Contrary to the opinion shouted by Colonel Jessup in a Few Good Men, most people can and want to handle the truth. It’s no surprise then, that an environment that fosters transparency is the single strongest predictor of employee happiness. Being kept out of the loop sends an unintended (but clear) message that a teammate is not significant enough or not trusted enough to see behind the curtain.
Transparency changes that. It communicates that an individual is valued and deserves to know what’s going on. Here’s how to make your organization more transparent and ten examples to inspire your efforts.
Why is transparency in the workplace important?
Distilled to its essence, transparency in the workplace is about earning your people’s trust by communicating in an open, honest way. When team members feel like their managers or colleagues are people they can count on to tell the full truth, they’re happier and more productive. At Front, we've found that to be true time and time again.
The truth may not always be pretty. Being upfront and honest about the challenges you face, the mistakes you’ve made, and what you’ve learned from those missteps shows you’re committed to transparency — even if that means ending up with a bit of egg on your face. But people respect honesty, not perfection. Your example permits others to follow your lead by building their own open communication channels with others at work. This commitment to workplace transparency is what unlocks the creative, problem-solving abilities innate in every one of your team members.
Best practices for transparent communication
Building a workplace culture that values transparent communication requires hard work and intention. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And transparency won’t permeate your company that quickly either. The results of your efforts will compound over time. Here are four best practice principles that foster transparency in the workplace.
All-hands meetings are a great way to get everyone on the same page at once. These gatherings are the perfect venue to celebrate successes and discuss important company wide-goals or initiatives, unique challenges, or difficult topics.
Trust your team members
Nothing extinguishes the creative spark like micromanagement. Defining roles, setting clear goals, and providing honest, constructive feedback are all important. But once you’ve turned your team loose on a project, don’t be a monkey wrench by over-managing.
Don’t flinch when things get tough
An active rumor mill can sap the life out of a company faster than just about anything else. By addressing difficult situations publicly in an all-hands meeting or through a group email, you’ll nip corrosive chatter in the bud.
Actively encourage questioning
A positive workplace culture rests on knowing that it's okay to ask good questions and expect good answers in return. Holding regular Q&A sessions where employees are encouraged to submit their questions and have them answered publicly goes a long way in fostering transparency in the workplace. When answering questions, always be ready to explain why. Communicating why decisions are made is essential to building trust.
10 examples of transparency you can try with your team
Let’s get practical. Here are ten examples of techniques today’s leaders use to advance a culture of transparency in their companies.
1. Buffer — public knowledge salaries
Unfair differences in compensation can wreak havoc in an organization. Buffer tackled this challenge by publishing the salaries of everyone in the company, from the co-founder and CEO down to those in entry-level positions. Anyone in the company has access to the publicly-shared spreadsheet that contains this information. They’ve also published the formula that’s applied to determine each team member’s total compensation. Access to the salary calculator explains why some people make more than others, heading off potential controversy over differences in compensation.
2. Atlassian — silo-busting, weekly town halls
At Atlassian, transparency has helped to flatten the organization, making it less likely that different parts of the company operate as separate, siloed entities. One way they move toward this goal is by hosting a weekly town hall-style all-hands meeting that includes everyone from both their U.S. and foreign-based teams.
3. Whole Foods — GMO transparency
Creating a workplace culture of transparency can include more than just employees. Whole Foods decided to go fully transparent on an issue their customers are passionate about: GMOs. Whole Foods became the first grocery store to require that all products be non-GMO and to undergo a strict verification process. Whole Foods’ commitment to rigorously vetting the products they sell goes a long way towards building consumer trust.
4. Stripe — open email inboxes
Creating a transparent organization sometimes takes companies into unexpected places. In the case of Stripe, one of those places was the email inbox. Stripe asks all employees to CC every email to various mailing list archives. At 428 and counting, these archives allow anyone in the company to access sent emails by topic. With access to relevant information at their fingertips, Stripe teammates have also achieved significant efficiency gains as a byproduct of this transparency initiative. (And, some teams at Stripe use shared inboxes in Front!)
5. Zappos — open book access for vendors
Zappos chose not to follow the business tradition of keeping vendors in the dark on their internal operations. Instead, the company provides its vendors with access to information not often shared by other retailers. Zappos has an entire department called Zappos Insights dedicated to offering onsite tours of their facilities (in non-pandemic times), focusing on positive company culture, and hosting live training events with Q & A opportunities.
6. Stack Overflow — salary transparency in hiring
At Stack Overflow, salary transparency isn’t just limited to current team members. It’s also used in recruiting. Stack Overflow publishes salary ranges with each job listing. They found that job listings which included a salary range received 75% more clicks than those that didn’t, demonstrating salary transparency’s broad appeal for applicants.
7. Mailchimp — annual reports
8. Asana — power to your people
If you hire top-notch talent, you want to gain access to their full potential. Telling them exactly what to do short circuits the creative process. Asana has found a way around that. They publish detailed notes about what was discussed at their board meetings and upper-level management huddles rather than keeping this information under wraps. This transparency initiative provides employees context around company direction and goals, empowering everyone to engage their talents to move the ball forward.
9. Patagonia — full disclosure with supply chains
It’s not uncommon for companies to be caught off guard by news stories or social media that exposes the bad behavior of their supply chain partners. Not at Patagonia. This company takes it upon itself to ensure no harm is done to the environment or the people making their products. Each product Patagonia produces comes with video documentaries of the supply chain partners used to create the finished piece.
10. Front — weekly email from the C-suite
At the start of each week, Front’s own co-founder and CEO, Mathilde Collin, sends an email to all of her direct reports to share her goals for the week. Sharing her priorities has helped to improve efficiency by keeping everyone informed about top priorities in her mind. In combination with a weekly meeting, this email keeps Front’s team working in tandem on a set of shared goals. She also shares a broader “Roadmap Update” with the team, which includes initiatives from marketing, product, and recruiting from the week prior and the upcoming week. So if anyone in the company wants to learn what’s coming up, they can easily reference it in their inbox.
Can transparency be too much?
The move towards a more transparent company culture doesn’t always produce happy faces and high fives. Knowing how much transparency is too much and the dangers that can accompany the rollout of a transparent company culture is important. Take the example of Away, the luxury travel brand. In the name of transparency, employees weren’t permitted to email each other. Instead, all company communication was to take place on public Slack channels. That level of control led some workers to feel like they were being watched by the nanny-state of upper management. And the excessive level of openness was exploited to intimidate workers.
Just like any tool, workplace transparency can be used for good or for ill. In the right spirit, transparency initiatives can open up workplaces, fostering honest communication at all company levels. It’s the intention behind transparency that makes the difference.
Transparency in the workplace requires effort
Creating a culture of transparency in the workplace isn’t easy. But the dividends paid on your up-front investment of time and intention far outweigh the costs. Transparency is one of the most important indicators of employee satisfaction at work — people value a company culture where mutual trust is a given, where it’s okay to try and fail, and where the contributions of everyone are actively sought and valued.
Learn more about how to make your company more transparent. Check out 11 Company Culture Hacks for Happy Customers and Employees.
Written by Laura MacPherson
Originally Published: 16 February 2021