You hear it, you accept it and you pass it on. You don’t question it or check if it’s valid. ‘Martin from
finance told me. It must be true!’ you say.
Welcome to the corporate ‘grapevine’, an information channel where the information moves like
the wind and spreads like wildfire. The corporate ‘grapevine’ thrives through an informal
communication network where information passes from person to person, driven either by a thirst
for information. The network provides the comfort of ‘being in the know’ especially in environments
where employees feel insecure about their jobs or their status.
In our view, the corporate ‘grapevine’ addresses the social and emotional needs of employees. It
thrives in three conditions.
1. Absence of Information: In an environment where information hoarding and secrecy dominate,
employees seeking information turn to the corporate grapevine. As a result, information shared,
while it may contain shreds of truth can be falsified or sensationalized.
2. Unclear information: If information provided does not answer key questions, employees seek
clarification from the corporate grapevine.
3. Environments of low trust: The absence of trust fuels the corporate grapevine. No one believes
what he or she hears from formal channels.
So how can leaders mitigate the risk of a corporate grapevine?
1. Map out your employees
Informal networks, like all other communication structures, have nodes or ties. Mapping out the
players in the network enables leaders to identify critical points of communication.
2. Seal the vacuum
A well-defined internal communication strategy can help leaders bridge the information gaps that
cause the grapevine to thrive. This internal strategy is best co-created with staff to ensure the
structure of content best addresses their needs.
3. Over communicate
It is important to clearly frame the key messages to staff on issues. Messages should be employee
centered; address the issue from an employee’s perspective by clarifying intent, impact and actions
required. The use of multiple channels to repeatedly communicate the same message leaves little
room for misinterpretation.
4. Employee Voice Channels
The creation of employee communication channels that enables employees to challenge, give
feedback and seek clarification will reduce the need for the corporate grapevine. Clear messaging
and proactive responses to Frequently Asked Questions in internal communication are also valuable.
5. Create an environment of openness
Workplace environments impact the climate within which communication, or the lack of
communication happens. An environment of openness, transparency and open communication is
created through leadership trust and integrity. Leaders can build trust and integrity through
6. Value people
By acknowledging the value of employees and their contribution to the organizations goals, leaders
can greatly influence the nature of the corporate grapevine. The law of conservation of energy
states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to
another. When a person feels they are not valued or a company is not fully utilizing their talents,
their energy is directed elsewhere.
The grapevine is a good indicator of the employee morale and working conditions in any company
and cannot be eliminated. A leader can leverage the corporate grapevine for good.
As consultants, we have used the grapevine to gather information for our culture assessments and
change initiatives. And it is the same grapevine we use to communicate the new culture and
change. As a leader, we challenge you to not only mitigate the grapevine but to turn it around and
use it for good.