In principle I hate to give credence to rumors, but paying attention to them can actually help you. I remember one that circulated around the offices during a particularly difficult time for one of my employers (one that included a large number of economically-driven layoffs). It stated that for every hundred people I furloughed, the company was rewarding me with a new car.
While the overall idea was patently absurd, as is often the case this rumor contained a grain of truth. In fact, I had recently purchased a new car – one I’d placed on order more than a year earlier as it was a brand new model. And while I did purchase it myself, it’s delivery, which was roughly coincident with layoffs, lent just enough “truth” to the rumor to fuel its spread.
Fortunately, I discovered the rumor when it was in its infancy, and was able to dispel it. This example should demonstrate why it is a good idea for managers to pay attention to rumors. Knowing the juicy stories that are circulating can give you a pretty good fix on attitudes, fears, and concerns among your subordinates.
Managers should be vigilant when dealing with rumors, and when that rumor includes a hint that a valued employee is on the verge of leaving, you should be doubly vigilant. Rumors often circulate about an employee’s coming departure – often long before the resignation. If you are on top of the rumor mill, you may have the opportunity to identify such a risk and develop a plan to deal with the situation.
Rumors aren't a fool-proof way of detecting an employee is on the way out. Some employees have tremendous self-control (which seems to be particularly true with engaged, high-performers, the ones that you should be most concerned about.) Such employees can conduct a covert job search including interviews, job offers, and plans for departure, without confiding in anyone else in the company.
But most cannot.
A few advice-seeking words passing between work “friends” can easily set a rumor in motion. This is because there is often a major difference between work “friends” and true friends (see my blog post on this subject: They Aren’t Really Your Friends)
So while rumors will not be present in every instance where a high potential employee is about to leave, when you hear one you should take it seriously.
I recall once learning a top performing executive was considering a new job soon after he played golf with three of his peers. Apparently he opened up to one of his fellow golfers, and then all three discussed it together after the subject executive left to go home. Of course, a secret kept between four people is no secret. Soon afterward rumors circulated through the office and my administrative assistant reported it to me (we had an agreement that she would report any and all rumors she heard, and in exchange I would make sure to always verify it through another source – thus protecting her!).
After a heart-to-heart discussion, I was able to convince the executive to stay with the company – at least for about a year. That interval gave me the opportunity to plan around his eventual departure.
One nice thing about being tipped-off to an impending departure by rumors is that unlike some of the other telltale signs, rumors can begin pretty early in the search process. This gives you more time to develop and execute a plan to keep the employee (if that’s your decision) or more opportunity to determine how life will go on after the employee’s eventual departure.
Rumors also give you a reason to directly address the possibility that the employee might be looking elsewhere – and in a way that is less threatening and less confrontational. If approached in a collaborative fashion, the employee is likely to level with you. Even if she simply denies that there is any truth to the rumor, you should remain on high alert, watching for other signs that she might be “On the Way Out.”
Other Posts in this Series:
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS
This is the cover of my latest novel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, released in April, 2014. This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI. The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives. When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.
My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.