We all know that trust is the key to any successful relationship. There are many ways to build trust but I believe one of the most impactful ways is to be transparent. If you aren’t transparent, it will be much more difficult to create the kind of long lasting relationships you desire.
While transparency is important in all relationships, it’s the cornerstone of businesses who want to create a culture of happiness, engagement, high performance, and mutual respect. Employees in any organization have a deep desire to know what’s going on and why. They want to give input and be heard. They don’t want to be scared of the future and scared of change. But the only way to reduce fear and motivate them to be their best is to be transparent.
What is transparency in business? One business dictionary defines it as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.”
Simple enough concept to understand but how do you do it? Here are some ways to be more transparent as a leader, manager, and company:
Have a True Open Door Policy
It’s easy to say you have an open door but if you don’t have anyone walking into your office to ask hard questions, give you feedback, discuss strategy, or share concerns, your open door policy isn’t working. It’s difficult for employees to bring up issues so you have to do everything you can to make them feel comfortable doing so. Never get defensive, listen closely, ask questions, take action, follow up, and always say THANK YOU!!!! If your employees aren’t proactively coming to you, invite them in to talk. Ask easy questions at first. Say things like, “I get the feeling that there are a lot of people who aren’t speaking up about some of the issues we have here. I really need some insight so I can make things better. Can you tell me what you see?” You will probably get a softened truth as the person feels you out but this is how you start to build better relationships with your employees. If you handle yourself appropriately, take action, and be consistent, you will start to see people taking advantage of your open door policy and your organization becoming more transparent.
Get Out of Your Office
Don’t expect everyone to come to your office; take your open door policy to them. Walk around the facility and talk to employees…even those who report to other managers. Ask questions about their work, the issues they face, what they need in order to do their jobs better. Give them updates on what’s going on in your department. Share a customer story. Tell them about an issue you are dealing with and ask for their opinions. Even better, ask people to go for a walk. There is something magical about walking meetings and it’s a great way to share and learn information without the pressure of sitting in a cramped office, loud cubicle or cold conference room.
Talk (Truthfully) to Your Employees Often
At StoneAge, I hold regular Town Hall meetings to encourage questions and give my employees deeper organizational insight. A different department is scheduled each month. Every person within that department submits anonymous questions ahead of time and I answer them candidly during the meeting. Nothing is off limits. We also hold monthly company meetings where we share all major issues and wins. If a mistake is made, we publically talk about it. If we aren’t performing, we talk about it. We share financial information, give strategic updates, talk about changes we are going through, and initiatives we are planning. We are clear when something is confidential and must be kept that way; we show our employees that we trust them to use good judgement with the information provided. And we always answer questions from the floor.
Seek Organizational Feedback
There are lots of informal ways to get feedback from across the organization. All managers should be working with their teams to understand what’s going right and what’s going wrong. Whether it be one-on-one or in team meetings, you should always be asking for organizational feedback. I also recommend doing a formal, anonymous survey of employees. We recently did one at StoneAge and it was incredibly helpful. Sure, some of the feedback was painful but we were able to put together an action plan that addressed the issues brought up and our employees we incredibly grateful we asked their opinions.
Be Honest About Why People Leave
There is nothing that clouds transparency faster than misleading your employees about why someone is leaving the company. I have learned this lesson the hard way. There is a fine balance between protecting the privacy of a terminated or quitting employee and telling your employees the truth. Honesty is always the best policy. Assume they will find out the truth anyway. Plus, if you don’t tell the truth, they will make up their own stories about what happened…stories that are most likely far worse than what really went down. It may be hard for some employees to hear the truth but at least they know you are being honest and you reduce the chance that they will live in fear of “I am next.”
The only way to be transparent is to be vulnerable. Humans need to connect on a deeper level to build solid, high functioning relationships. It’s hard to connect with someone who you know very little about. I’m not saying you need to disclose your deepest, darkest fears but be willing to share some of yourself and always admit when you don’t have the answer or when you screw up. The better people know you, the more transparent you will be perceived to be.
To build a high performing organization, transparency is essential. It takes time to build trust so take it slow and be authentic. Be honest about your efforts to be more transparent. Ask your employees for feedback and to make a commitment to be more transparent themselves. Be forthright with information, keep your promises, and always tell the truth. It’s a worthy endeavor as employees who feel like they are in the loop and can voice their opinions are much more likely to be engaged, happy, and productive.
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