WORKPLACE LADDER FUEL
Maybe you received the email offering cash in exchange for testing the Microsoft/AOL email tracking system. Or you heard that theaters were using subliminal advertising to increase sales of popcorn and soft drinks. Maybe it was the “buy one, get one free” Porsche promotion that caught your attention, or the warning that reusing plastic water bottles is unhealthy since components breakdown and are ingested.
The fact that these are all false didn\’t stop thousands of people from forwarding them, repeating them, or believing them. Two of these even made it into the top twenty-five “hottest urban legends” on snopes.com. Likewise, the fact that office grapevines are filled with false information, speculation, innuendo, and gossip doesn\’t stop people from using rumor to fuel distrust, reinforce silo building, or enhance “us” versus “them” thinking.
This workplace ladder fuel can devastate motivation and destroy work cultures as quickly as nature\’s fuel of underbrush, branches, leaves, and vegetation can cause a ground fire to scale trees and devour forests.
Each weekend when I pass through damage from a forest fire that came within a half-mile of our cabin four years ago, engulfing 57,000 National forest acres, I\’m reminded of the Seneca Indian proverb, “Every fire is the same size when it starts.” And when it does start, that\’s the time for putting it out.
It\’s the same at work. Small fires of misinformation, half-truths, or conjecture can turn into big fires of reduced results, high turnover, or retiring on the job. So can small fires of lies, invented stories, or repeated myths.
Eliminate them when they start with accurate, timely, and ongoing dialogue. Extinguished them through transparent leadership, candid discussion, and forthcoming acknowledgement of both good and not so good news. And quench those small fires of finger pointing, blaming, and sabotage with increased accountability, big-picture thinking, and authentic cooperation.
People who are winning at working, who lead winning teams, or who work in winning cultures, understand the need to eliminate workplace ladder fuel. So when sparks of doubt or distrust erupt, they address them. They don\’t wait for someone else to put them out, but become diligent firefighters themselves. They don\’t want to work in an environment fraught with fire potential.
People who are winning at working seek out the correct information and pass it along. They pick up the phone and ask the question, go to the source, or find the real answer, instead of assuming that what crosses their desk in email or is passed along in the lunchroom is true.
Instead of a operating with lighted matches in a dry forest, people who are winning at working eliminate those matches of gossip, rumor, and inaccuracies by not passing them along, openly addressing them, verifying accuracy, and modeling open communication.
You see, if you want to live safely in the forest, or you want to be winning at working in a thriving workplace, you must diligently, consistently, and consciously eliminate ladder fuel in your environment. Forest fires kill trees, plants and animals. Workplace fires kill motivation, results, and careers. Want to be winning at working? Help reduce ladder fuel where you work.
(c) 2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.
Sign up to receive Nan Russell\’s free biweekly eColumn or Podcast at http://www.winningatworking.com. Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books, January 2008). Visit http://www.nanrussell.com/