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How transparent should you be with your people?

4 min read | 29 January, 2020 By Sarah Benstead

    

How transparent are you in the workplace?

Are you a 'warts-and-all' set-up where everything’s up for discussion?

Or are you more selective with the information you share?The cultural shift in society means we’re all sharing more; you only have to glance at social media to confirm that. So, it’s natural that an appetite for increased transparency is filtering through to the workplace.

What’s more, our own research shows that only 23% of UK workers say they have a lot of trust in the leaders and managers of their company.

And, as increasing transparency is a natural step towards improving trust, maybe it's the way forward? 

Transparent businesses: success stories

Sharing is caring; or so they say.

And businesses are certainly being encouraged to share more information.

With a push for pay transparency coming through loud and clear, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we should all be sharing more.

Here are some examples of businesses who have embraced transparency, and haven't looked back:

Terracycle

Tom Szaky, the founder of TerraCycle, found that moving to a more transparent style of leadership transformed his business.

He says:

“The benefits of this method have been astronomical. All of our 100 employees know exactly what is going on and can learn from what other departments are doing. It has created a feeling of ownership and trust, and it has fostered communication. It also brings issues to the forefront much faster than ever before and serves as our critical feedback engine.”

As Tom found, sharing information about your business plan, financial performance and even salaries has been shown to increase trust, improve employee engagement and enhance your company’s reputation.

Breathe

Transparency is something that Breathe has always prioritised as part of our culture and business strategy. 

From the outset, CEO Jonathan Richards has made a point of being open and transparent with the Breathe team. And the benefits are clear to see.

By making employees feel valued and part of the business journey, he engages the team and ensures everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

In our quarterly company reviews, for example, Jonathan takes the opportunity to share successes, failures, business plan updates, revenue and anything else that's new to the business.

By doing this he nurtures a sense of inclusiveness and the team all leave the meeting feeling motivated, inspired and on-board with his vision for the business. 

DURTY

Dan Lawrence, founder of CGI studio DURTY, shares his annual business plan with his team.

This gives them not only full transparency of the marketing and sales plan, but also the way he sees his team developing - his team have full visibility of planned new hires, training expectations and promotions.

And he’s just as clear about the money his business makes.

“I want the team to feel like they’re doing more than just coming to work." Says Dan.

"I really want them to get behind the business and I hope that by sharing my plans and being open with them is the first step to getting there.”

Vapormatic

Transparency isn’t a one-size-fits all idea; you need to adapt it to the way your workplace runs.

Vapormatic, supplier for parts and accessories for agricultural tractors, is serious about the way it integrates trust and transparency into its set up.

Having made people redundant in the past, Peter Brennan, the CEO uses transparent communication to support positive engagement throughout the business.

The company runs a ‘consultation committee’ for staff and management, ensure 1-2-1 check-ins, employee surveys, dedicated project working groups and a leadership ‘open door’ policy.

Potential draw-backs

While there are many success stories, it's important to be aware of the potential downsides of opening up to your team.

Surely the smart business owner or manager shares everything with their people?

Absolutely not - transparency isn’t without its drawbacks.

You need to find a level of safe, honest transparency that provides context - being too free with information can cause you serious problems, such as:

A culture of distrust

While transparency can build trust, it can destroy it, too. 

If you ask your employees to detail everything they do, you risk losing their trust.

What’s more, the “transparency paradox” says that productivity and innovation actually decrease when employees know they’re being watched.

Research suggests allowing workers more – not less privacy – actually improves business results.

Decreased engagement

Giving employees free access to information without the right context can result in confusion, stress and gossip. And that can lead to a drop in overall productivity and engagement.

A poor turnover figure is easy to understand if you know the facts, but employees without that information may worry about job security.

This may affect their productivity or even lead to them looking for a new job.

Likewise, sharing salary details may be open and fair-minded, but without enough context, it can lead to jealousy and resentment – contributing to a toxic culture.

Competitive risk

As much as you trust your team, how would you feel if sensitive information fell into the hands of your competitors?

From cost of goods to secret recipes, some information is strictly confidential.

It’s essential for you and your business to determine what’s sensitive and what’s readily available, and to make employees aware of the implications of over-sharing such information.

Increased caution

Too much transparency can cause a backlash with employees becoming more guarded and withdrawing from sharing information.

Respect people’s privacy and concentrate on creating a culture where your team feel able to share their goals, ideas and concerns.

Make sure they know their personal information is safe with you.

So, in summary...

Don’t make your workplace transparent for the sake of transparency.

Focus instead on building a culture where transparency is valued and encouraged, remembering that you cannot – and must not – share everything.

Honesty trumps transparency every time. Be honest with your employees and tell them what you can and can’t share – and why.

You’ll soon see trust and engagement flourish.

Giving back time - trial

Posted on 29 January, 2020

By Sarah Benstead

in Business Leadership

Tag Business Leadership

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