The world of Facebook Live, Twitter, Google and Wikileaks means people have more access to information than ever. Within a matter of minutes, it’s possible to learn more about any subject than you would likely want to know.
As people grow used to instant-information, they start to expect it throughout their lives. This has lead to a call for increased transparency in the workplace.
While growing your transparency might seem intimidating at first, the benefits outweigh the risks. Being transparent doesn’t mean announcing employee salaries or office gossip, but rather involving employees, customers, and clients in previously closed-door discussions.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of transparency and how you can take a few steps to implement this core value in your company.
Why Your Company Needs Increased Transparency
Transparency offers tangible psychological benefits that can boost morale and productivity. Many CEOs have noticed increased engagement from employees and happier customers through increased transparency strategies.
Transparency Increases Workplace Accountability
Transparency isn’t just a popular business term tossed around in startups and at company retreats. The levels of transparency within a company dictate how the organization is run and predict how employees are likely to act.
“Transparent cultures force employees to have an increased sense of accountability, which fuels engagement,” Chris Arringdale. He cites a Gallup poll that says employees with managers who know what projects and tasks they’re working on are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work.
Similarly, those employees who tend to toe the line have a harder time underperforming in a workplace functioning with transparency policies in place. This ultimately boosts efficiency by requiring a sense of increased accountability among employees who might not otherwise naturally perform at that caliber.
Transparency Reduces Gossip
The main risk of rejecting transparency is increased assumptions. If employees feel like they don’t know the full story, they will fill in the gaps with what they assume is the truth. Humans tend to assume situations are worse than they are, which means small secrets can quickly balloon into outlandish and dangerous rumors.
Mathilde Collin, CEO of the collaborative email platform Front, says that transparency has the power to create common knowledge within a company. “Common knowledge is knowledge that not only everybody knows, but everybody knows that everybody knows,” she writes. “This is the biggest time-saver! When something is common knowledge, it’s not talked about anymore.”
If employees feel like they have the full story, they don’t need to make a problem worse than it is in their minds.
Transparency Improves Client Relations
This communication strategy also benefits customer relations. Noah Brier, CEO of Percolate, tells Forbes his company uses “human language” in its documents to ensure customers understand what they’re reading.
And while this practice of clear communication benefits the company’s customers, its employees benefit too. “We also stress straight communication with our employees, we want every employee to understand our values and what we stand for,” Brier says.
In this way, transparency isn’t something upper management practices to make employees happy, but rather a corporate value that is lived throughout the company.
How to Create a More Transparent Workplace
Fortunately, you don’t have to make dramatic changes to your office space in order to improve transparency in your company. Lindsey Pollak acknowledges this and created mild, medium and high levels that companies can follow depending on their flexibility. Companies that are nervous about the effects of too much transparency can take small steps, such as:
Inviting lower-level employees to attend important meetings to learn from veterans and feel like they’re getting a behind-the-scenes experience.
Encouraging employees to attend meetings outside of their normal job duties so they can learn how other departments function (and how they can get involved).
Hold town halls or lunch-and-learns to help employees learn about the company and its challenges.
These steps are as simple as adding a few extra people to a call or meeting but can pay off when employees have a clearer picture of how the company functions.
Encourage Discussions and Cross-Training
Avi Singer, founder of the social learning platform showd.me, encourages team members to form one-on-one partnerships with people across departments to share their goals and insights. He wants to get people talking so the spread of information isn’t limited by location or job title.
“No matter what level your employees are at in your company, each has unique knowledge they can use to teach one another,” he writes.
These partnerships take the mystery away from other departments, along with feelings of competition and possible favoritism.
Request Concrete Feedback and Input
Communication consultant Robert Keteyian says managers who are serious about soliciting feedback need to be specific. Instead of asking, “how am I doing on X?” which is vague, managers should ask for examples of things they can improve on. They can also encourage colleagues to comment on the assessment and suggestions given. This provides more depth — and more useful information than would be given in response to a vague request for feedback.
An additional way to solicit accurate feedback is through 360-degree performance reviews. The team at Vodori explains that these reviews pull opinions from all levels of the company, giving employees a clear picture of their strengths and weaknesses.
For example, a middle manager would receive feedback from:
Their direct managers and other managers they work with.
Their peers on the same level in the organizational chart.
Their direct employees and lower-level team members like interns.
Clients and vendors the employee works with.
While a VP might see one set of traits in a middle-manager, the vendors and employees who work for him or her would see another. These reviews are more thorough and accurate for taking actionable steps for improvement.
Provide Context Along With Information
Sam Hodges, co-founder of Funding Circle, writes that transparency isn’t just about providing information to people. Good leaders take the information and provide context. Without context and clarity, managers increase the likelihood of two problems arising from the information:
Employees will draw their own conclusions based on the information.
Employees will feel so overwhelmed by the information that it becomes useless.
Think about companies that share regular finance reviews. While this is certainly a step toward increased transparency, it can turn off employees if the whole presentation is delivered like a senior accounting thesis. The information needs to be digestible and understandable.
Even if employees are unable to be part of the decision-making process, managers and co-workers can still practice transparency by discussing how a decision was made. Saher Naseem at Business Zone says that instead of approaching changes with a “because management says so,” mentality, leaders could make an announcement with additional information, including:
- The objectives behind the decision or change.
- The alternative choices management had (and why they chose the one they did).
- The reason the decision had to be made or change implemented.
By ending this process with invitations for feedback, managers prove that they are making the best possible choices for employees and show that they are in touch with the needs of their staff.
Don’t Sugarcoat or Hide Bad News
Many companies believe hiding bad news from employees will protect staff morale or keep employees from making rash decisions. While the intention might be good, the results can backfire when your team finds out information was hidden from them.
“Employees aren’t fragile,” Chris Warden, co-founder of Eligibility.com, writes. “There’s no need to beat around the bush or attempt to sugarcoat bad news….Deliver it honestly, and with conviction. Your workforce will appreciate it in the long run.”
Transparency requires respect and trust. Management must respect employees enough to treat them like adults and trust they can handle bad news responsibly. Employees need to trust that managers are telling the whole story and respect their decisions moving forward.
Make Transparency Part of the Solution
Interestingly, there are additional benefits to clearly stating bad news to employees.
“Giving information will allow them to feel part of the plan and will allow them to trust the leaders and the company,” human resource consultant Nancy Owen writes. “They want the truth, good or bad so they can adjust to it just as the organization does.”
Sharing bad news or upcoming challenges can actually help. Instead of employees worrying about closed leadership and rumors, they can take action to counter any problems or challenges. Instead of treating your employees like a liability in hard times, treat them like the solution.
“Nothing builds respect as delegating authority to employees,” Yatin Pawar writes for UpRaise. “It motivates them further to take initiatives and come up with creative solutions.”
Engagement, empowerment, and autonomy are able to flourish when employees feel like managers are being transparent and trust them to make the best decisions. This trust is reinforced by both parties through communication, especially when employees share the steps they are taking to improve a situation.
Know What Shouldn’t Be Shared
That being said, there is such a thing as too much transparency. Personal problems and sensitive information doesn’t always need to be made clear. However, if your employees feel like important information will be shared with them, they can understand when something can’t be discussed due to a legal or HR issue.
“Transparency isn’t about knowing everyone’s business, it’s about making sure everyone has the information they need to do their jobs effectively,” Kasey Fleisher Hickey writes for Asana. “Every company has a different comfort level, so figure out what works best for you.”
Transparency Takes Time
There’s a reason many leadership experts recommend taking small steps toward creating a transparent workplace. Transparency takes time to develop within company cultures. While employees on all levels can practice good communication habits, trust can’t be built overnight.
“If transparency is being widely discussed in your workplace, it is not yet being widely practiced,” Veronika Mazour Mestrallet, co-founder of eXo writes.
She explains that many companies start with a closed culture and have to introduce transparency when employees call for it. Additionally, some startups are founded on the idea of transparency but then forget it as they expand or when times are tough.
Transparency isn’t an easy core value for every company to embrace. In order for it to work, it needs to be practiced on all levels of the organization at all times during business operations.
Celebrate Small Victories
“When I read about how my leaders made a decision that didn’t produce the best results, I am encouraged to be transparent with my own missed opportunities and mistakes,” David Mizne writes at 15Five. “Then I open myself up to all sorts of assistance, support, and resources.”
As you implement steps in your company to increase transparency, stop and notice when your efforts bear fruit. You won’t be able to change your company overnight, but you can inspire an employee to make better decisions or share information for the good of the company. When these small victories add up, your whole organization will improve.
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