Organisational Transparency - Do You Trust Your Staff?

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I’ve worked at a variety of organisations. One of the most variable parts of organisation culture I’ve experienced is the level of transparency the organisation displays to staff. When I’ve been in organisations with low transparency, I’ve felt untrusted and less valuable; in organisations with almost total transparency, the level of trust has felt high and I’ve felt much more valued within the business.

What is transparency?

The answer to this is both complex and simple.

The simple aspect is about future plans for the business and upcoming changes. If there is potential for any change in direction to the business, thoughts about changing position descriptions or role responsibilities, or other changes that directly impact one or more staff, then ensure that it is made public as soon as possible.

The complex aspect is about what level of transparency employees expect in order to feel trusted; this can include items such as revealing wages of senior staff, potential investments into the company, or even allowing staff to attend board meetings in an observer capacity.

What’s been best for me?

Every employee will be different in terms of their desired transparency. For me there are a few items that are non-negotiable for me to feel trusted:

  • early disclosure and consultation for role changes that directly impact me;
  • early, open and honest feedback about my performance, even if it is raised by people outside my reporting line; and
  • notification and consultation of any potential directional changes for the organisation, even if the consultation is aggregated by direct managers to be fed up to primary decision makers.

By including me in these three items a base level of trust is established, and I feel like my thoughts and opinions have at least a minimum level of value to managers and the company. If any of these are missing, then I find that my feelings of trust are eroded, and my dedication to the company diminishes. If I feel that any of these items are not honoured, I will generally look for employment elsewhere.

Beyond the non-negotiable items, I have some items that are important to me, but are not individual deal breakers:

  • early disclosure and consultation for role changes that affect my team;
  • early disclosure of the potential for C-suite changes within the organisation;
  • notification of any potential directional changes for the organisation that don’t impact my department;
  • notification of potential investments (in a privately held organisation, legal limitations may exist in public companies); and
  • notification of any reporting line resignations (or dismissals) before they are announced to the entire organisation.

These items increase my feeling of inclusion within the organisation and demonstrate a level of trust and value in staff. Some staff may not be interested in all of these items, but there is little negative impact from telling them more than they need to know. By displaying this level of trust my confidence in the organisation will be maintained as I will be aware of the level of thought and planning that is put into a decision.

The nice to have options would be an incredibly long list; I’ve mentioned some of them in the complex aspects of transparency. They’re complex because in some cases individuals may not want to know these details, or may not have the level of knowledge to interpret the detail appropriately. For me, the nice to have options are the ones that will make me feel like I am part of a family, they’re the ones that make me feel like I belong, they’re the ones that will stop me from considering other job opportunities.

Finding the balance

Every employee is different, we all want a different level of transparency. Often, depending on business knowledge, more senior employees will want greater transparency, but with the next generation entering the workforce they’ve grown up in a more open environment and will expect a greater level of transparency.

I can only refer to my experiences and knowledge; if an executive were to ask me what level of transparency I would want, I would openly ask for almost total transparency. I don’t need to know everyone’s wages, I don’t really need to know anyone’s wages, but I want to know about potential changes within the organisation; my business experience and interests mean that I want to be heard when I express the potential impacts of these decisions. I want to be an observer in board meetings so I can see the strategic direction the board is discussing, and so I can see if the company is performing as expected. I want to know about potential funding rounds, strategy changes and fine-tuning, restructures, office openings and closures, anything that will affect the company and how I perceive it.

More important than the what

More important than the what is changing is the why is it changing. If the company is changing the strategy, I want to know why. In the C-suite is being modified I want to know why. If my role is being changed, I want to know why. If I’m not told why, I will either ask, or assume it is a random thought-bubble and there is no reason. If you can’t give me a clear and concise reason for the change, I will know the decision hasn’t been thought through and will lose confidence in the organisation. By telling me why changes are being made I will potentially have a better understanding of the organisation, I will be better enabled to ensure the organisation goals are met, and I will feel like I belong in an open environment that isn’t keeping secrets.

Almost as important as the “why” is how it will affect me. I like to think I’m fairly astute when it comes to the impact of business decisions, but even so I appreciate having my thoughts confirmed or denied. If a change is worthy of a company-wide email, it’s worthy of telling me how it will impact me. That could be as simple as telling me it will no impact me, or it could be a lengthy meeting to explain the complete ramifications on both me and my role.

Communication

Communication of potential and actual changes is vitally important. If a significant change is being made and a company-wide email is the chosen medium, it must be short, clear, justify the change and cover the impacts or how the impacts will be communicated. Don’t try to soften the wording; do get someone at a lower position to review it; don’t just let it flow as a stream of consciousness (if it reads anything like my blog posts then it needs rewording).

Conclusion

Being transparent directly impacts the feeling of trust staff have in serious management and the organisation. If you announce changes that will impact staff without them being consulted in advance you will alienate them. If you announce potential changes and engage staff in decisions it will build trust, it will increase inclusion, and it will ultimately lead to a sense of belonging and family.