What’s really going on here?
Why transparency is critical to building a culture of trust and respect.
Have you ever heard the phrase that ‘information is currency’? What is it that powers gossip mongers, secret peddlers and the disengaged? It’s when information is scarce and creative interpretation is high.
What’s scary for businesses is that misinformation and even disinformation can spread rapidly in organisations already suffering with poor cultures.
When employees deprived of information hear something second hand, it can quickly spread through the grapevine in a way that most businesses have no control over. Until finally one day it pops up and the executive team start to realise what they’re dealing with.
Like any problem, fixing it requires going straight to the source. Why is it happening? What could have prevented it? Transparency could of.
I’ve been recently reading ‘To sell is Human’ by Dan Pink. In it he talks about the balance of power when it comes to information held by both the seller and the buyer. The reason negativity exists around ‘salespeople’ and the concept of being ‘sold to’ is a hangover from the old days of caveat emptor or ‘buyer beware’. When the seller had way more information than the buyer. The buyer had no choice but to trust their word. Unscrupulous sellers made plenty of hay while these years went by. Creating a less than attractive reputation for salespeople.
These days the information economy breaks that disparity down. Almost any product spec sheet can be found online. A culture of reviewing everything is rife. The buyer now has all the power.
Exactly the same thing happens inside organisations. When it appears that all the information is held by the leadership team and none of it is shared with the employees. It cultivates feelings of unease and distrust.
Harvard Business Review’s 2013 employee engagement survey revealed that 70 percent of those surveyed say they’re most engaged when senior leadership continually updates and communicates company strategy.
Harvard’s study shows the opposite is true. But yet still stories of lack of transparency still prevail.
Going back to early in my career in one company I worked in people had a habit of disappearing on a Friday afternoon and nobody would see and hear anything from them again. Until a couple of months later someone asked “what happened to X?”. The pattern was clear these people were being dismissed from the business in a hope that no questions were asked. But all it did was create a situation where people were fearful of their phone ringing on a Friday afternoon.
In another example a friend recently told me that her company had just stopped paying superannuation contributions. The way it came to light? An employee simply checked their account and wondered why there had been no contributions for months. That started a domino effect of questions, revealing a less than healthy financial situation that no one had any idea about.
As a business owner, admitting when things are less than perfect is really hard.
Back when I was GM in the early days of RedBalloon working alongside Naomi Simson. Delivering bad news was incredibly difficult, especially for Naomi, who’s strengths of ‘winning others over’ and ‘positivity’ automatically made her want to ‘sugar coat’ everything. But we quickly realised that wasn’t going to cut it. In fact this was a critical element on both of our leadership journeys.
True authentic transparency, regular communication and the ability to approach the leaders at any time, endeared our team to the business.
Rather than being fearful of people leaving at the slight hint of negative news. What it in fact created was a culture of solidarity, where people wanted to help and contribute towards getting things back on track.
These days, full financial transparency and clear and regular communication remain at the heart of the RedBalloon culture.
And there are many other businesses who do the same and then some.
Buffer publishes a list of the salaries of every employee inside the business.
Google extends its transparency code to how it deals with ‘backstabbing people issues’. If a complaint is sent from one employee regarding another employee it is fairly common to have that email sent on to the person being complained about. Google’s people team believe that level of transparency forces resolution.
And, whilst you may not be ready to make the full leap into transparency across everything everywhere. You can get started somewhere.