3 Ways to Become a More Transparent Leader

Posted by Adam Hoffarber on 3/9/20 2:01 PM
Adam Hoffarber
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transparent leadership

How Transparency Earns Employee Trust

In a recent Glassdoor survey, Gireesh Sonnad, founder and CEO of Silverline, the sales and technology consulting company, earned an enviable 100% CEO approval rating from his employees. When asked by Glassdoor what he does to make Silverline such a consistently great place to work, he talked a great deal about transparency. He pointed specifically to a systems investment that allows the organization to share goals – and progress toward goals – company wide. “We have leveraged the Salesforce Platform to create a tool that allows our team to set individual and department goals, along with objectives for each, then measure and report on their results on a regular basis.”

Impressive, right? Everyone, from CEO to entry-level newbie can contribute to – and track – the organization’s goals and successes. That’s transparency.

But it’s not exactly break-through… until we consider what he said next. “However, not all goals are company centered; we encourage employees to also set personal goals to maintain their health and wellness. Goals can be collaborative and employees are encouraged to push themselves above general expectations.”

Consider that for a long moment. Consider the levels of transparency you’d need to foster – not just between senior management and workforce, but between employees.

That’s not just transparency. That’s trust.

Let’s be honest, every employee and job hunter has always hoped for a workplace where we can trust we’ll be treated honestly, openly, fairly and supportively. We don’t just want straight answers. We want to feel seen, cared about, and valued as whole people. But today’s job seekers aren’t just hoping for an employer who is transparent and trustworthy.

They’re expecting nothing less. And therein lies your challenge. According to several recent studies, including one cited in the Harvard Business Review, fewer than half of workers trust their employers.

Ouch… or, Opportunity.

Being the leader who earns trust by demonstrating transparency doesn’t have to be that hard, if you commit to it. And the payoff is huge. Transparency of organizational goals and activities leads to greater alignment between organizational and individual goals and activities. Transparency of recognition, appreciation and support further drives greater collaboration and, as a result, stronger, more positive work relationships. So, how can you build greater transparency and trust in your company? You can start with these 3 steps.

1. Stop Spinning and Start Sharing the Truth

Some senior managers cannot seem to let go of the belief that star employees bail at the first sign of trouble. They’re wrong. You know who bails on a troubled company? Top performers who feel lied to, misled or powerless to understand what’s really going on. Great leaders know that. And they know that, in troubled times, it’s possible to rally the troops and press forward – but only if the troops believe in their leader and their mission.

You can’t rally people who don’t trust you.

Your employees aren’t blind to what’s happening around them. They’ll notice things. They’ll see the signs. And they’ll have legitimate questions. How do you communicate company performance, marketplace realities, future opportunities and threats – and possible hard times? If all you’re willing to share with people is a pasted-on smile and an “everything’s great!” message, they’ll look elsewhere for information, rely on gossip, and pull away from your leadership. This is especially true during layoffs. No matter how painful the knowledge of impending layoffs may be to you, personally, rest assured that rumors and unconfirmed worries and suspicions of layoffs are far more painful for everybody else. Here, your commitment to transparency will be tested, to be sure. But clearly telling the truth and emphasizing your commitment to helping those are let go is your surest way of ensuring the trust and loyalty of those you need to keep.

2. Hire Transparent People

You can’t create a trusting, transparent environment if you’re the only one putting it all out there. But finding such people is a lot trickier than it sounds. How do you sift through a field of candidates and figure who really operates transparently and who is just making good use of a current buzzword on their resume? You can start by comparing what you see on the job application and resume to what you find on social media. From there, use behavioral interview questions, and interview questions that test communication skills, such as tell me about a time when you’ve had to influence team members to get on board with a challenging project.” If your candidate boasts about over-playing the positives and hiding the negatives, you are not talking to someone who leads transparently.

If you’re really serious about placing truly trustworthy and transparent leaders in key positions, you should strongly consider bringing in an executive recruiter. We’re not only skilled at sizing up a person’s core competencies, we’re deeply dialed into multiple professional networks. Within these networks, trustworthy people are known and highly respected – and frequently referred.

3. Build Processes and Infrastructure to Drive Transparency

Whether or not you’re inclined – or financially able – to invest in the kind of platform Silverline now employs is not the point. What matters is stating your commitment, eliminating processes or rules that get in the way of open, clear communication—and replacing them with stated expectations of transparency and company-wide systems that support it. Start simple. Deliver weekly communications that reiterate company goals and values, share updates on performance, successes and challenges, and thank people for their contributions, including the specifics of how they’ve contributed. These things build trust. And with that trust, you’re better positioned to share tougher news during times of substantial challenge and count on those team members to roll up their sleeves and work through that challenge alongside you.

Lastly, embrace social media. You really can’t afford not to any more. Get your values out there, in the world, in your own words, where desirable talent can find them when researching future employers. Use these platforms to share news and recognize employees. And encourage all of your employees to do the same, in their own words, without fear of being micromanaged or corrected.

If “going transparent” sounds hard, think of it this way: do it and you’ll have people coming to work happy, doing their work productively, and willing to stand by you during good times and bad. Be that leader and, in the battle to recruit and keep top talent, guess who wins: you do.



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