The rumor mill defies the laws of physics: it is the only place where nothing can create something. In particular, in the absence of solid information from leadership, the rumor mill will generate dozens of theories to answer employee questions. All those theories will have one thing in common: they will be negative.
Take this real-world example. A company manufactured a sterile product at one of their sites. Unfortunately, a leak in the roof allowed rain and dirt to get into the sterile area. That part of the site was promptly shut down until the leak could be fixed. Since work had to be done on one part of the roof, the leadership decided to have the whole roof re-done at the same time – it needed to be done anyway, and it was more efficient and cost-effective to have all the work completed at the same time.
But the leadership team forgot to tell the site employees.
You might think, “So what? It’s just a roof repair.” However, in the absence of the truth, a rumor got started that the company was fixing the roof to spruce up the building before selling off the site.
People reacted to the rumor by worrying about their jobs. Motivation and productivity plummeted as people spent their emotional capital on being anxious about their job security.
Here’s the deal: the leadership team could have stopped the rumor mill from grinding out a single falsehood by making a two-minute announcement at one of the site’s daily meetings. All it would have taken was the statement, “We’ve temporarily shut down production of this product because a leak has contaminated the sterile area. We are getting the roof fixed as quickly as possible. While we’re up there, we’re going to replace the entire roof since it is economical to do so. We expect production to start up again within two weeks.”
That’s it. Two minutes would have stopped the rumor mill. Instead, the company lost far more than two minutes of productivity as people generated negative rumors in the information vacuum.
The takeaway? Simply this: communicate the reasons behind even small changes in your business. A quick meeting, a short email, or a brief announcement can stop the rumor mill from grinding out negative theories that cause employee angst and undercut productivity.
Two minutes. That’s all it takes.