How transparent is your organization?
Entrepreneur contributor Andre Lavoie identifies four key reasons to embrace transparency in the workplace: better workplace relationships, better alignment with organizational goals, better internal problem-solving, and better employee engagements. Each has — or can have — demonstrable bottom-line benefits.
Knowing intuitively or otherwise that your workplace needs to be more transparent and actually implementing transparent processes are two very different things. If you’re serious about making a change, assess whether any (or all) of these transparency-boosting tactics fit well with your organization’s vision, culture, and processes.
Be Upfront About Your Strategic Vision
When your team knows where it’s going, it’s more likely to row in unison.
Your organization probably uses a strategic planning or visioning process such as VMOSA. Rather than keep the results of this process under wraps, sequestered in your C-suite, share them with your rank-and-file. Better yet, post them on the employees-only section of your company website and in your employee handbook, where your entire team can refer to them as needed.
Roll out the results of each subsequent re-visioning as soon as they’re in final form.
Lay Out Time-Defined Goals
Be just as transparent with organization- and team-level goals. The case for sharing organization-level goals universally is self-evident. Unless there’s a compelling reason to maintain need-to-know secrecy within specific teams, your entire workforce should have access to team-level goals as well.
Better cross-team goal awareness helps rank-and-file, employees see how and where their work complements’ adjacent teams while reducing duplicative effort and facilitating prioritization.
Use an Enterprise Collaboration Suite
Deploy an enterprise collaboration suite that enables visioning, goal-setting, and performance management at the organizational and team level. Redwood City-based BetterWorks, for example, offers suites that facilitate project management, goal-setting and software alignment, real-time peer and 360 feedback, intra-team collaboration, periodic performance reviews, and more.
Create New Avenues for Peer Feedback
If you’re using an enterprise collaboration suite, you already have robust top-down feedback avenues at your disposal. Consider adding complementary channels that facilitate lateral and bottom-up feedback as well, or adapting your enterprise collaboration suite to support these types of feedback.
Peer feedback is just as valuable in the aggregate as supervisor feedback, if not more so, because peers generally have more direct contact than reports and their subordinates. Bottom-up feedback takes some getting used to, but it’s potentially transformative for open-minded organizations (and bosses).
Open Up Your Intra-Team Accountability Structure
Every member of every team under your roof should know which of their teammates is accountable for what, with no gaps in visibility or ambiguity around definitions. The net effect is comparable to that which follows cross-organizational team-level goal-sharing: less duplication of effort, better prioritization, tighter strategic, and tactical alignment.
Provide Granular Visibility Into Company Performance
Periodically provide your employees with reports on company performance. Disseminate this information electronically, then hold an all-hands meeting to dive into the results — just as you do with your shareholders and board. (If you have multiple locations, hold a call-in or video conference.)
Invite not just those directly accountable for the specific numbers and objectives you’ll be discussing, but rank-and-file team members too — including production employees. If they’re good enough to be on your team, they’re smart enough to hear what you have to say.
These reports should openly discuss bottom-line financial performance and non-financial performance networks relative to quarterly, annual, and multi-year goals. They should also discuss accountability and next steps: what the organization, as a whole, can do better in the coming period. Your management team can of course modify these takeaways for individual employees using established feedback and performance management channels.
Share Non-Proprietary Company Data Outside Your Team
If your company is privately held, it’s not legally required to share much with the general public — certainly not sensitive data like revenue, net income, or production figures.
That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t share such information, though. Countless organizations use favorable performance metrics for marketing purposes, often to great effect. Whether you choose to do so or not, consider including non-proprietary numeric detail in corporate directory listings and social media profiles. Sure, you’ll give observers a baseline against which to judge future results, but the knowledge that so many are watching might just be the incentive you need to over-perform.
Celebrate Company Culture
Your company’s culture is its identity. Wear it proudly, or change it.
If you haven’t already done so, define your company’s values. Display them publicly — your corporate website works fine. Make sure those with whom you do business know where you stand and what you stand for.
Internally, apply your company’s stated values to its formal policies and processes. Relate specific regulations to specific values — for instance, “integrity” as value naturally begets an “honesty-first” policy. Manage out employees who can’t or won’t abide by these policies. No matter how good they are at their jobs, your organization is stronger without them.
Toward a More Transparent Future
Radical transparency is a hot topic these days.
Radical transparency “describe[s] actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and data,” according to Wikipedia, as good a source as any for definitions of this nature. “Its usage was originally understood as an approach or act that uses abundant networked information to access previously confidential organizational process or outcome data.”
We’ve highlighted some of the bottom-line benefits of increased transparency above. We’ve also explored some of the potential limits to transparency, and the potential downsides of overdoing it. The next question, then, is: how much is too much transparency?
Harvard Business Review contributor Francesca Gino argues that radical transparency is a net positive for businesses — provided it’s done correctly. Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, who many credit with popularizing both the term and its application in the workplace, argues that radical transparency is directly responsible for his firm’s success. But the clearest-cut benefits, by Dalio’s own admission, center on just one aspect of transparency: two-way feedback between subordinates and managers. Dalio knows that applying the same standard to his firm’s books, or the “secret sauce” processes that turned his scrappy operation into the world’s largest hedge fund, could backfire.
As you work to improve your operational transparency, you’ll need to find that same balance. Don’t be surprised if it falls short of Dalio’s “radical” standard.