Transparency is sometimes a misunderstood way of being. In some organizations, employees can believe they are entitled to information, demanding the release of information that is confidential or even legally damaging. It is important for these employees to recognize their employer has a responsibility for ensuring confidential information is not released to persons who are not authorized to receive it.
Transparency refers to the ability of the organization to release information that is essential to its strategy and operations to its internal and external stakeholders. From governance, trust-building, and operational perspectives, transparency is an optimal part of the formula for employee engagement and team success.
Why Transparency is Avoided
There are multiple reasons why organizational decision-makers and employees avoid transparency. Here are three:
The perceived need for cover-up or withholding information can occur for a number of reasons. Within a politically charged work environment employees deploy multiple tactics. One is to hoard information because information is cherished as a source of power. Cover-up can also occur when there is dishonesty or is the need to conceal information from perceived rivals. Another reason cover-ups can occur is because of incompetence.
Incompetence. Regardless the role of the employee or the level they occupy within the hierarchy, there are people who are not the right fit for their assigned roles. Not only do they lack the capacity to perform the duties required, but they may also lack the potential to perform due to hiring error. In cases like this, an elaborate campaign of cover-up can happen where nothing is documented, information is withheld, blind loyalties are formed, and favoritism overshadows merit. These people resist transparency because there is too much to lose.
Low transparency is a cultural norm. This is another reason transparency is not embraced by decision-makers. In this type of culture, employees are given directives, they are not provided with explanations nor are they allowed to deviate from prescribed processes. Executives or business owners who reinforce this type of culture are not interested in listening to staff, nor are they inclined toward supporting creativity from team members.
Shifting to Transparency
Transparency is an essential component of trust building and trust is vital to employee engagement, morale, and growth. Transparency is also a productive habit that lends itself to the sustainability of an organization. In an ADP White Paper, entitled, Employee Satisfaction vs. Employee Engagement: Are They the Same Thing? it was suggested that, “By focusing more on employee engagement, organizations are more likely to maintain a strong motivated workforce that is willing to expend extra effort, drive business goals, and deliver a return on HR’s talent management investment.”
Define what your transparent organization should look like. Each organization should be clear about which information should be shared and implement internal and external communication systems designed to share necessary information and hold the appropriate people accountable to transparency.
Assess the leaders. A first step in building a culture where transparency is the norm, is to assess the leaders to determine if they are ready, willing and capable of transparency. If not, they can be given the opportunity to course correct, but if the reality is they are not willing or able to be transparent, the organization needs to put the right people in place and equip them with the tools they need to enhance organizational transparency.
Update your internal communication strategy. Once a communication system is designed, a strategy should be developed and implemented. Start by reviewing your internal communication channels and their effectiveness. Effectiveness encompasses the messaging, timing, and the frequency of information dissemination. If the communication channels are not optimally facilitating information flows in multiple directions, you will need to identify and address barriers to transparency.
It is also appropriate to review your communication modes and their effectiveness. Meetings, newsletters, instant messaging, and engagement surveys are a few examples of communication modes that facilitate multi-directional communication. When ineffective, decision-makers should ensure the communication modes match the purpose of the communication. For example, placing formal responses in an IM chat can make it difficult to locate decisions and other essential information in future as multiple conversations can happen simultaneously. This makes the message easy to miss in big groups.
Walk the transparency talk. Decision-makers are the architects of transparency. They communicate what they want people to know and when they want them to know it. If they don’t put enough thought into the communication of vital information, this can lead to a communication breakdown, compromised productivity, and the perception of low transparency which is inextricably linked to impaired trust.
Repair key relationships and develop skills that facilitate engagement. This is important because it helps to remove obstacles to healthy communication. Relationships are the connective infrastructure that support the flow of information within organizations. High quality relationships lend themselves to higher levels of transparency so where necessary, team building is essential.
Explain decisions clearly. Explaining why you or other leaders made a decision, opens you up to the opportunity to provide clarification and your rationale. It also allows you to improve solutions that may have been informed by unproductive bias. It can also contribute to reduced levels of gossip after an announcement. Be mindful when offering your explanations because incomplete, or condescending explanations will negate the fact that you are being transparent.
Listen to employees. Transparency is a two-way responsibility. Listening to employees and using suggestions that have a chance of success helps them feel valued and interested in contributing in future. Team leaders can only truly listen if they are open to both praise and critical analysis. Getting angry will only create barriers to transparency coming from the bottom up. Additionally, Listening is not enough. You should be transparent about what you will do about the suggestions.
Transparency is present when leaders can be transparent with themselves. Author Jason Silva, a television personality and keynote speaker suggests an introspective approach to making a shift in his statement, “Look at the evidence and be willing to question your own truths, be willing to scrutinize things that you hold dearly because that way, that transparency, that self-awareness, will protect you from ever becoming somebody whose beliefs somehow make them have myopic vision about what could be.” This is important because when leaders shift from a myopic view to the big picture, and they care about the development of others, organizations can better adapt when facing uncertainty, grow results over the long-term, and sustain team cohesion.
With knowledge gained from almost 40 years of Fortune 500 and international consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and thought leadership models for transforming businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, an award winning author and cultural consultant.
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