Creating A Culture Of Transparency In The Workplace — Leadership Lessons

We all know that organizational culture plays a pivotal role in building a sustainable business. And recently, successful organizations have shown that one critical ingredient, Workplace Transparency, is a significant influencer in developing a favorable organizational culture.

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The benefits of transparency at all levels inside the organization —

  • A transparent workplace nourishes a fearless environment, encouraging employees to be open about their ideas, criticisms, achievements, and mistakes. They can be themselves instead of being somebody else. Happy employees mean satisfied customers.

Transparency forces people to exhibit only a single identity inside/outside the organization.

How to build a transparent workplace?

1.0 PEOPLE-CENTRIC LEADERSHIP

In a workplace environment, everything starts with the leader.

Studies show that an organization’s long-term success is because of the great people working within the company. Without them, there’s no business. Therefore, for building a transparent culture, a company needs a leader whose priority is to ensure the welfare of his/her people. He/she has to think from their shoes.

The leader has to inspire people to become a better version of themselves, and in turn, they could motivate more people.

When Brad Smith took over as CEO of Intuit, Bill Campbell told him that he would go to bed every night thinking about those eight thousand souls who work for him. What are they thinking and feeling? How can I make them the best they can be? How to create an environment where an employee can get more out of himself/herself.

People-Centric Leadership is not about himself or herself but his or her people.

1.1 MUTUAL RESPECT

The first and foremost requirement to be a people-centric leader is to respect everyone. From the leader, it should spread to others.

Every leader and his employees should believe that people want to do a great job, irrespective of job titles & hierarchies. They should also firmly accept that every other individual in the organization is inherently valuable. So, everyone deserves respect.

How the leader respects and values people working in the lower-level jobs, defines the expanse of Culture of Respect inside an organization.

1.2 THE FIVE CRITICAL ACTS OF PEOPLE-CENTRIC LEADERS

a) A people-centric leader should love to spend time with his/her people, observe & learn about them and live like them. They should appear as one of the followers.

b) Listen — The leader has to spend more time listening to his/her people. By listening and observing employees, a leader can understand the problems/challenges faced by the people. He/she can learn about the informal organizational structure, the attitudes, the process variations, the cultural obstacles, and the bureaucracy. The more time a leader spends observing his employees, the closer he/she could think from their shoes.

c) The leader has to think about every decision from an employee’s perspective. Bill Campbell forced managers to ask themselves before making a decision, “Think how it would affect employees? Is it consistent with the department’s mission to “maximize the opportunities for an employee to grow and achieve his/her goals”?.”

d) Be a Coach — A necessary step for a leader in building a transparent culture is to relinquish control. He/she has to become a facilitator and allow employees to take the reins in running the company. In Bill Campbell’s words, it means that a leader has to act as a sports team coach. He/she has to be an assessor, friend, facilitator, chauffeur, demonstrator, advisor, supporter, fact finder, motivator, counselor, and fountain of all knowledge. Like a coach, the leader has to let the employees decide the team, roles, strategy, play, and on-field decisions. His/her job is to host the gathering, help in people’s interaction/engagement among themselves, smooth out any visible tensions, and nudge them to make suitable decisions around a shared common vision and set of goals.

e) Share Everything — The leader has to share all the business information with every employee — purchases, stocks, revenues, profits, inventory, plans, strategies, decisions, and other essential data. He/she should also share what he/she feels about an individual. It would encourage others to do the same.

The more comprehensive the information available in the community pool, the better the knowledge about the constraints, opportunities, personalities, and the more valuable the ideas and relationships.

Note: There will be some specific information that could harm your business or client business. Such information in the wrong hands could be dangerous. Discretion is needed in sharing information.

2.0 BUILD RELATIONSHIPS AND CARE PERSONALLY AT WORKPLACE

Transparency necessitates that a leader has to give honest feedback about colleagues. Unless the employee believes that the leader cares for him/her, he/she will not value the opinion. He/she will become defensive.

The solution — Care for your employees.

How we react to feedback from our loved ones in the family is different from acquaintances or office colleagues. We value our loved one’s opinions because we know that they care for us.

2.1 CARING PERSONALLY

To show that a leader cares for his people, he/she needs to spend time with his/her employees and develop a deeper understanding. He/she has to project an authentic self-image. Slowly, he/she can establish a trusting relationship with each person who reports directly to him/her. Strong relationships help a leader to give guidance/feedback to his employees without worrying about negative repercussions. Relevant, useful guidance strengthens the connections. And, the flywheel effect happens.

How to care personally?

Kim Scott shares some preliminary tips —

  • A leader should realize that those working under him/her are all people with lives and aspirations that extend beyond those related to our shared work. Every one of his/her employees should believe the same.

SOCIALIZING AT WORKPLACE —Another factor that shows caring is through Social Gatherings.

A right environment that encourages employees to socialize with coworkers strengthens the quality of workplace relationships. Strong relationships bolster transparency at the workplace. Studies also show that socialization has improved collaboration, communication, and candidness among the employees, resulting in higher productivity. It also prevents mistrust and unhealthy competition among people. It’s beneficial both to the company and the employee.

When and where to socialize?

Kim Scott writes, “Some companies put a lot of effort into bringing employees together outside of the office. While retreats and parties can be productive if people on your team really want them, it is best to remember that mostly you get to know people you work with on the job, every day, as an integrated part of the work rhythm, not at the annual holiday party. Spending time with people from work in a more relaxed setting, without the pressure of work deadlines, can be a good way to build relationships. Meeting each other’s families, walking together, picnics — When management introduces these events, it would feel both obligatory and forced. You are already spending a lot of hours every day with your colleagues and direct reports. Use that time to build relationships.”

How to encourage socialization?

Example — A few tips from Bridgewater Associates —

  • The company has the policy to pay for half of practically any activities that people want to do together.

3.0 THE CULTURE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY

To strengthen the transparency culture, employees should feel safe to open up and share his/her opinions, ideas, and knowledge freely with other people without fearing any repercussions or punishments, or humiliations. It means that the whole workplace environment should be a psychologically safer place for employees.

How to develop a psychologically safer place?

Some of the fundamental requirements —

  • As a leader, don’t let people ridicule or laugh at or punish or ignore somebody for their actions and ideas in the workplace meetings/environment. In meetings, people have to focus only on the problem/idea and not on the abilities or personalities. Instead of saying that he/she is wrong, talk about the wrong things in the solution.

3.1 PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY — LEADER AS PARTNER

There’s a famous saying — Leadership is not what you do to people. It’s what you do with the people. The most successful leaders are the ones who partner with their staff.

Kim Scott says that a leader should be a partner, not an absentee manager or a micromanager to his/her staff. When you consider people equal — when there’s no hierarchy or special weightage given to one person’s viewpoint over another’s — people become fearless. They will find it easy to share their ideas, opinions, and thoughts. Studies reveal that employees working under leaders who displayed partnership behaviors have shown higher performance levels. They also felt most positive and confident about the future of the company.

Treat your employees as your partners.

LISTEN — Being a partner means that you should listen to your employees. Instead of sharing your idea, hear their perspectives. A leader should create a culture where employees will love to listen to each other. The more people listen, the more empathic they become. Thinking from someone’s shoes helps a person to understand other’s behavior. It will lead to a safer environment for sharing your views.

AUTONOMY — Intelligent, smart people who like questioning the status quo do not wish to work at a place where they have tight controls.

Blossom Yen-Ju Lin, Yung-Kai Lin, Cheng-Chieh Lin, and Tien-Tse Lin writes in their article, “Job autonomy can be defined as ‘a practice, or set of practices involving the delegation of the responsibility down the hierarchy so as to give employees increased decision-making authority in respect to the execution of their primary work tasks.” They also add that empirical studies have shown that job autonomy is positively related to job involvement, satisfaction, general health and well-being and employees’ motivational and meta-cognitive learning processes.

The leaders need to provide sufficient autonomy so that the employees could think that they are valued. The employees should feel that they have plenty of freedom to use their talents. The leader should also allow unlimited access to information, support, resources, and growth opportunities that directly affect employees’ autonomy. Granting autonomy is a way to show employees are considered partners. It is a critical step in disseminating transparency culture across the organization.

DECISION MAKING — To create a psychologically safer environment and deepen the transparency culture, the leader has to let others make the decisions. Involve the team in the decision-making. It’s not about who makes the decision. It’s about arriving at the right answer/solution. Push the decision to the people who are closer to the facts. A leader has to function as a facilitator.

Allowing employees to make decisions improves their abilities and also expands their strengths, experiences, and expertise. It also enhances the trust between the leader and the members. Moreover, asking people to participate in decision-making showed that the leader trusts and values their opinion, which, in turn, builds employee loyalty. Employees became confident. Confidence is a critical element in building a transparent culture. You want people to raise a dissenting voice against ideas.

Bill Campbell says, “When the leader was discussing a decision with the team, he/she should always have to be the last person to speak. It is to avoid a leader’s opinions, decisions biasing decision-making. It also robs the team of the chance to come together. Getting to the right answer is important, but having the whole team get it is just as important. The team’s ability also improves.”

3.2 PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY — QUESTIONING CULTURE

Workplace transparency demands people to practice open-mindedness.

  • Open-mindedness helps a person to be receptive to a wide variety of ideas, arguments, and information. He/she will become a good listener. By listening, a person will begin to consider other’s perspectives and ideas.

A leader also has to create an environment where every member can practice open-mindedness. One of the tools is encouraging employees to ask questions. Asking questions and listening will help an employee understand the reasons behind another person’s thoughts and actions.

  • Questioning culture will stimulate every employee, irrespective of his/her hierarchy/job title, to challenge thoughts, traditions, decisions inside the organization without fear — A necessary condition for establishing a culture of transparency.

Ted Thomas writes, “A questioning culture is determined by the type of questions the leader asks and by the freedom with which their subordinates can ask questions to their leaders.”

Questioning improves curiosity — Curiosity leads to knowledge — Knowledge leads to broadening of mind —It improves confidence levels.

Open-mindedness shoots up transparency inside an organization.

3.3 PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY — DON’T CONDEMN FAILURES

While growing a business, failures are inevitable inside the organization. So, a leader has to help people learn from their failures and leverage them. He/she has to guide them to find ways to prevent them in the future.

If a leader punishes a person for his/her failure, then it would encourage other employees to hide their setbacks. It would lead to the proliferation of dishonest culture and further paralyze the ability of employees to learn from failures and grow.

So, a leader has to create an environment where an individual would be happy to acknowledge his/her failures frankly and openly. It would encourage other employees to take risks. In that way, innovation would explode inside the organization.

3.4 PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY — SHARING BAD NEWS IS NOT A PROBLEM

Robert J Bies writes, “The empirical evidence suggests that bad events have more enduring and more intense consequences than good events.”

Robert also adds —

  • Bad events wear off more slowly than good events,

Fortunately, the above information also presents us with an opportunity to create a transparency culture with minimal effort. How a leader reacts to bad events/news than to a good event can have profound implications in building a transparent culture. It would set the behavior pattern and confidence levels for his/her employees.

Encourage the sharing of both good news and bad news equally.

4.0 CRITICIZING PEOPLE

For the transparent culture to have a deep foothold, the people should give honest feedback about others and love to receive criticisms. Kim Scott writes that we need to be tough on each other, so we could all be as great as we could be. He also adds that the more caring we gave each other, the tougher we could be on each other.

It’s not easy to be sharing negative opinions. Society has conditioned us to avoid saying what we think — we want to avoid conflicts/embarrassment. However, in the workplace, it could be dangerous. By avoiding disputes, one avoids resolving differences. Studies show that larger conflicts in the workplace were once minor ones that people ignored to maintain peace. If we care for people, we would point out their mistakes and suggest some solutions.

We might have encountered many instances where people got upset and defensive when we gave them honest feedback. However, studies show that when people trust a leader and believe that he/she cares about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on his/her praise and criticism.

How to build a culture where people will not hesitate to give criticism? And, also happy to receive one?

As usual, it starts with the leader.

Start By Getting Criticism — To encourage others to give honest opinions or criticism, the leader should invite others to provide feedback about himself/herself. He/she should patiently listen to the comments and show his commitment to fixing those mistakes. It would encourage others to give honest feedback and accept criticisms. When the leader receives criticism, he could understand how others would feel when he/she criticizes them. It would help him to tweak the way to criticize people.

Asking for criticism is a great way to build trust and strengthen your relationships.

Some tips to be considered before criticizing people —

MUTUAL PURPOSE -The first thing before giving feedback on an idea to anyone is to step back and think about Mutual Purpose. Patterson writes that to succeed in criticisms, we must care about the interests of others — not just our own.

He adds, “Before you begin criticizing, examine your motives. Ask yourself the following questions.”

  • What do I want for myself?

It would help you see the idea/problem from another person’s perspective. It would change your tone of criticism.

HELPFUL CRITICISM -Ideally, whatever criticism we give should be useful/helpful to the other person. The best thing is to provide an alternate solution, if possible. And, one more thing, instead of saying the whole thing as wrong, point out only specifics.

COMMUNICATION — Communication is the key to any relationship. It is necessary to communicate clearly enough so that there’s no room for misinterpretation. Communicate in a humble way.

References: Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, Principles by Ray Dalio, Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, Radical Candor by Kim Scott, Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle, Article by Lauren Landry in Harvard Business School Online, Creativity, Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull, Article on Questioning Culture by Ted Thomas and James Thomas, Creativity, Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at mmshah8@gmail.com. or https://www.shahmohammed.com