When you think of the word “transparency” in business and the workplace, what immediately comes to mind? Do you cringe at the possibility of being that open? That, perhaps, coworkers, direct reports, or even customers will perceive it as a weakness, and take advantage of you or your position?
Heck, is there even a place reserved for “speaking from the heart” as a leader without exposing yourself to hurt from toxic colleagues with bad intentions?
Well, there is a place for it, sure, but leaders first have to get over their own fears. Glenn Llopis, well-known speaker, coach, and author of The Innovation Mentality, challenges conventional leadership thinking when he said this in Forbes:
Being transparent is a powerful thing, if you can trust yourself and be trusted by others.The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power, leverage and gravitas.
Trust Doesn’t Happen Without Transparency
Ahh, “trust yourself and be trusted by others,” Llopis says. Trust yourself is about courage, inner strength, faith, and belief in your values. Trusted by others? That cannot happen without transparency as the main ingredient in the secret sauce of building trust with your tribe.
Transparency promotes an open culture of respect and dignity void of the usual toxic corporate metaphors like backstabbing, gossip, and throwing people under the bus. The business case for it has and always will be about the team — about strong relationships, collaboration and, lest we forget, getting results!
In his quote, Llopis suggests a necessary change in the belief system of most leaders. As I always say, to get over the fear of something and experience lasting change, change your perception. In this case, the idea that transparency means being soft, weak or vulnerable. Maybe this illustration will help.
A Different Kind of Transparency
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss Co., tells Adam Bryan about his early leadership lessons on transparency, which is not what most of us think. He demonstrates the side of transparency that comes with fortitude and toughness:
I was at Procter Gamble, which was a promote-from-within company that placed a huge emphasis on the role of the manager to develop their people. In fact, it was part of your performance review.
My first hire was supersmart, but he really wasn’t performing over time, and I felt pressure to get this guy promoted. I basically carried him and got him promoted. But about four months later, he was gone for performance reasons.
The big lesson for me, and it stuck with me forever, is that you’ve got to be really transparent and straight with people, and if they’re not cutting it, you’ve got to tell them where they’re not cutting it. Hold the bar up high, and if it’s not a good fit, call it. (emphasis mine)
When a leader displays transparency, team members know exactly how they’re doing and where they stand with performance. Transparency in this sense is about demanding excellence in others, and openly setting clear goals and communicating the right expectations for desired results.
Bergh also minces no words when it comes to defending his culture of transparency from saboteurs. He tells the Times, “I’ve got some trusted people who will tell me if [politics] is going on behind my back. If I see it, you’ve just got to squash it like a bug as soon as it happens and not tolerate it. You have to be really clear about how we’re going to operate, and if you can’t play that way, then you should probably find another team to play on.”
For skeptics of transparency, prolific author Warren Bennis proved the business case for a transparent work culture.
He noted one study, in particular, where 27 U.S. companies known as “most transparent” beat the SP 500 by 11.3 percent.
If you’re over the skepticism, the question still lingers: How does a leader (or a whole team of leaders, for that matter) become “transparent?” Here’s what I recommend.
First, it always starts with leadership. Once these ideas are clearly understood, leaders should implement them as part of their daily routine every week. After about three months (or shorter), they will achieve noticeable results with their employees.
1. Be accessible to your team.
Be out in front of the line, out in the open, making your rounds, walking your “four corners” and personally sharing plans for the future–communicating important things to your people. Get out of the office as often as you can and pursue connections with your team.
2. Follow through.
If you don’t know the answer to a question or concern, commit that you will get back to your employee by a certain time, and make sure you follow through. Keeping your word on small things demonstrates that they can depend and rely on you. This is important for the relationship because when the big things come down the pipe, they can trust that you’re going to be there–that you’ll continue to do what you say you will. Following through and being your word will solidify your credibility.
3. Give your team the bigger picture.
One way to engage your employees is to give them perspective about what they’re doing. Communicate how their work ties into the bigger picture. Let them know the larger context — not just what they’re doing, but WHY they’re doing it. Transparency in this context is really about your employees saying, “I trust the future.” It gives them confidence about where they’re headed, where the company is headed.
4. Provide concrete goals.
So you’ve communicated the vision for your team. But if your vision, and the strategy behind the vision, is unclear, this is not good. Remember, it’s the ‘why’ behind the cause that motivates employees on an emotional level to go above and beyond. Make it a habit to give your tribe clear goals and expectations by providing the ‘why’– the ideological basis for those goals. When this information is shared weekly with them, they will feel the same drive and passion to accomplish those goals as their leaders do.