Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are blamed for the fake news at large. However, even before they came around leaders have been flummoxed by fake news in their organizational setting for a long time now.
Our view of CXO’s life is very glamorous. Attending board meetings, press interviews, giving inspirational speeches, posing with celebrities for ad campaigns, inaugurating new facilities to state a few. In contrast, they also do a lot of boring stuff internally. One of them is to keep tab of what’s happening within their organization. This involves lots of one to one conversations with colleagues. These are the forums where people who have C-Suite access tend to misuse. “So, what else is happening” kind of generic question becomes an invitation to receive information which could be untrue or not qualified. Every day we hear bits n pieces from peers/team which borders around truth but also get magnified in our imaginary mind. Sometimes we are the origin of fake news and many times we are the vector to our unsuspecting colleagues.
True or False
Let’s list the news we get from our dear colleagues. “There will be single digit hikes this year or no hikes at all. VP of Finance is having an affair with her Finance analyst and that’s caused an unrest in the finance department. Its time to look for new jobs as the new GM wants to bring his own team. The Sales head told his team that he disagrees with the CEO’s sales strategy. The CTO is unhappy with the budget allocated and is directly in touch with corporate Hq in the USA to enhance it. The HR Head is attending interviews with prospective employers and hence most internal engagement activities are in a limbo. The marketing head wants to sack the PR Agency but is helpless becoz the agency was recommended by the CEO. The meetings of the M & A head suggests we will be acquired by somebody soon”.
Some of these may deserve attention and few you may like to ignore as a leader. With time some of these situations pass by themselves and may need no action at all if they are fake. Maybe, one can’t ignore all of them with the same disdain.
As a leader, some of the fake news may affect you depending on your mental makeup. Every information which comes from a colleague can look true in spite of some sounding suspicious. It’s only natural for the leaders to get distracted and sometimes spend time qualifying it to quell it. After all, the job of the CXOs is to make decisions to take the organization ahead. If he or she is swayed due to false information it will affect the decision making speed and direction. Yes, the leaders can turn away and ignore things which seem suspicious and move on. Probably, some of the seemingly damaging rumors need to be resolved in the larger interest. Some say they only look at the larger picture and will ignore this gossipy stuff. However, qualifying or clarifying helps to stay clear of potentially vicious atmosphere or for their team to participate better.
Fake News Chase
Once my HR Head mentioned that the recent legal head’s resignation was to form his own firm. In addition, our CFO has also invested in it and the new prospects that we reject would be redirected there. He also added that many people on the team were aware of it. As this was our headquarters I was naturally worried about the distraction it must be causing with the larger team. I trusted my CFO but also had to verify what the HR had told me. After sitting over it for a week I mustered the courage to ask my CFO about this. He assured there was nothing like this and was also obviously hurt by the nature of this false news. As it turned out later the legal head went overseas to join another company. This left us laughing over the rumor that wasted 2 weeks of organization leadership time.
In another instance, my assistant hurriedly called me. She said, “it seems like our IT Head has threatened to assault one of his team members”. Furthermore, she heard that it was affecting the morale on the floor. I was traveling and took the next flight and came back and met the duo in contention. Both of whom were supposedly involved in the incident profusely denied any disagreement leave alone the threat of assault. Once again, I felt like a fool that somebody was having fun at my cost.
In large organizations, you can’t help but come to face unpleasant rumors from time to time. Addressing each of these are tiring, time-consuming and sometimes the process of clarifying itself can bring about further distrust. Some of the leaders try to delegate this. Some try to get their hands dirty depending on the situation. It’s likely that their listening posts are their direct reportees who may also up against each other in different contexts. Some of the smarter CEOs have multiple channels connects to constantly be in touch with the reality.
Consequently, CEOs who believe prevention is better than cure do the basic stuff repeatedly well. Bringing the team together often, keeping the transparency culture going, frequent townhalls, communicating the news when it’s hot directly than waiting for it to spread are some of the obvious things one can do to prevent fake rumors.
Certainly, when multiple people are put to work together the competitive atmosphere, personal baggage or just the imaginative human minds do cause fake news. The challenge for the leader is to keep refreshing the channels he chooses to listen and act.