Transparency: Why it Works and How to Foster it

Transparency and trust are two sides of the same coin. Here’s why transparency is vital to leadership and business success.

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by Angela Roberts, CEO, U.S. Money Reserve

The pandemic has permanently changed the workplace. Whether we look at obvious changes to things like remote work policies and health protocols or more subtle changes like those that have shifted business power dynamics and leadership, the advent of the severe and deadly COVID-19 virus has had a wide-reaching impact on how global business is conducted. 

These changes are likely to be permanent as the world continues to navigate its way through the evolving pandemic, new variants, and new challenges posed by the virus. While it’s certainly taken resilience, strength, and stamina to get through the pandemic this far, the changes that have taken place in the workplace aren’t all negative. In fact, many of those shifts have had quite a positive impact on business and leadership. One bright spot in these pandemic days has been the evolution of transparency in leadership that has taken place as business leaders do their best to make the right decisions for their people, their families, and their companies. Here’s why transparency is so vital to continued success, why it works to build teams and keep the faith in tough times, and how you as a leader can foster it in your everyday interactions. 

Why Transparency Is Vital to Continued Business Success and Leadership

According to a study by the American Psychological Association from 2014, only 52% of workers believe their employer is open and up-front with them. That’s a lot of mistrust among employees, and according to a new study by Elements Global Services, an HR technology and services company, the stats are even worse as of 2021. The survey—comprised of 1,000 full-time workers—looked into HR complaints, employee monitoring, and Google search trends and found a growing lack of trust between employees and employers in 2021. According to the survey, 74% of those who work remotely are concerned about their employer monitoring when and how much they work. More than 75% of workers who use a computer are worried about their employer monitoring their communications. Another November 2020 study out of Edelman, a global communications company, showed that as people have begun to return to work, employees don’t believe that their workplaces are safe, don’t believe that their employer knows the right thing to do to keep them safe, and don’t want to return to the office for work. No bones about it: The statistics are dire when it comes to trust between employer and employee getting worse as the pandemic and division over vaccines continues to grow. 

While these statistics are alarming, the data simply underlines the importance of transparency in the workplace. Even before the pandemic, workers were demanding more collaborative environments and more flexible work arrangements. The pandemic has fast-tracked these demands and driven home their value for both employees and leaders, making them even more vital to the success of a business. With demands for these changes soaring, transparency becomes an even more vital part of the rubric of successful leadership. Without transparency from both leadership and employees, there is no way that remote work or returning to the office can work. 

Transparency is at the heart of trust-building, and trust-building is a vital part of everyday business. Your clients trust that you’ll get their project finished on time and to spec, within their budget. Your employees trust that you have managed your financials well enough to pay them on time every pay period. Your suppliers trust that you’ll pay your bills on time and expect you to do so. Business itself is built on the trust that is nurtured and developed through transparency. Without transparency, business would cease to exist. 

How Transparency Builds Great Teams and Helps Employees “Keep the Faith” during Tough Times 

Transparency in leadership means keeping employees in the loop, sharing the good and the bad (while not oversharing), and welcoming honest feedback. No one person on a solid and cohesive team should feel like they are waiting for unpleasant surprises or concerned about wishy-washy behavior from a leader. I’ve always said that great leaders practice what they preach, set clear expectations, and communicate effectively and consistently with every member of their team. That process shouldn’t change during these strange pandemic days, and in fact, as I have written before, leaders need to work even harder to be transparent and open with their teams in the current environment. 

Here’s why: Even though 54% of Americans are currently vaccinated, the new Delta variant of COVID is more aggressive, more contagious, and just as deadly—and that is frightening, especially because children under age 12 still cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine, and they are among the most vulnerable to the Delta variant of the virus. Leaders must do their best to provide a sense of safety to their employees through regular, consistent, clear, honest, and precise communication to help set employees’ minds at ease about returning to work in offices. 

While the protocols and requirements for gathering are rapidly changing as the virus evolves, it’s absolutely vital that leaders remain open and honest about what they do and don’t know at any one time. Whether you’re talking about revamping your cleaning processes or hosting an outdoor, safely-masked-and-distanced celebration at the end of the year, your employees’ lives and the lives of their loved ones depend on just how open, honest, and transparent you are. 

Being open, honest, and transparent not only helps ease fears—but more importantly, it also builds trust. Being transparent shows others that you are vulnerable and willing to admit your vulnerabilities, both publicly and privately, which in turn will help cultivate goodwill among your reports and coworkers. It will also ensure that both your expectations and those of your employees are appropriately set and fulfilled. Being transparent also means offering opportunities for continuous improvement, innovation, and collaboration—all of which translate to continued business growth. 

Finally, transparency during easy times helps foster resilience in tough times. Employees know that they can rely on you to be a transparent leader, even if you don’t know what the right next step might be. As a result, during times like these when fear and misinformation are rampant, employees may feel more at ease following your lead because they know that they can count on you to be transparent throughout the process. 

How to Foster Transparency in the Workplace

You can employ a number of strategies to foster transparency and trust in the workplace. First and foremost, if you are a leader at your company, the most vital thing you can do to promote transparency in your company is demonstrate transparency yourself. Offering a daily example of honest, open, direct, clear, and concise communication can and often does inspire those who report to you to do the same. There’s a reason we often hear the phrase “Lead by example,” and that’s because it works. 

In addition to leading by example, leaders should also implement transparent practices around the company in everything from hiring to career development. Examples of this might include salary transparency when making a new hire or more frequent manager check-ins that are not tied to promotions or pay increases. These kinds of interactions take some of the mystery out of the inner workings of business and can help improve trust and transparency across the entire corporation. 

In addition to this, you can also adopt a mindset of continuous improvement. This means when you give or get feedback about something at work, make good on that feedback and act on it (if it has value, of course.). Actions speak louder than words, and if employees see that you are taking feedback to heart and being transparent about the process, they’ll be more likely to demonstrate the same kind of behavior. 

Finally, and most importantly, when working to foster an environment of transparency, leaders must always be honest—about both the good and the bad things that happen in the business. It’s equally valuable to be honest about revenue being down as it is to report that you’ve had a record year. When your employees see that you are honest, direct, and open about the good and bad in your company, they’re more likely to stick with you through the tough times—and oftentimes more committed to the company in the long run. That can be a tremendous boon when times get tough, and you need to count on your people to pull the company through. 

The Bottom Line on Transparency

Transparency is as vital to business as cash flow: Without it, a company will wither and die. It’s important during these strange pandemic times to maintain total transparency with your employees, your coworkers, and your company as we all continue to figure out a way through this trial. Transparency builds trust, fosters stronger bonds between employees and leaders, helps encourage teamwork, and most of all, builds resiliency. One thing is clear: In times like these, we need all the resilience we can get—and working together to bootstrap ourselves back to a new normal is the only way through. Transparency and trust are two sides of the same coin, and they’re vital to running a successful business in a post-pandemic world. 

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