At its height, National Enquirer magazine sold more than 6 million copies per year, and today the popularity of TV shows like "TMZ" demonstrate the enormous appetite humans have to hear gossip about other people. While most of us find these shows and magazines humorous, they can cause some people harm as in the case of the Enquirers’ 2002 article that alleged that male members of the family of kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart were involved in what they termed a "gay sex ring." Subsequently, two reporters from the Salt Lake Tribune were fired after it was learned that they had been paid $20,000 for the story, which they had fabricated.
In a powersports business, negative rumors about management, operations or other employees are not only a waste of time, they create divisiveness between departments, lower company morale and even damage a company’s reputation. To combat this destructive force in a dealership, we must first look at why people start and spread rumors. When a company is going through changes, people want to make sense of those changes. They will often get together and discuss what little they know about a situation, adding some guesswork along the way. Soon each employee is adding a little more, and before you know it, a whole new story is spreading around the dealership and worse yet, out to customers. Some employees equate knowledge with power and will spread rumors in an effort to make others think they have some insider knowledge of the secrets of the company. Others may spread rumors just to show off how smart they perceive they are and how they feel could do things better than anyone else.
So the question is: How do we combat these rumor mongers and promote a positive team approach in our day-to-day activities? First, keep communication open: Let employees know about any changes as soon as possible. If you can’t disclose all the information about a change, let employees know you will share with them all the information as soon as you have more details.
Second, if you hear rumors in the workplace, bring your team together and clarify the truth about the situation. It’s easy to let a rumor go unaddressed if it seems minor when you hear it. But those “minor” rumors can quickly grow and create anxiety throughout your whole team.
Third, let employees know that rumors are unacceptable in the workplace. Talk to your staff about the effects of rumors on their team. When people are aware that the company does not accept rumors and informed of how gossip negatively effect the company, they are more likely curtail their own participation.
Lastly, I recommend building a company philosophy that promotes cooperation rather than competition. Competition divides and may cause conflict and resentment, whereas cooperation between individuals and departments will create a more positive dealership experience for staff and customers.
Now I’m not naive enough to think these steps are going to stop all rumors in your dealership. Humans love to gossip. However, by establishing open communication and discussing the negative effects of rumors, you can build a company environment that promotes mutual respect and integrity. We all spend a lot of our time at our dealerships, and this type of environment not only helps customers feel at ease but makes the workplace much more enjoyable.
Jackson Smith is the parts and service manager at Destination Powersports, a multi-line OEM dealership located in southwest Florida. Jackson has more than 30 years experience in both the automotive and powersports industries.