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Are you frustrated with your recruitment results? Have you had a rash of unqualified applicants and/or a candidate turn down your salary? When was the last time you conducted in-depth reference checking inclusive of educational credentials, personal credit, and/or driver’s convictions? And what about your interview team… are they using best practice interview strategies that are legally compliant with provincial legislation? Do you even know what legislation protects your potential candidates?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it is time to conduct an in-depth audit of your recruitment and selection process.

As external consultants, we would work with you to develop and customize an audit checklist that will meet the needs of your organization. We would first meet and inquire about how you go about your candidate criteria. Do you simply repost an old job description and/or do you take the time to review and determine whether or not it is still valid?

This is one of the first steps to ensuring you are attracting the right kind of candidate. This stage of criteria development is the most important process element. Without careful consideration and accuracy, you will be off and running… but in the wrong direction!

The next area of assessment is to identify where and how you plan to identify your candidates. First of all, have you determined whether or not an internal candidate could be considered? Are you only using one marketing strategy? Is it working? If not, why? Perhaps your methodologies are outdated and/or the candidates you are seeking don’t refer to this source for their news. If you are not attracting good candidates, it is time to do a review of this element of your search strategy.

What is your process for evaluating your candidates? Is it a simple two-step process… an interview and reference checks? Will you utilize a panel of interviewers or a series of interviews with different members of the management team? Are your interview team members trained on best practice interview strategies? Do you have specific interview questions aligned with the tasks and skills required? Are your questions compliant with legislation? An audit will identify strengths and weaknesses in this area.

The next search element is actually making the candidate selection. How do you select your final candidates? Do you simply rely on your one interview and a quick reference check? Are you using psychometric assessment tools to provide in-depth personality and character evaluations? If not, why not? What about the background check mentioned earlier? Without a combination of these elements, your selection process is not meeting the standards of best practice.

The last series of process steps includes developing an effective employment offer and solidifying the agreement. Are you offering a market fair salary? Have you even checked to see how the market has changed since your last recruitment? Does your salary respect the level of expertise offered by the candidate? Have you defined the salary with respect to internal equity within your organization? If not, you risk losing your good candidates!

The recruitment and selection process doesn’t end the day you have a candidate sign on the dotted line. You also need to create an on-boarding and/or orientation program to help your new candidate fit in. What does your program look like? I can’t tell you how many new candidates are thrown to the so-called, “wolves” and expected to get to know the lay of the land all by themselves. Be careful, some candidates won’t last!

If your recruitment process has areas of weakness, then you will be at risk of failing to attract high quality candidates, losing candidates, paying too high a salary, or losing them within the first three months. No matter what, the best and most effective recruitment process is a rigorous, systematic process that must be managed at every step of the way. Perhaps it is time for a recruitment process audit!

By Jo Owen
Prentice Hall, 2007
Purchase here

No matter that this book was written in England, if you are looking for a practical “how to” book on gaining management influence and succeeding in organizations today, this is it! Owen suggests that high intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ) are simply not enough; instead, smart managers strive to develop solid political intelligence (PQ). In his view, political intelligence is all about understanding how an organization works and developing an ability to make things happen in a world of increasing ambiguity combined with decreasing authority. The author contends that political IQ is a learnable skill and recommends a six-step process to develop strategies that deal with the who, what, where, when, how, and why, of organizational power. The book is well laid out, easy to read, practical and straightforward. A quick but powerful read.

Businesses must prepare for widespread major illnesses

By: Barbara Bowes


For the last number of years, Canadians and Manitobans have basked in the glory of the growing global economy. More and more businesses are exporting their goods and services all over the world. Many have established manufacturing plants and distribution systems in foreign countries. With this has come a burst in international travel as employees and owners arrive in various countries for sales excursions, annual meetings and other business trips. Life is exciting.


The Internet has also helped us explore an international world and it is becoming easier and easier to communicate across borders. In many cases, it is said your message will go around the world in 30 seconds with a push of the button.


At the same time, with the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we are now finding out just how quickly and easily dangerous germs can also travel across the world. So, it was not a surprise to learn of the recent Ebola case and subsequent death of a patient in Dallas, Texas, and the death of a Sierra Leone-born doctor in Nebraska this week. Nor was it a surprise to learn of the nurse in Spain who has contracted the disease or to learn of other health professionals who have contracted the disease and died.


However, what is alarming to most readers is the scope and breadth of people who can be touched by the tentacles of this dangerous disease. For instance, more than one hundred people in Texas were quickly placed under close watch for Ebola symptoms. Spain quarantined several health professionals while several hospital staff were reported to have quit over Ebola fears and a perceived lack of training and resources. The United States and Canada are now scrambling to activate their readiness strategies.


As has been demonstrated, an illness such as Ebola has the capacity to shut down entire economies. Schools and businesses have sometimes been closed as a precaution. In fact, the World Bank is warning of a catastrophic “billion dollar” economic impact if health officials are unable to stem the tide of this dangerous illness. At the same time, we all know the health resources in these West African countries are nowhere near the high standards we Canadians enjoy.


Yet, in spite of high Canadian health standards, viruses such as H1-N1 and SARS gave us a good scare. However, now another virus, EV-D68, a respiratory illness is on the rise and spreading quickly. Not only that, our regular flu season is just starting.


As terrible and devastating as the situation regarding Ebola is, there are many lessons for individuals and businesses to be learned. First and foremost, individuals must take precautions for their own health and well-being, starting with the simple doctor recommended task of hand washing. Believe it or not, most people are not aware there is indeed a distinct method to proper hand washing. And of course, with flu season upon us, it is recommended people get a flu shot.


What about businesses? Are they prepared? Apparently not, according to a study by a leading U.S. human-resource association. This study identified only 47 per cent of survey participants had a disaster-recovery plan, in spite of the many lessons learned through the awful 9/11 tragedy.


Sure, we have fair and reasonable sick-leave policies and we tell an employee to stay home if they’re feeling ill. Yes, many of us are placing sanitizing lotion next to the kitchen sink. Severe repercussions on a business from a mass communicable disease are very real. In fact, although you may not recall, Canada lost more than $1.5 billion due to the 2003-04 SARS epidemic. At the same time, 7,000 long-term jobs in Canada’s tourism industry were lost.


So, with this in mind, it’s time for business leaders to ask themselves, “Do you have all your bases covered in case as many as 40 per cent of your employees went off work at the same time?” “How long would your business survive?” If you can’t answer these questions, it’s time for serious planning. In fact, make it a priority before illness hits.


There are essentially six steps to human-resource planning for a mass communicable disease. First, determine who is to be involved in developing your plan, who will approve it and who will act as the backup decision maker. Also, be sure to assign someone to monitor government directives with respect to the illness. As part of planning, examine what might happen to the demand for your goods or services, and at what point absenteeism will affect operations? As well, examine what might happen to your supply chain?


Secondly, re-confirm your core business functions and determine which factors, such as staff roles, services, supplies and equipment are critical to the core functions. What alternative strategies can you identify that could be used during a pandemic? Seriously think about cross-training as many employees as you can, examine your strategies for work delegation and prioritize tasks that can be postponed.


Third, review your human-resource policies for illness and absenteeism, because widespread illnesses certainly push the boundaries with respect to normal policies and practices. How will you balance the challenge of sending sick employees home versus lost productivity and even lost wages for those without sick leave credits?


Step four involves efforts to protect your employees. Identify the communicable-disease threat and educate managers, supervisors and employees on the health risk as well as strategies for self-protection. Ensure all the resources needed to contain the exposure are made available. Identify high and low-risk areas and the staff who work in each. Review your work safety procedures and document your reviews and audits. Offer an on-site flu clinic. If possible, reduce public access to your office and/or reduce employee travel. Seek additional alternatives that will work for your organization.


Step five involves communication and this is absolutely critical, especially if employee fear appears to be gaining ground. Determine what will be said, who will say it and when you will give ongoing updates. Develop a strategy for employees, your customers as well as your suppliers. Choose multiple communication strategies. Use your bulletin boards, your intranet, email and even tweets.


Step six is all about recovery. Know that recovery can take anywhere from 18-24 months. Keep in mind recovery in this case will not simply be about physical operations, information technology and other equipment, it will be more about people and their mental health. Determine what steps are needed to resume your normal operations and give serious consideration to on-site counselling for employees.


Workplace absenteeism is a major concern these days irrespective of a mass communicable illness. However, when a crisis such as a widespread major illness does hit our businesses, we need a plan to deal with it.


Source: International Centre for Infectious Disease Control/LBG presentation, 2007, Controlling Exposure, Protecting Workers from Infectious Disease, WorkSafe BC, 2009. Disaster Planning and Recovery, SHRM, 2012. Ebola economic impact in West Africa could be catastrophic: World Bank, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 8, 2014.


About the Author: Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com. Learn more at www.barbarabowes.com.

What’s your opinion about people who are always late versus early for work? How do you value a college diploma versus a university degree? Why do you so dislike carrots versus broccoli as a favourite food? And why did you go ahead and purchase a white coloured Nissan car versus blue coloured car from a competitor? Believe it or not, your answers will be influenced by attitude. In fact, all of your beliefs and your behaviour reflects your attitude. Yet, most of us don’t think very much about what exactly attitude is and how we acquire it. Nor do we think about how our attitude influences how we think, believe and act. But attitude does indeed influence us and it is visible for all to see.


So, what exactly is attitude? Attitude is all about how we evaluate people, issues, objects, and events in our life. It determines how we act towards any of these elements. Attitude incorporates emotional, cognitive and behavioural components that lead us to hold a positive, negative, uncertain or neutral view of something. As well, our attitude can also be conscious or unconscious. When we are conscious of our attitude, we absolutely know how it impacts our beliefs and behaviour. On the other hand, some people are not consciously aware of their attitude nor are they aware of how their attitude impacts their beliefs and behaviour, nor how others perceive them. Unfortunately, this lack of self-awareness can lead to behavioural issues in the workplace, which in turn will impact on personal destiny, educational and career success.


Yet, just how do we develop our attitude? Psychologists will tell you that attitude is not genetic, but rather it’s “learned”. And this learning starts within the family environment, followed by the influence of our schools and then the society in which we live. It’s learned by copying people who are important to us be it parents, siblings, teachers, religious leaders, bosses or coworkers. In other situations, especially with social issues such as smoking, an individual might try out a behaviour and if it was rewarded rather than punished, the behaviour might continue. Attitude can also be influenced by powerful and persuasive communication and/or some sort of dramatic demonstration.


Just as we strive to assist students to overcome a negative attitude in the school system, managers can also assist individuals to overcome negative attitudes in the workplace. The following strategies for change are deemed to be effective.


A Learning approach

Changing a negative attitude and adopting a new attitude can be successfully achieved through learning. The strategy is to help the individual identify the “disconnect” between his/her behaviour and a stated attitude. A good example is an individual who speaks highly about environmentalism yet drives a gas-guzzler car. When the discrepancy is pointed out, the individual will feel uncomfortable and will strive to reduce the discomfort, hopefully by changing their behaviour.


1. Communicate persuasively. With this approach, someone can present new information that helps an individual to agree with the observations and/or the conclusions. Following this, point out the contradictions with the observed behaviour and the new information to which they have agreed. When the individual recognizes the “disconnect”, they will be motivated to change their attitude and their behaviour. Be sure to be strategic in choosing the right time and right place and offer brief, factual information to convince the listener.


2. Reward and reinforce. As with young students, adults can be encouraged to adopt new attitudes through reward and reinforcement. Take time to identify a concrete reinforcement that would specifically support the desired attitude. For instance, send an employee to a conference for a learning experience and have them prepare a presentation to colleagues upon return.


3. Take a social approach to change. Invite speakers into the workplace to provide background and information that support the new desired attitude. Actively engage participants so that learning is experiential. Since people will adapt in order to belong, arrange to have the individual engage with a different social group in order to understand different values, beliefs and attitudes and to test out how to gain belonging to this group.


4. Select a role model. Role modeling is a powerful social process to changing attitude and behaviour because individuals will want to emulate the behaviour of the role model. Select a leading figure with status and reputation in the community and who exemplifies the behaviour you are seeking.


5. Build consensus. Changing attitudes through group process is also effective. Arrange for a group of individuals to help them understand the behavioural issues and then create a vision and a goal to change behaviour and attitude. Allow everyone time to express their opinion, bring all areas of resentment and reservation to light and discuss at length. Finally, get consensus on a broad statement and begin to move forward.


While managers need to play a key role in helping employees change negative attitudes and behaviours, the bigger responsibility lays with the individual. The following are some suggestions for taking personal responsibility and being accountable for your own behaviour.


6. Act and speak with purpose. Before you make any comment and/or take any action, determine how this behaviour will serve your greater goal as well as how it will be perceived by others. Take time to look back on your behaviour and actions, take responsibility for failure or rejection and always be open on adapting ways to improve.


7. Choose the right company. In a global world such as today, choosing the right company means being comfortable in as many different group settings as possible. Reach out and befriend new people as a means to explore, understand and accept different cultures, beliefs and values. Be open minded. Take a learning approach.


8. Question yourself. Each of us has cognitive blind spots that make it hard to self-evaluate. However, be introspective and ask how your behaviour or attitude has contributed to a situation you are concerned about. Ask yourself where your attitude came from and what purpose it serves you today. Is this attitude working for you? If not, ask what attitude is more effective and how can you adopt this new way of thinking.


9. Take ownership for your mistakes. Denying a mistake is nothing other than unproductive behaviour. Acknowledge your mistakes; analyze and learn from the mistakes instead of making excuses. Be confident in stepping up and rectifying your mistake in the best interests of all involved.


There is no doubt that our attitude influences how we think, believe and act and it impacts the perception others have of us. In fact, as John N. Mitchell said, “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.”


Source: Shaping Beliefs and Attitudes, J. Howard Johnson, Ph.D., University of Florida, nd.

By Bruce Bodaken and Robert Fritz

Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc. 2006

Purchase here (http://www.amazon.ca/The-Managerial-Moment-Truth-Performance/dp/1451655355)


It’s well known that managers fail to nip performance problems in the bud and avoid the task by stating excuses such as a lack of time. Bodaken and Fritz offer a simple yet disciplined formula to help managers “speak the truth about performance in ways that work”. Their four-step formula is complemented by good examples and can be applied with individuals, intact and cross functional teams, strategic alliances and repeat offenders. You will learn about the different types of questions to ask and gain tips on analysis of conversations as well as personal skill development. Whereas coaching, mentoring and developing employee capacity should be high on the agenda of any manager, this books looks like one you can’t afford to miss.

High-integrity leaders crucial to an organization’s success

By: Barbara Bowes

There have certainly been a few eye-catching newspaper headlines lately that have served to fuel our feelings of cynicism about leadership integrity, especially on the political scene. On both the local and national scene, we’ve been exposed to a perception of self-serving power and influence arising from deep-rooted friendships as well as back-room political manipulations used in an attempt to discard individuals who are perceived as a risk.


Yet, situations involving the loss of integrity are not only found in the political arena, they also occur in our business environments, perhaps more frequently than we would like to admit.


You may recall the famous collapse of the financial empire created by Bernard Madoff, who was found to be an investment fraud artist. As well, the collapse of U.S.-based Enron Corp., a leader in energy, natural gas, communications and pulp and paper with more than 20,000 employees, is not far from our memories. The leadership at Enron was found to have systematically engaged in accounting fraud and corruption, which was supported by the Arthur Anderson accounting and consulting firm. Both went bankrupt while key leaders headed to prison.

While most leaders don’t engage in fraudulent behaviour, I’ve encountered many individuals who live on what I call the “grey edge.” In other words, while they aren’t engaging in anything illegal, their behaviour, in my view, can be considered unethical. And it only takes one more step to cross the line. A perception of unethical behaviour also creates a sense of mistrust and a loss of integrity. People simply lose respect for this type of leader.

Yet, what exactly is integrity? Integrity is defined as the consistency between what a leader says and what the leader does. It’s an alignment between a person’s values, beliefs, words and actions, as well as the extent to which promises are kept. Integrity is also perceived to be closely related to honesty, trustworthiness and fairness and is frequently thought to be a measure of good moral character.

Finally, integrity is judged by how closely the leader’s behaviour and actions are consistent with the moral frameworks of a community and/or organization.

However, one might question why it is so important for our leaders to demonstrate integrity. First of all, individuals don’t like uncertainty, and since they are speculating on a leader’s achievements in the future, they need some way with which to make a decision. Secondly, especially for newcomer leaders, there is little information on an individual’s proven skills with which to make decisions. Thirdly, most people are apprehensive of the future and are afraid of being exploited or excluded at some point. Therefore, people frequently make the decision to follow someone by assessing personal integrity.

People want a leader who practises what he or she preaches, who follows through on promises and who “walks the talk.” Once individuals are satisfied with their personal assessment, they’ll make a decision as to whom they will trust, to whom they will be loyal and how hard they’ll work for their selected leader.

Therefore, since people judge integrity by the consistency, credibility and reliability of a leader’s behaviour, how do we know it when we see it? The following descriptors will assist you to confirm your perceptions of integrity.

1. Continuous Personal Growth: Leaders with high levels of integrity are in constant learning mode. They are ruthlessly honest with themselves, seek guidance to discover and work around their blind spots and are always learning and growing as leaders.

2. A promise is a promise: High-integrity leaders keep their promises, and if they can’t meet the agreed-upon timeline, they will stay in communication with you until the promise has been kept.

3. Reliability: Just as we purchase proven brands, leaders who are shown to be reliable and can be counted on will attract more followers. Reliable leaders stick with problems and issues until they are resolved from a win/win point of view and a strong consideration for all stakeholders involved.

4. Accountability: High-integrity leaders don’t just blame others and/or take the blame themselves, they own the situation and all of its outcomes. These leaders quickly intervene in an issue, evaluate unintended impact, take steps to rectify the situation and stay in close communication with stakeholders until the job is done.

5. Responsiveness: There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a leader to respond to your query. High-integrity leaders are good time managers and will either respond immediately and/or will inform you when they can get back to your issue. If the situation is a crisis, they will be there for you.

6. Doing the right thing: High-integrity leaders have strong moral principles. You can count on them do the right thing, at the right time and for all the right reasons. These leaders have high personal standards and hold their team members and their corporation to the same high standards. They then assess each decision and action against their organizational standards.

7. Respectfulness: Respect is earned and is done so by showing respect and an acceptance toward others. Respecting others means understanding different values and beliefs, recognizing, accepting and developing the skills of others and including all employees as part of the team. Respect also means communicating and interacting with individuals by putting them on the same playing field.

8. Accessibility: High-integrity leaders are physically present and make themselves available and accessible to their staff. They interact with and invite employees to share their issues; they are always available to stop and listen.

9. Transparency: High-integrity leaders ensure their actions are “seen” as trustworthy and create a sense of certainty rather than uncertainty. They exhibit openness with respect to information, finances and various operational transactions and business dealings. When examined by others, their actions lead to trusting relationships.

Whether a single lapse of integrity or as a continuous way of doing business, unethical, non-integrity leadership behaviour not only has the power to ruin a career, but it has the power to totally destroy an organization. When integrity is destroyed, confidence goes by the wayside and may never ever return. Unfortunately, there are often more people hurt than can be imagined; just ask the 20,000 Enron staff who suddenly lost their job through no fault of their own.

Source: Why does Leader Integrity Matter to Followers? An Uncertainty Management Explanation, Robert H. Moorman, Creighton University, (US) and Steven Grover, University of Otago, New Zealand, International Journal of Leadership Studies, vol. 5 Issue 2, 2009.


About the Author: Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com. Learn more at www.barbarabowes.com.

The stock markets might be soaring as both Canadian and American economies recover; however, the turnover rates among chief executive officers are also continuing to soar. In fact, according to a recent poll, executive turnover jumped to 32.3%, the highest in several years. I agree that some turnover is due to retirements, but others are due to resignations.

While some resignations and/or terminations are due to leadership scandals, the majority of resignations at the CEO level are similar to any other resignation. In other words, the CEO and their board may feel there is no longer a fit for this individual in their organization. The talents they offer are not the talents needed to move the company forward to success in this new economy.

The challenge for organizations then is how do you go about finding the right leader for the right job at the right time? Then again, how do you keep them?


Believe me, it’s not a matter of simply searching for a good candidate. It’s a matter of making certain preferred individuals are indeed the “right” candidate. Therefore, the real challenge before having any candidate sign on the dotted line for employment, is ensuring you have applied a rigorous executive search process and taken as much time as is needed in order to make the right decision.


The starting point of any search process is to define the selection criteria. My strategy is to meet with a search committee, interview senior management and come to consensus on the “must have’s”, the “nice to have’s” and the “I can live with this” selection criteria. These criteria are then compared to the organizational vision, the market requirements and the internal culture to determine if any new criteria should be added or others given less emphasis.

A second step in the criteria selection process is work with the committee to determine specific examples of workplace behavior and experience they would like to see in their candidates. This information rounds out the picture of a successful candidate and provides food for thought with respect to developing interview questions.


The entire selection criteria process requires time consuming and rigorous debate so that all factors are thoroughly examined and consensus amongst the decision makers is achieved. Only then will you be ready to go to market to source out qualified candidates.

The list of selection criteria provides the framework and the tools for identifying and qualifying candidates that might be suitable to your organization. It is the filter through which all candidates are assessed. Selection checklists are prepared, screening and face-to-face interviews are directly linked to the selection criteria and used in candidate discussions. Slowly and carefully, candidates are screened and vetted until there is a set of 3-5 candidates who may be worthy of a presentation to the selection committee itself.

Without an effective selection criteria process, the search committee may misjudge an exceptional candidate who will then unfortunately slip through the cracks. At the same time, there are other individuals with excellent communication skills who may appear to be the cream of the crop but are not. Instead, they are simply good at camouflaging their weaknesses in such a way that it is difficult to assess.

While I have taken time to emphasize that time must be taken to ensure the right selection criteria are set, once these are in place, time then becomes an issue. In other words, the search process must progress in a steady manner over an 8-12 week timeframe in order to ensure the continued interest of potential candidates.

There is nothing more frustrating than putting all the right steps in place and then losing good candidates because the recruitment process itself is not efficiently carried out and/or stalls altogether. The solution to this issue is to ensure everyone is ready to proceed and that personal calendars are cleared in order for key stakeholders to be involved in the final processes.

Spending time on developing the selection criteria for a successful candidate is a rigorous and systematic process. If followed effectively, the process will result in the hiring of a successful candidate who will best meet your needs and will invigorate your organization to reach its goals.

Source: 2014 January: CEO Turnover Soars 32 Percent As Year Starts – Challenger & Christmas


Nina Disesa

Ballentyne Books

Purchase here


Disesa is a “been there, done that” lady who has successfully clawed her way to the top of a renowned advertising agency in New York. Her story is one of a hard hitting, crafty leader who refuses to be toppled by the battle ready male tactics she encounters. Instead, her strategy of seduction and manipulation, which she calls “S&M”, is a combination of psychology, mothering and stubbornness. All 220 pages are full of real examples of personal success, failure and advice. While the book is directed to women, men should read it to at least learn how silly their power antics really are.

Over the past few years, we have been receiving increasing numbers of unsolicited resumes each day. In a lot of instances they are from the US or international locations, but we get a lot of contact from potential candidates in various parts of Canada as well.


Most of the emails appear to be sent to multiple recruiters and executive search firms, as they usually begin with, “Dear Recruiters”. I am concerned for the candidates who send them in, as when resumes are sent out indiscriminately, confidentiality goes right out the window. Unless a specific background gets noticed, most of the time it is either deleted or goes into the filing system never to be seen again.


If a candidate wants to keep options open for a career change it is far better to do the homework and find a search firm or consultant that specializes in his or her particular function or industry. Many people think the blitzing the market is the way to go, but the opposite approach will yield better results. Yes, it’s possible to luck out once in a while and get that lead or job, but 95% of the time a person who saturates the marketplace with resumes appears either too eager to move, unemployed or is in every recruiter’s database.


With nearly 30 years in the search business we have seen many changes in hiring practices. Quality candidates are those who are very successful in their roles, stay more than 5 years with their employers, and keep getting promoted. Quality candidates also do their own due diligence and select an executive search firm that can help them.


I do hope this is of value when seeking a career move!

By: Barbara Bowes

Yes, spring is finally here. Yet, while it’s certainly time for celebration, for some unknown reason, I recently found myself thinking of dandelions and weeds instead of spring and beautiful, colourful flowers. On reflection, it occurred to me I was disturbed about the reported proliferation of gossip in a particular workplace and what advice I could provide to help the employer overcome the mess gossip had created. These days, I’m also encountering more and more concern about employees engaging in gossip activities via the Internet; so, perhaps there’s a need to seriously pay attention to the topic of gossip again.

However, one of the challenges about gossip is there isn’t strong consensus about what exactly constitutes gossip. Ask a group of people and you’ll get a group of different answers. For instance, some people believe a statement is considered gossip only if it contains untruthful remarks. Others believe gossip is any statement that speaks about an individual and/or an employer without their presence. Still others suggest a statement would be considered gossip only if it includes disparaging remarks, criticism, rumours and/or consists of a range of behaviour, right up to a malicious form of attack bordering on workplace violence.

On the other hand, a review of several dictionary definitions identifies a more toned-down view. Gossip in a dictionary is described as idle talk and/or a rumour that reveals personal or sensational facts about the lives of others. In other words, the dictionary definitions appear less onerous than the public view. In fact, some might refer to this definition as simply water cooler “chit chat.” So, it seems that a definition of gossip is simply in the mind’s eye rather than being definitive.

Yet, I would suggest that in my experience, most people find gossip to be more harmful than helpful, especially in the workplace. Whereas ensuring a harmonistic workplace is the job of every manager, how does one go about determining if gossip is indeed harmful? One way to do this is to assess any statements of concern to determine their impact on people. Ask yourself the following questions:

a) Does the statement attack, belittle or criticize someone’s integrity or misfortune without proof?

b) What is the impact of the statement? Is the relationship between groups damaged in any way as a result of the statement?

c) Does the statement create negative emotional energy that will drive down morale, create negativity and cause conflict?

d) Does the statement damage the reputation of the subject person and/or the organization?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, then the statements are more than likely gossip. And believe me, gossip can be just as hurtful and dangerous as those legendary “sticks and stones.” That’s because gossip can literally destroy interpersonal relationships. It will destroy trust between individuals as well as departments. When trust has been destroyed, people are reluctant to share, to work as a team, to reach out and help each other and to give credit for good work.

In some cases, gossip can result in personal job insecurity and a lack of self-confidence. This, in turn, pushes front-line workers to be constantly coming to managers for answers and direction. Managers will then start second-guessing their own decisions. Finally, managers will soon find they are spending far too much time on human-resource issues instead of time needed to spend on organizational planning, process and productivity.
The question, then, is how does an organization — or an individual for that matter — break through this gossip dilemma? There are two potential solutions. First, most managers could apply a policy solution. In fact, we are seeing many organizations writing policies for more aggressive behaviour such as bullying, cyber-bullying, and harassment. These are usually written to closely parallel legislation that has come into place.

However, one of the dangers of writing a policy to cover gossip, as we noted above, is the definition of gossip does not appear to be definitive or consistently understood. And, as was experienced by one organization that terminated an employee for engaging in gossip, the court decision ruled their policy was far too broad and the employee was reinstated.

At the same time, most of us know it’s human nature to talk, to “chit-chat” and to gossip, and so thinking we can simply legislate this issue away is unrealistic. In my view, a much more effective and longer-term strategy is to approach gossip from an educational point of view involving employees, supervisors, managers and senior leaders.

An educational approach would help participants to define and understand ethics and professionalism in the workplace. It would provide interactive experiences so participants would be able to identify instances of hurtful gossip versus idle chit-chat. Spending time in someone else’s “shoes” is a powerful way to bring about true understanding. At the same time, employees need to be given a review of the human-resource policies, where gossip fits within these policies and the disciplinary penalties that go along with it.

An educational approach, particularly for managers, would include a thorough examination of communication skills, especially since it is well known that only 20 per cent of managerial messages actually reach the front line totally intact with their message. As well, managers are particularly poor communicators when they need to send a negative message. For instance, they throw out a trial balloon to see how many questions might be generated. They overwhelm employees with too much information and leave before being asked for clarifications. Or, they hide behind their desk and send out ominous emails to which no one has the opportunity to ask any questions. As you can well imagine, any and all of these communication strategies cause significant relationship breakdowns. An educational approach, consistently delivered and reinforced over time, would help to overcome this issue.

As I indicated earlier, an organization can create as many policies as it wants, but motivating employees to follow them is another matter. Therefore, any educational program being offered must also help employees understand their role in managing their own careers and making a positive contribution toward the harmony in the workplace. While there are many successful tactics individual employees can implement, the following two tactics have proven to be very effective.

1. Identify the gossips – There is one or two in every group. Know who they are and avoid them at all costs. If you are approached and can’t immediately get away, listen, but avoid providing any feedback that would encourage them to continue. Follow the old adage that says, “Don’t believe everything that you hear.”

2. Turn to the positive – Build your skills on how to reframe a statement into a positive comment that doesn’t require a response from your speaker. This creates a disconnect and stops them in their tracks.
Although spring has been late in coming, thankfully it is finally on its way. However, I sincerely hope our spring air will be filled with positive comments and energy along with beautiful, colourful flowers. Cut off gossip as you would with weeds.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com. Learn more at www.barbarabowes.com.