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The Power of Transparency


By Daniel Kraft

Despite honest intentions, transparency is rarely easy. It’s one thing to promise it — and another thing entirely to deliver on that promise. And that responsibility gets more difficult with dispersion. As a leader, you’re not only responsible for your own words and actions, but also those of your team.

Why be transparent?

For me, transparency is all about staying sane. The amount of emotional energy it takes to maintain multiple realities, one public and one or even more internal, is draining. Transparency is also about productivity, as it saves you the energy and time you would otherwise spend on elaborate deflections, allowing your team to devote that energy to things that truly benefit the organization.

Prioritizing transparency is the first step toward building credibility. If your actions match your words once, no one will take much notice. If they match over and over again, your people will see that you deliver on your promises. A culture of transparency doesn’t require you to keep everything out in the open, but as former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates once said, things are too often “kept secret because of habit, culture, internal power politics, and a fear of embarrassment or accountability.”

Even if you don’t need people’s trust to do business right now, the day will come when you’ll need a favor. Whether your company goes through a tough financial stretch or you have to make an unpleasant announcement, you want to have a reserve of trust to draw on. Building trust in times of success is much easier than trying to do so in times of unease.

SEO marketing company Moz is a great example of what a transparent culture can accomplish. When the business went through a rough patch and the CEO decided to step aside to deal with his depression, it could have spelled the end for a promising company. Instead, Moz remained open and honest about the challenges it faced, held its values high, and earned the trust of its investors to fund another round to take the company to the next level.

Creating a culture of transparency

We sometimes look up to those companies that adopt transparency and wish we could model those behaviors. But in my talks with those leaders, I’ve learned that creating a culture that values honesty and getting other executive leaders and managers on board doesn’t happen overnight. Follow these tips to create more transparent leadership and get moving in the right direction:

1. Be real. Transparency sometimes means not looking as good as you’d like. Don’t waste energy trying to be something you’re not, even if that means you’re not as appealing as others. Believe me, it’s incredibly painful to host a company meeting and share that you lost some people or your numbers suck. But unless you’re the master of time and space, changing reality isn’t really an option.

2. Say, “I don’t know.” As the leader, you get grilled on every aspect of your company, even ones you know little about. Sometimes, this leads to you guessing or making promises that you will have a hard time trying to meet. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Better yet, if you actually learn the answer and follow up, you can earn a lot of credibility with the people asking.

3. Admit mistakes. You sometimes have to make a bet, looking great if you land a win and looking like a fool if the bet doesn’t pay off. Admitting that something didn’t work and explaining the next steps sets the tone within your organization — if the boss can be wrong, so can everyone else.

4. Actively support your team. Occasionally, customers reach out to me to complain about an employee. Even if that customer’s complaint is valid, you can’t throw your employees under the bus and still get respect. And this goes both ways — a team that has your back is priceless.

5. Engage and communicate. Transparency requires communication. Be visible to people within your company by holding town halls, writing blogs, posting on social networks, and talking openly on topics like strategy, values, organizational changes, and company performance. You might think you already communicate, but ask your teammates if they agree. You might get a different answer.

Transparency doesn’t always come naturally. And for me to write this is almost like addressing my own shortcomings. We’re still working on our own transparency, and when the truth is unpleasant or inconvenient, the temptation to hide is still strong. But the last few years have taught me that building a culture based on transparency helped my company build the strength to handle challenges openly and as a team.

Image credit: Pixabay

Daniel Kraft is the president and CEO of Sitrion. Sitrion provides millions of people with a mobile and socially enabled workplace that’s tightly integrated with SAP, Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365, and Salesforce. Daniel is a public speaker on topics involving employee engagement and productivity and was featured on TEDx.

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