Promoting a Culture of Transparency

Did you know: a 2014 study revealed only about half of workers believe their employer is open and upfront with them. That leaves half a workforce that doesn’t trust your organization to be transparent with them.

The lack of transparency in an organization can have several harmful effects on your business. These can include high turnover, disengaged employees, poor productivity, loss of top talent, loss of customers, a bad reputation and much more.

What is transparency? BroadVision describes it as trust at all levels of an organization, which results in “dependable, empowered employees who take initiative, propose new ideas without fear, support one another, respect management, own their mistakes, and take pride in their successes.”

So what can you do to promote transparency?

1. Transparency starts with how much employees know about the company, its processes, projects being worked on – basically what is going on inside and outside the company and how it all works.

Set up some kind of learning process for them to use, such as an internal database with instructions on using important software, guidelines for certain procedures or even personal announcements like birthdays and anniversaries. It is also helpful to send out regular updates on team projects and accomplishments so everyone throughout the company is on the same page and has an idea of what others are doing.

Not only is important for them to have access to information, but they must understand what it means and why it matters. It can be useful to provide simple commentary and explanations for complicated charts, figures, terminology and other confusing data. The more active learning a company promotes, the better its employees will be at problem-solving, collaborating and producing results for the bottom line.

2. Transparency with decisions, changes or big news must start from the top and work its way down.

The C-Suite and management usually know about big changes first (and typically have a hand in the decision-making process) so it is their responsibility to share the news with the rest of the company in a timely and sensitive fashion. Take this one step further by letting employees be involved in decision-making where possible.

If your company is being acquired, don’t let everyone find out through the rumor mill. If a manager is being let go, their direct reports should be the first to know, outside of management. It is important to break the news first so rumors and misinformation aren’t spread. If employees don’t hear it from the top first, they are likely to lose trust in management, become angry or disengaged or even start looking for new work.

business and office concept - smiling business team having meeting in officeSpeaking to the sensitivity of announcements, big news should be shared in a personal fashion. A mass email is the worst way to spread big news. Better ways are to have face-to-face meetings, and sometimes a phone or video call if you can’t meet physically. Bad news shared via email will almost always foster poor relationships and miscommunication.

3. Share the good news along with the not-so-good.

It’s great to have quarterly or yearly meetings and discuss what went right, recognize those who’ve done well and next steps for the future, but it’s just as important to hold accountability in areas that need improvement.

It’s critical for employees to get constructive feedback along with praise, not only so that the business can improve, but also so no one is blind-sided if they don’t hit quotas, miss their holiday bonus or don’t get their next raise. Personal feedback should be done with a manager one-on-one, but it’s also important to have company-wide meetings where big-picture issues can be discussed.

It is also critical to share issues that aren’t resolved because employees can sense when something is wrong and will usually assume the worst. If there aren’t answers yet, explain the situation and promise to share updates as they come.

This also goes the other way – employees should be able to give management feedback and constructive criticism without fear of being reprimanded. Managers should be trained to receive honest feedback in a positive way so that everyone can continue to improve.

4. Implement a process for employees to share concerns and questions.

If they don’t feel comfortable directly asking their boss, they should have a way to anonymously submit their questions to be answered. It is likely that if one person has a question or concern, others are thinking it, too. It would be best for these questions to be seen by all of management so that answers are aligned, and so that each manager knows about concerns from employees who aren’t their direct reports. These questions could be addressed in a big meeting or company-wide newsletter – somewhere everyone can get the answers.

Transparency is about being open and honest, while also sharing what you can in a timely and sensitive fashion. Once transparency has been adopted into your culture, you’ll see more efficient problem-solving, better collaboration between employees and management and more engaged employees. You’ll become an enticing company for top talent, and see improved results across your entire bottom line – all from simply opening your communication airways.