When we think of big business corporations, the first image that pops into our minds is that of a huge office filled with hundreds of tiny cubicles, each one housing a formals-clad employee typing away furiously at his or her computer. Most entrepreneurs start out with a vision of never turning into such corporate giants, especially when it comes to work culture. Startups prefer an open atmosphere, where hierarchies are horizontal and co-workers are friends.
Openness or transparency is one of the most distinguishing features of a startup. Most of the time, however, one can find that this openness doesn’t go much beyond the design of a startup’s workspace. It remains a buzzword hidden among many others on the startup’s mission statement on the website or only surfaces during meetings that no one is paying attention to. Incorporating a culture of transparency in a company is easier said than done.
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Transparency is not just about being open – it is about having no hidden agendas and about disclosing relevant information in a timely manner.
Companies like Buffer have upheld transparency as one of their core values and go as far as making most, if not all, information – from employee salaries, revenue, investments, equity, profits, even up to their blog content calendar – public or available to all its employees.
“Transparency is the most effective way to build trust,” writes the company’s Co-founder Joel Gascoigne on his blog. “This means trust amongst our team, but also trust from users, customers, potential future customers and the wider public who encounter us in any way. By sharing all our decisions, numbers, success and failures, we are showing our customers and supporters that we are responsible and strive to do the right thing.” But both Joel and his fellow Co-founder, Leo Widrich agree that transparency is not “all rainbows and unicorns”.
According to former Square COO, Keith Rabois, transparency matters because it is the most logical way for an organisation to function. “Ultimately, if you want people to make smart decisions, they need context and all available information. And, certainly, if you want people to make the same decisions that you would make, but in a more scalable way, you have to give them the same information you have,” as stated by First Round Review. Transparency also makes employees and entrepreneurs more accountable as all information is available freely, which means making mistakes can cost them their reputation and the brand’s image.
Now, that we know why it matters to be honest and transparent about your business’s operations to all its stakeholders, let us look at how you can create a culture of openness in your organisation:
Even if you don’t go full throttle and start marking every employee on every e-mail communication that is circulated in the company, make it known that nothing is off topic. Encourage even junior employees to ask questions they think are relevant, and make communication channels open and clear. Every employee, no matter however high a post he or she may hold, must be accessible to every other person in the company. This makes employees confident that they are a valuable part of the organisation and that their ideas matter, too.
Being open about feedback does not mean that you give your managers the right to humiliate his juniors in front of the whole organisation. Some companies conduct anonymous surveys to get open feedback but make it a point to share the results with everyone. Constructive criticism should be encouraged to help employees realise where they need to improve upon and help them grow better.
Most often, the only bad news that employees usually hear about is ‘cost-cutting’. Go a step further and make sure that your team is aware of the problems faced by the company is facing. Do not just tell them you are cutting corners; inform them why you are doing so. This will make them more empathetic towards management decisions and also make them want to align their efforts in a way to accommodate such a disruption.
Transparency is one of the fundamental values that you should strive to build your business on for the simple reason that it will make your employees more invested in your company. Being in the know-how, they will be more motivated, productive, efficient and happy. We don’t really need to explain what happy and motivated employees can do for your business, do we?