We all grew up with it. Gossip is a favorite Filipino past time. Of course, we are told by our elders that this is a bad habit, and should be avoided at all cost. Carried to an extreme, gossiping may lead to calumny (misinterpretation of information that can be harmful to one’s reputation), which is a serious breach in many faiths and religions.
So it is no surprise that in many professional organizations, gossiping is sometimes listed as a serious offense: “unprofessional behavior.”
Companies go to great lengths to look for ways to prevent gossiping such as the promotion of “transparency” and “open door policy”. Other organizations also provide training and educational materials (i.e electronic newsletters) on how to avoid office gossip. And others firms even enforce strict rules about office gossiping in employees’ personal social media accounts and blogs.
No matter how much we try, it seems that gossiping is in the Filipino DNA. It’s like dinuguan and lechon. Take gossiping away and you will see a brown zombie walking about aimlessly. While it is generally seen as a scourge, it should be tapped as a management tool. After all, gossip can be positive, too. Plus, I think to go against what is natural to us will be fruitless and very expensive. Besides as Pope Francis said: engage it rather than succumb to an aspect of office politics, which gossiping is.
I was conscious of this trait all my professional life. I never looked at gossiping as something I should take down. Instead, I was always intrigued on how best I could use the “radyokawayan” channel to promote the goals and objectives of the organization. I found it most intriguing when I became the CEO of NAPOCOR.
As the head of 12,000 employees that is in the middle of a crisis and planning for privatizing NPC, I knew gossiping will be unavoidable. White papers were par for the course in government agencies, and NPC was no exception. With billions of dollars involved in our transactions, gossips on bribery and corruption were daily fare. The challenge was how to deal with it, or more importantly, how to use the same channel to promote the NPC.
This was how the weekly Wednesday breakfast with the President was born.
Every Wednesday, I had my office randomly invite 5-7 Head Office (HO) personnel for breakfast with me. We did not have any particular agenda except to just talk or “make kuwento” about almost anything. We would discuss their problems, concerns, their joys, and even their personal lives. Over a course of four years, I must have had breakfast with a third of the 2,500 HO employees.
It was in these breakfasts that I would share my views on where NPC was going, or address specific issues personal or otherwise. Invariably, I would always end the breakfast with what I would call “positive” pieces of gossip like an impending bonus payout. Or I would address, on the spot, specific professional issues e.g. delayed promotion or personal issues e.g. missing the family because of prolonged assignments in the field.
My hope was that after the breakfast my colleagues and employees would walk away feeling good about themselves, feeling proud of what they were doing, and inspired to work even better.
And it was my hope they would spread gossips about these positive feelings…