Why is transparency so important for executives?

Transparency in the workplace has been linked to a number of positive trends, including higher rates of employee retention, increased worker productivity and an uptick in corporate loyalty among staff members.

In a 2012 piece for Forbes, Glenn Llopis outlined several ways transparency can benefit a firm, including :

  • more efficient problem-solving as a result of laying all cards on the table from the outset
  • easier team-building through the open acknowledgement of groups’ strengths and weaknesses
  • authentic interpersonal relationship growth between members of the organization
  • greater trust and respect for company leaders as a result of executives presenting themselves in a more human light

The drawbacks of opacity

Ultimately, the four elements outlined above combine to result in higher performance levels. But what of leaders who are unwilling to cultivate transparency?

“Unfortunately, the lack of transparency that still exists among leaders in the workplace can potentially put one of these powerful factors at risk – which leads to less optimal levels of performance,” Llopis wrote. “The irony is that in the end, it’s the leader that loses when performance wanes.”

If the perks of establishing more transparent company-wide operations are obvious, why do so many executives continue to balk at the idea?

“The reason most leaders are not transparent is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power, leverage and gravitas,” Llopis opined. “This is the problem with most leaders – they are not aware of the reality that exists around them. People want to relate to … leaders. People want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems and/or how they have overcome personal hardships.”

Of course, this state of affairs was not always the case, but all that has changed in an era when it’s de rigueur for people to publish their innermost thoughts and feelings online for the whole world to see via tweets, Facebook statuses, blog posts and the like. In the context of the digital age, it’s far less acceptable for firms to adhere to the traditional model of C-suite privacy. Executives should avoid being cloistered in the boardroom, routinely discussing matters to which the rest of the organization may never be privy and making decisions without soliciting any input from the workforce.

“Keeping things secretive makes employees less trusting, and less trusting employees are less likely to stick around,” explained Forbes contributor Ilya Pozin in a separate article for the news source.

Easier said than done

Even if executives are on board with the idea that establishing transparency will improve the efficiency of corporate operations, bolster employee satisfaction and deliver other benefits, the process of making a company more transparent is easier said than done. As outlined by Reliable Plant, Quint Studer, author of “Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability,” offered seven tips for leaders unsure where to start:

1) Make sure senior leadership is aligned, meaning everyone is on the same page regarding the company’s view of the external environment, the definition of corporate success and the goals and plans of the organization.

“If one senior leader is out of sync with the others, then everyone under her is going to be out of sync,” Studer pointed out.

2) Address differences in perception between tiers of leadership, as members of the C-suite often see things differently than mid-level managers. Studer suggested a range of tactics to narrow this gap, including supervisory sessions, regular meetings and email alerts.

3) Help people understand the financial impact of decisions such as upgrading equipment, onboarding more workers and offering promotions by encouraging them to “think like the CFO.”

4) Communicate everything workers need to know “clearly, succinctly and often.” Unless there’s a structured system in place to pass this along, important information will likely fall through the cracks.

5) Make sure managers know what to say when put on the spot by those working underneath them.

“Anticipating tough questions, formulating the right keywords and sharing them with leaders at all levels allows everyone to answer them consistently,” Studer noted.

A lack of preparation can result in mid-level managers blaming those above them or offering inaccurate explanations, both of which can cause discord within an organization.

6) Share news with the workforce – even if it’s bad – rather than attempting to keep it quiet. In the absence of tangible information, rumors and rumblings can spread anxiety and uncertainty among the employee base.

7) Breaking news to workers is a start, but companies also need to provide regular updates as soon as they’re available to keep employees in the loop. Don’t just focus on bad news – spread good tidings too.

Companies that are used to more opaque operations face a steep learning curve when it comes to establishing transparency, but once they achieve this, they stand to benefit handsomely.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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