Speak not even if you think you are in a private venue. 

I was talking with a landscape business owner a couple of weeks ago about how hard it is to keep any kind of news confidential these days.  That seems to be true in any business where there is a grapevine of information (even if it’s not on social media).  It’s even harder to keep things private in a small business when the owner has created a situation where all roads lead to him/her.   We’ve seen huge companies and institutions have a difficult time keeping certain types of information private and restricted.  (Of course, unhealthy secrets are best revealed to the air of exposure, but that’s a topic for another day and, I hope, another industry.)

One of the hardest things to avoid is keeping yourself from “letting the cat out of the bag.”  I’ve had people call me to ask about something they overheard an owner saying to his golf partner as they were getting ready to play.  Did I know that “Joe” is talking about selling his business?  This is although “Joe” was talking to his doctor friend who knows nothing about his business.  Other owners or employees have been known to call around fishing for information!  Don’t fall for that old trick where the person calling sets you up with one fact to get you to release the rest!

It turns out we had both seen and liked the movie “The Women,” a Broadway hit adapted to a movie that has been remade at least three times since the original in 1937!  The movie is based on gossip overheard* by author Clare Boothe Luce in a nightclub powder room.   With an all-woman cast and full of “catty” dialogue, it is amusing but does show how lives can be destroyed due to gossip.  

As a business owner, you and your leadership team are the focus of attention for many of your employees and stakeholders.  If you regularly follow a certain schedule of times in the office, or you never have your office door closed, everyone’s antennae will go up if suddenly you start spending most of your time behind closed doors on conference calls.  Everyone will be looking for evidence to prove the point that something is up! 

How can you avoid this? First, I recommend you schedule meetings and calls from home or an offsite location before or after normal business hours, at least as you start on the project.  If you have a trusted assistant who can keep confidential matters confidential, you are smart.  If you don’t, you’ll find it that much easier to be away from the office on some regularly scheduled basis.  

The truth is your employees know you will eventually need to plan for the company’s future as you reach retirement age.  The important thing to remember is “Do not tell anyone that something is about to happen when nothing has happened.”  If you don’t know what you are going to do or when you are going to do it, telling people you are getting ready to evaluate your options will only create needless uncertainty.  You don’t know for sure what your options are, when you might decide to make a change, whether you can do what you want to do when you are ready, or any other future results.  Therefore, Speak Not on the subject.  If you need/want to brainstorm about the future, please do so in a private venue with trusted advisors who will Speak Not on the subject either. 

Guess what people do when things are uncertain?  Scan for danger.  Our lizard brains have us set up to scan the horizon for potential harmful events.  Don’t stir up what might not even be a harmful event by accident.  Avoid casual talk about your potential exit.  Even if you’re in an airport in Japan, you may find that something you said is going to get back to your company in the US due to 6 degrees of separation.  (Yes, I’ve had that experience.) 

If you’d like to talk with me about maintaining confidentiality, carefully find a time that won’t raise suspicion, and give me a call.  (Mostly joking, Harvesters do all kinds of work, not just exit planning!)  If you’d like to discuss your exit options, how to get started, how to get ready, or anything else related to the topic, please feel free to call or email me.

I can be reached at 224-688-8838 and [email protected] 

We’re here to help you Harvest Your Potential! 

*The tipoff was the nail polish color “Jungle Red”

Alison Hoffman

has more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, mergers and acquisitions and delivering business-to-business client solutions. Her areas of expertise include managing operations for profitable growth, organizational design and strategy activation. She brings a wealth of experience through her work in evaluating, valuing and purchasing over 30 companies, leading company-wide cultural and business integration projects and consolidating best practices among business processes and corresponding computing systems. Read Full Bio