Transparency isn’t some fleeting buzzword — more and more, it’s helping to determine how business is conducted at virtually every level. In a world that’s somehow become both more secretive than ever and more open, transparency is how ethical organizations prove themselves worthy of trust.
If you’re worried your own company isn’t taking transparency seriously enough, here are some tips that can help any CEO or business leader bring a culture of transparency to the three major layers of business: the employee level, the managerial level and the customer level.
The Employee Level
The cubicle is more than just an obvious physical barrier — it’s also a potent symbol. It can be easy to build a culture in which employees feel isolated or like they’re toiling away alone on a project nobody else will touch.
But opening up your floor plan is merely a superficial fix — your culture must also reflect openness among your employees. That starts with the sharing of information, and it encompasses even the tiniest details of how you construct your workflows.
For example: There’s a wide variety of organizational tools and techniques you can use to encourage collaboration and openness between colleagues in your organization. Huddles, Kanban and the scrum technique can all contribute to an atmosphere where employees are more productive. Employees are sharing ideas with one another and tracking progress on major projects. Bottlenecks and duplicated efforts are also identified and remedied before they drag you down.
Your company will also likely enjoy the benefits of encouraging openness with real-time communication and collaboration tools. Things like instant messaging encourages swift answers to emerging problems, and takes some of the stress out of approaching an individual or team, with whom you’re not familiar, for an answer to one of your questions.
The Managerial Level
When it comes to transparency at the managerial and leadership levels, it’s important to focus on the “honesty” aspect.
It’s fair to say most of us expect to be treated fairly and honestly by our superiors, and it can be devastating when they don’t live up to that mandate. In this context, transparency requires openness and honesty about limitations, company policies and areas of expertise — among other things.
You’ve probably done work at one point or another with a leader who talked over your head — or, worse, who pretended to know more than they actually did. Transparency means leaders need to account for their shortcomings or lapses in knowledge — and, when the circumstances call for it, to be honest about the mistakes they’ve made.
As an example of this, Ford has made a big PR offensive in recent years to capitalize on the fact that they were well-managed enough to avoid taking part in the government bailout that resulted in partial federal ownership of their rivals, Chrysler and GM. Ford seems to understand good governance of a corporation that size can either make or break that company’s reputation — and they’re making sure their customers know it, too.
Transparency, however, isn’t just about trust and openness between leaders — it’s also about knowing when to share information with lower-ranking team members. Let’s speak plainly: There are few situations where withholding important information from employees about the state of the company results in a healthy company culture. So take some time — either monthly or annually — to hold a “state of the company” meeting to make sure everybody’s on the same page.
If you feel your own organization is suffering from a communication breakdown, consider the ways you share — or don’t share — the reasons for your decisions. Be honest about why company policies were built the way they are. And perhaps most importantly, open yourself up to the possibility of improvement in the form of feedback and constructive criticism from those you oversee.
To keep secrets is to assume the status quo is good enough. By investing in a more open culture, though, you might find solutions from the rank-and-file that you never would have heard of otherwise.
The Customer Level
More than ever, customers demand an inside look into how business is conducted at their favorite companies.
So how can you make your efforts at communication even more effective for your clients? One thing you can do is roll out major changes in multiple phases. Here’s an example: Our mobile-first culture is looking for new ways for app developers to monetize their wares in ways that break from the one-time-purchase model, which is no longer sustainable for independent developers.
Secure password organizer 1Password knows these models are not long for this world, so they’ve begun rolling out subscription models to complement — but not replace — their existing one-time app purchase paradigm.
Not only have they been forthcoming about the reasons behind the change, but they also gave their customers plenty of lead time to think about how they use this product and whether they’d like to make the change from the previous model to the new one. If they don’t want to switch to a subscription, they’re not required to.
Another example? Evergreen Systems recently furnished a report for a telecom client that describes three critical factors for success and how they will meet those needs. Among the issues discussed was the company’s commitment to compliance. When the government chooses to implement regulations or other forms of guidance for how businesses should conduct themselves ethically, transparency is essential for communicating to customers that the organization takes such guidance seriously.
Tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook also face the very real need for transparency every time they update their terms of service — and in Facebook’s case, it can be easy to bungle that sort of change, sometimes leading to a panic among their users.
In the same way you’d telegraph major changes to your employees well in advance, transparency means keeping your customers in-the-know about upcoming shifts in how you do business and explaining in clear terms how it will affect them. It also means furnishing reports at regular intervals concerning high-profile issues, like collaboration with law enforcement, sustainability efforts and how your organization participates — or doesn’t — in charitable and civic matters.
This article was written by William Craig from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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