Transparent leadership. It’s a buzzword we’ve all heard. When done right, it can create highly engaged employees, and we all know how much that matters.
While transparency is vital, I often see it going off the rails in my consulting work for one simple reason: Businesspeople are prone to sharing the wrong information.
I recently coached an executive who was committed to being transparent with his team, but shared all the wrong details and kept the rest to himself. He shared his vision, his concerns, his hopes and his aggravations. But he failed to share the fact-based information that could truly transform his team.
Here’s what I mean by that distinction.
Lead With The Facts
Getting your team excited about the direction you’re all headed in together is key. But in today’s employment climate, you can’t really expect people to feel as emotionally invested in a business that isn’t theirs. On the other hand, when transparency is data-driven and fact-based, amazing things can happen.
Making data-driven decisions means sharing data and reporting the metrics that matter to your organization — the KPIs that drive your company toward its goals, such as marketing goals, sales figures, average value of the sale, and anything that defines “success” for your organization.
After hearing about his solution for data transparency in the workplace, I decided to reach out to Ben Carpel, CEO at Cyfe, about what to share with employees and why. As a former investment professional turned entrepreneur, he understands that data can make or break a business, and why it’s important for everyone on the team to know what’s going on.
“Decisions that are made on raw, fact-based data are almost always best for the company,” says Carpel. “Every team member knows our end goals, has a clear view of the metrics that matter, and knows how we are doing toward moving the needle.”
He adds that transparency “speeds up decision-making, reduces financial and time wastes, and makes us a stronger, more productive and more sustainable organization.”
Good employees crave this kind of data-based information, research shows. According to a BetterWorks survey:
• 64% of employees don’t believe their company’s leadership is being completely transparent when communicating top company goals.
• Of these respondents, 83% say the feedback they’re receiving from managers is neither useful nor frequent.
• 92% say they’d work harder if goals were more transparent to co-workers.
Improve Your Company Culture
For some business leaders, transparency is baked into the company culture. Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, is one of my favorite examples. Although we’ve never met, I’ve been intrigued by Fishkin’s public persona for many years.
“We have differentiated ourselves from others in our sphere through our transparency and open, honest dialogue,” Fishkin once wrote in a blog post.
This spirit of openness includes sharing information about Moz and its team members and products, even when this information is not positive.
Moz is so committed to transparency that Fishkin famously posted his own performance review, along with highly personal information on his own battle with depression, to the public. The company also publicly posts their financials, and Fishkin often shares his contrarian takes on industry trends.
Stop Making Excuses
It’s easy to see why some leaders might avoid transparency, especially at the extreme level of a company like Moz. Being transparent takes guts and a real commitment to authenticity to be able to stand tall and lead when things aren’t going great. Finding the balance that works for your company culture is important.
Carol Leaman, CEO at Axonify, is another leader whom I’ve been keeping tabs on, simply because she truly understands transparency and its impact. In a blog post, she tells readers that employees get the “good, bad and ugly highlights” during the company’s bi-weekly team lunches.
Leaman went on to list the many things she covers at these lunch discussions, including the details of recent business deals, the company’s cash flow situation, and product roadmaps. This way, the entire organization can work together toward common goals, with each person feeling emotionally invested in the role he or she plays in long-term strategies.
Putting It All On The Table
As you create a culture of transparency, the question remains: “How much is too much?”
For Fishkin, this comes down to crystallizing the outcome you want.
“We don’t need to share this information — we do so because we want to, as we believe it improves our company,” Fishkin wrote. “It strengthens our community, giving our readers and subscribers a voice and sense of ownership in the company.”
It also helps to cultivate a healthy sense of accountability toward each other and the general public.
When leadership chooses transparency, relationships grow authentically, people start to promote trust in their leader, and employees start to perform better, reaching new heights. That’s been shown time and again in research and anecdotes.
Transparency comes in many forms, and the best results are data-driven and fact-based. Give your team the insider knowledge they need to do better work. Data-based transparency takes guts, but the payoffs are worth every ounce of effort.