Transparency is the practice of being open and honest with others. This may seem obvious in your marriage, but transparency at work can be much more difficult. Old-school maxims like “business is war” and “loose lips sink ships,” have been long-held traditions in the workplace. Today’s business values transparency, trust, and clear communication without the presence of fear.

What Is Workplace Transparency?

Transparency at work is the idea that freely sharing information will benefit the organization and its people. In each company, transparency may look different. It could mean the CEO sharing company information with everyone or maybe it’s more about individual teammates sharing feedback with each other. For some companies, it’s about the organization sharing information with its customers. No matter what it looks like, some level of transparency is critical for empowering your people to do better work together.

What Destroys Transparency

If any of these sound familiar, you may have a problem with transparency in your office:

  1. Individuals avoid the appearance of failure because of shame.
  2. Allowing unconscious bias to skew hiring, promoting, and performance reviews.
  3. Giving your people expectations that lack vision and ambition
  4. Putting people in project management roles without any training.
  5. Expecting your team to constantly move faster and do more.
  6. Using so many software options that the work becomes fragmented across platforms.
  7. On the other hand, if you provide tools that only a handful of people use, it creates a fragmented team that can’t foster transparency.
  8. No one quite know who oversees what.
  9. Having dueling data sources that create conflict on where the real “numbers” are coming from.
  10. Company leaders are indifferent on visibility and transparency.

How to Increase Transparency at work

If you’re ready to make a transition to a more transparent, and open workplace. Here are a few ideas to get you started increasing transparency within your people:

1. Lead by Example 

We’re humans. We’re adults. But above all else, we’re imperfect. If you want your people to value transparency, you must first model what that looks like. Being an example is the epitome of leadership. Here are a few ways you can show transparency by example.

  • Don’t have the answer in every situation and to every question, admit when you need time to research something or look it up.
  • Don’t deliver a half-truth. Admit that you don’t know the answer and circle back to that later.
  • If you make a bad decision, own it – don’t sweat it. Be honest and deliver the news honestly.
  • Give context. When a decision is made, explain the context, rationale, or reasons for the change.

2. Use Transparency in Hiring

Your company is only as transparent as your people, so make sure you hire people who understand the value you put on transparency. Look for those who prioritize openness and authenticity. Avoid people who are keen on keeping secrets or hiding the truth. This means thoroughly vetting their references and past work experience to ensure they are honest from the very beginning. You want to ensure the people you bring into your circle are trustworthy and genuine and bring those characteristics to your team.

3. Separate Reviews from Raises 

Traditionally, a performance review is also tied to a possible promotion or salary increase. This connection is a breeding ground for half-truths, fudged numbers, and sugar-coated results. Instead, provide shorter and more frequent evaluations that can be honest without being too loaded.  This allows managers and employees to remain current rather than judging an entire year in one agonizingly long process. Include peer evaluations for managers and team reviews for members to get ground level insight on their performance in a less intimidating way.

4. Trust Your People

Sometimes this is easier said than done – but if you’ve done your job right and hired the right people, you must follow up with trust. This requires clearly defined roles, goals, and constructive feedback when necessary. After you’ve covered your bases it’s time to turn the project over to your team and stop micromanaging. It is impossible to foster an environment of transparency when you’re lurking over their shoulder at every turn. Trust them and allow them to trust you as well.

5. Provide Avenues for Communication.

There needs to be some type of resource for your people to share their thoughts and concerns. As the leader, you are responsible to give them this opportunity. Perhaps it’s a simple check-in email, or a chat software for casual conversations. It could be a formal office-hour notice for your team to drop in and chat for a few minutes, maybe it’s a weekly one-on-one lunch. Your people should have access to communicate with you in an informal, non-threatening environment.

How much is too much? 

Just like any tool, transparency can be used for good or for evil. Transparency doesn’t mean you have to tell every person in every department everything that is going on. The last thing you want is to have people who feel like their every move may be published for the entire company to see.

Transparency initiatives is meant to open the workplaces and fostering honest communication. When you keep this intention in mind, it’s easier to understand how much is too much. If you’re ready to take your transparency to the next level, consider the transparency example of these bold industry leaders:

  1. Buffer publishes the salaries of everyone in the company, from the co-founder and CEO down to entry-level positions in a publicly shared spreadsheet.
  2. Atlassian hosts a weekly town hall meeting with everyone from both their U.S. and foreign-based teams.
  3. Whole Foods became the first grocery store to require that all products be non-GMO and to undergo a strict verification process.
  4. Stripe asks all employees to CC every email to various mailing list archives that allow anyone in the company to access sent emails by topic.
  5. Asana publishes detailed notes about what was discussed at their board meetings and upper-level management huddles.
  6. Patagonia creates video documentaries of the supply chain partners used to create each product.
  7. The co-founder and CEO of Front sends an email to all her direct reports to share her goals and priorities for the week.

Creating a culture of transparency in the workplace isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. However, it is consistently one of the most important indicators of employee satisfaction and loyalty. People value a company culture where is it OK to try and fail, where mutual trust is a given and received and where everyone is an active contributor. Ultimately, this is the result of true transparency.