Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley, in Deal and Kennedy (1999) The New Corporate Cultures. London, Orion Business.