This is the beginning of a conversation on good and bad gossip.
I'm not sure if there is good gossip, but we all know there is bad gossip. The kind that destroys people a little bit at a time (or a lot).
...Good for whom?
- Gossip creates insiders and outsiders. (That's good for the insiders.)
- Gossip creates a pipeline to disseminate company sanctioned info unofficially. (Good for the company.)
- Gossip creates a way to keep people in check. (Good for people not checked.)
These points are fine for academics who get paid to think in theory. But what about the rest of us who live in a land created by academic theory?
Willy Wonka's School of Management
Willy Wonka decides to give up his wildly impressive company to a complete stranger, a boy, who is chosen at random over every candy buying brat in the world, but not before Wonka disposes four other child lunatics who are, apparently, also eligible for the post.
While listening to the original book with my family on a car trip (masterfully read by Eric Idle) I had this problem with the plot:
How does everything work out so well for Willy Wonka?
The Chocolate Factory is a magical tit-for-tat. A moral paradise, where everyone gets what is coming to him and her, without Wonka lifting a finger.
It just happens that...
- The one boy who cannot stop eating is sucked into a chocolate pipe.
- The one girl who cannot stop gum chewing is morphed by shape-shifting gum.
- And the perfect boy is given the perfect present, Wonka's factory.
Willy Wonka gets superb outcomes by leaving everything to chance. How does he, a mere mortal, know that each time a life is on the line it will all work out?
Here in my mind is the only hole in the book.
His surefire self.
Have You Ever Worked In a Company with A Boss Like Willy Wonka?
We have no clue how Wonka became adept at manipulating the world to his mind; he exists in an alternate sphere, where whatever he wants is simply going to happen.
Because he is Willy Wonka.
When you have a boss like that, trained under an academic reading of possible positive outcomes of office gossip, you have...
Willy Wonka's Office Gossip Plan
Imagine the voice of Willy Wonka addressing umpa lumpas. (Or whoever runs your company...)
- "Now hear this! Henceforth we will allow an environment where We, the Management, knowingly encourage gossip, and the creation of a community of Insiders and Outsiders. Because this is good for some of our coolest employees. Less cool losers must work harder on entering our ivory circles of gossip, should you wish not to perish at their hands. (Or ours, possibly.)
- We will, from time to time, encourage reports that are secretly helpful for management, to be disseminated through the grapevine so we do not have to speak of them openly, forthrightly nor answer your questions about them.
- If you do anything wrong, stupid or rub us raw, anyone in the company may gossip about you behind your back and potentially destroy your reputation, social status and ability to work here. Don't worry...this is part of our official management plan to help you get with the program.
It will all work out!
(Would you bring that plan to your board?)
Good Gossip Creates Bad Leadership
If this gossip plan works for Willy Wonka, it's because everything else does.
It's the anti-plan. There are no guarantees. No responsibility. For regular, fallible managers, I can't imagine that giving up the responsibilities of leadership will be paid back, tit for tat, by an office gossip plan that includes so-called good gossip.
Keeping people obedient by creating a culture of fear, and random behavior is not good management.
And it's certainly not leadership.