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I Heard It Through the Grapevine: The Devastating Effects of Grapevine Communication on Your Change.



During a significant restructuring, a friend of mine called me, “Gifford, come and hear this” I said, “what, where did you hear that” he said, “I heard through the grapevine.” We all have been there, don’t try to deny it. We sometimes get more information from that august chamber, “the corridor,” as opposed to the formal channels of communication from management.


Although the information might be “juicy,” in many instances, that information cannot be substantiated, and as a result, it may create an environment of mistrust and conflict. Against a background of rapid technological development, a growing knowledge workforce, and the shifting of accepted work practices, change is becoming an ever-present feature of organizational life (Burnes, 2004). As a result, grapevine communication should be avoided and removed from your organization like a plague, especially during a change.


Now, every organization, according to Dave Berube, has both an informal and formal organizational structure as well as formal and informal communications. Simply stated, the grapevine is a type of unofficial communication channel. It’s all about people communicating directly with other people outside official channels of communication. 70% of the change programmes do not achieve their intended outcomes, and communication has a major role to play in that narrative. Galpin (1995) indicated that many change efforts are poorly managed simply because managers are of the opinion that withholding information ensures that people will learn what is happening only through official channels. But this has proven to be wrong, and as a result, the grapevine has always bloomed when this happens.


In many instances, formal communication activities were often supplemented and in some cases, usurped by the grapevine. Informal communication fills the information vacuum when formal communication fails to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety that typically accompanies organizational change. The person or team responsible for leading change must recognize that ad-hoc and informal communication should not diminish and replace formal communication for consistency and timeliness.



Creating a communication plan within your change management strategy is critical. You should identify target audiences, determine key messages, choose the preferred sender, and select the appropriate communication channels for that message. However, when you neglect to develop your communication plan, the desire for information is high, and if the facts are nonexistent, this encourages rumor-mongering.


Regaining control of information in the midst of rumors is extremely difficult. The longer a rumor is allowed, the more tedious it is to replace it with valid information. Many people try to fight rumor with rumor; however, the only effective way to combat rumors is with facts. When many rumors exist, more facts must be communicated to combat the rumors.


I am totally against using and even promoting the use of grapevine communication during a change, some people have argued that informal communication forum, can encourage brainstorming, active listening and participative involvement which can be a powerful tool for managing people and issues during a change process.


But what is the reality?


Change, especially a transformational change or a merger or an acquisition, engenders fear in the hearts of many people. If the information is limited, it adds to the anxiety worse yet, if you hear rumors of layoff and relocation. In cases like these, management should do everything in their power to eliminate this type of rumors with credible information that will allow employees to manage their fears and anxieties. It is very important.


Leaders choose to forget that change impacts people, and it is up to the leadership to provide some type of reassurance to their team with facts, not ‘hearsay” or “what was heard by the side.” It cannot work like that. Holly Green indicated in her article that employees who spend time trying to find out what’s going on generally don’t produce at the highest level. Rapid, accurate communication is especially important to younger employees who grew up with information at their fingertips. Accustomed to the instantaneous communication of the Internet, they feel left out when managers fail to answer their questions or get them up to speed on projects, changes, or organizational issues.


Implementing significant change is complex and challenging. Change impacts people, and to successfully lead individuals during a change, leaders must be able to communicate effectively to inspire their team before, during and after the change. Holly further indicated that poor communication is the best grapevine fertilizer. When you communicate with people consistently and frequently, they won’t depend on the grapevine. But if you leave your team in the dark on important information, and individuals believe they can obtain fairly reliable facts from sources other than the formal channels of communication, your grapevine will inevitably grow, and that will derail your whole change process, turn people off from any changes despite how noble it may be while in the process, create a toxic culture that breeds mistrust between everyone in the organisation.

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About Gifford Thomas



I am the founder of Leadership First and the author of The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible. At Leadership First, we are committed to publishing the very best inspirational leadership quotes and articles to inspire our 190,000+ community of leaders to believe in the impossible, while creating an environment free from toxic, fearful and intimidating leadership. We believe everyone can and should enjoy their work, but it must start with the leadership leading by example. Follow our community of leaders HERE, and let's change the leadership status quo to help inspire and motivate our leaders to make a difference and create an organization their people will love.


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