How an Organizational Culture of Secrets Can Hold You Back

How an Organizational Culture of Secrets Can Hold You Back
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An Organizational Culture of Secrets
Most leaders know and fully accept that a trustworthy organization — the opposite of an organizational culture of secrets — welcomes, heeds, and acts upon feedback while valuing open and honest communication. Many even incorporate the worthy concepts of open communication and integrity into their company values.

Unfortunately, employees report that far too many leaders only give lip service to open and truthful communications.

Why Organizational Secrets Are Bad
What goes on behind the scenes – on secretive phone calls, in the break room, or on instant messaging — has an impact.  If you have even one team member indulging in gossip, you have a culture problem — one that could undermine an entire team.  Teams with secrets are teams that cannot live up to their full potential.

According to a 2019 study from University of California-Riverside, people spend an average of 52 minutes a day gossiping.  While some work gossip can be harmless, many forms of gossip at work have been shown to create unnecessary drama, breed distrust, and increase employee disengagement.

When gossip is allowed, morale drops, employee engagement suffers and overall team performance decreases. And one team can infect another; the disease can spread so that the entire company culture becomes toxic and:

  • Prevents effective communication
  • Isolates co-workers
  • Can even result in legal action

An organizational culture of secrets can destroy work relationships or even careers. It is your job as leader to stop gossip in its tracks.

Three Steps to Create a More Open and Honest Workplace Culture
Here are three steps to take to create a more high performance corporate culture:

  1. Clean Up Your Own Act
    Make sure you, as a leader, set the right example. Do not ever engage in a conversation about a team member without inviting them to join. You should not say anything or write anything that you would not want known by the entire team the next morning.

    If you want a healthy culture at work, you need to model the way conversations are to be handled – directly and with empathy. Be willing to tell the truth even if it means having a difficult conversation. Begin to build the foundation of trust by consistently leading the way.

  2. Establish Guidelines With Your Team
    Be clear about why you insist on a gossip-free team and that you will hold everyone accountable to that goal. When team members understand the negative consequences of enabling an organizational culture of secrets, they will be more supportive and help create the “rules” for engagement.

    Feedback should be given honestly and directly to the co-worker with the intention to improve behavior. These conversations should be frank but respectful, safe with no repercussions, and allow space and time for reflection.

  3. Agree Upon Steps For Change
    Once feedback has been delivered and received, there should be a follow-up discussion about what changes are recommended to improve the situation. Both the giver and receiver should agree upon what steps should be taken. Often it requires both to work on their behavior.

    A micro-managing boss, for example, will need to back off while the overly controlled team member should prove that they are fully capable of handling the job on their own. Both should be held accountable to ensure progress is being made.

The Bottom Line
Don’t let office gossip or behind-the-back conversations sabotage your organizational culture. See that your employees are free to give even uncomfortable feedback openly and with the promise of constructive action.

To learn more about how to improve your leadership communication skills, download The 8 Top Reasons Leaders Need 360 Feedback

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