Organisations are communities and most of them tend to be pretty tight-knit communities at that.
If there’s one thing that living together as human beings for the last 50,000 years has taught us is that communities gossip. There are few real secrets in any tight knit society and those that do exist are held usually by a couple of people or single individuals and as we all know, the best way to keep a secret is to tell noone and ideally forget it yourself!
When someone leaves an organisation abruptly or under any sort of cloud there seems to be a tendency towards panic amongst the senior management about what should be said. I’ve lost count of the number of times colleagues of mine have either: “left for new challenges” (which seems to be code for “we don’t trust you enough to tell you the truth about why they’re gone”) or the management team have hidden their head in the sand like ostriches and tried to pretend that an upheaval hasn’t happened.
While an information vacuum is bad and can breed all sorts of conjecture and rumour it’s actually the lesser of two evils.
The worst thing you can do in this situation is to lie because that sends your staff two clear messages:
(a) I don’t trust you with the truth of the matter.
(b) I’m a liar. You can’t trust me.
Congratulations! You’ve just killed your colleagues’ trust in you in one foul swoop and pretty emphatically displayed your disdain for them.
As a manger or executive you’re almost certainly going to come across a situation where someone has abruptly left or been ejected from your organisation. If you find yourself writing the message which explains why to your colleagues and catch yourself writing the lines: “has left to pursue new challenges…” it’s time to stop writing, crumple up that paper and re-evaluate your relationship with your co-workers…
Grow up! You’re dealing with other adults who probably already know the reasons for the upheaval anyway. For goodness sake don’t lie if you don’t want to make an ass of yourself!