Every few years or so you will hear new buzzwords scattered across Glassdoor reviews and discussed around every corporate water cooler. In 2020, we are in a wave of “Transparency.” In my time as a founder, I have wrestled over how to create it, how not to break trust with it and how to empower others by sharing enough to inspire but not too much to break spirits. If you are a business leader odds are you have heard an employee complain over a lack of it without anyone having a real understanding of what it truly means to be “Transparent.” You’ve thought you’ve done a great job only to realize it wasn’t enough or maybe it was too much. What is the right amount of transparency?
In my opinion, full transparency seems like the thing every employee believes they are missing, but if you really dig in and understand what comes with it, few truly want. It eliminates security. It exposes you to what you were previously protected from. Transparency requires ownership. It makes you an accomplice. With all that said, however, protecting your kids from the world isn’t a good way to prepare them to deal with the reality of it. Few people understand what the leaders of businesses deal with and that isn’t on purpose as a result of duplicity. There are just issues that happen in organizations that don’t need to be broadcast to the whole company. That leads us to the question then, how can we eliminate the constant concern over transparency in business?
It feels like a bit of a damned if you do damned if you don’t scenario. I have had employees see into our financials when we were successful without an understanding of accounting and create internal narratives questioning our character because we hadn’t given everyone raises. I have had employees quit due to the financial information shared during the time we were much less successful because they wanted to protect themselves; thus leaving us with a gap that would leave us in an even deeper hole. Now are these circumstances more about the individual employee than the transparency? Maybe.
The truth is no one has a clear definition of transparency as the founder or leader of a business. It is dependent on the leader. Here is my suggestion: since it is the employees that are often looking for it, ask them to help you define it. I imagine if you asked five different employees what it means for you to be transparent with them you would get five different answers because they don’t have a clear definition either. Instead of letting that exist, create that transparency by working collectively to define what that means as a company and not only are they getting the transparency, they played a role in defining it. Once it is discussed and agreed upon (there may be circumstances where you say no to certain asks), then clearly define what that means and hold yourself to that standard as a leader. The tough conversations are always worth it and you only need to do it once. You may realize it is much less transparency or obligation than you thought. It may be a monthly newsletter, a quarterly overview of company performance or a meeting once a month to go over company objectives. The ask is never as drastic as we believe it to be. Once you and your employees have come to a clear definition with clear metrics then no one can complain about a lack of it unless you don’t hold up your end of the bargain. Now the expectations are set and those expectations are a common thread in all actions of the business. In hiring, ask the potential hire in an interview how they would define transparency from leadership and what their expectations are? Explain how your company defines it internally and see how they align. It may help create a filter for who the right person is to bring into your business.
The right answer is often about asking the right question. We often spend way more time becoming frustrated searching for the answer when all we need to do is ask the right question. Let’s work as a team to no longer see “Lack of Transparency” on our company reviews.