Transparency and Culture

How Transparency
Enables Great Cultures…

We’ve been fortunate to be named a best place to work in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for many years now. I have been asked many times what makes TiER1 a great place to work. I’ve thought about the question a lot and the truth is I don’t have a great answer. Some will point to things like a casual atmosphere, flexibility, and the frequent availability of pizza and beer in the office. While I’m a fan of those things, I don’t think they have much to do with it. Ultimately I think it comes down to a few core things. One of the most important, I believe, is our commitment to transparency.

Why is transparency so important?

It starts with trust. The foundation of a great culture—be it a company, non-profit, school, sports team, church or any other organization—is trust. Trust is built on one’s belief in others.

“The foundation of a great culture—be it a company, non-profit, school, sports team, church or any other organization—is trust.”

Trust takes time. It takes mutual commitment. It takes sharing of common values. And it takes the development of an authentic relationship. Inside an organization, there’s an unusual dynamic because you are trying to create trust with the organization itself. Of course organizations are inanimate so leadership and management form the proxy for the organization. Individuals who join an organization need to assess if they trust—and align on values—with those people they believe comprise leadership and management. We all bring our past experiences to whether or not we trust. And many people have deeply jaded and broken experiences that cause trust to be slow and difficult. But an organization cannot be effective without it. So where to start? That’s where transparency comes in.

One of the first things an organization needs to do to develop trust is be transparent. Real transparency requires a commitment to sharing everything; but not because people care about all of it—often they don’t—but because it sends a message that there is nothing to hide. And that we trust you implicitly, without hesitation, and believe that it’s important to our success and to your success that you be aware of what is going on. The more limitations you begin to place on transparency, the more you allow cynicism and distrust to grow, even if it’s unwarranted.

Some principles for creating transparency that can be helpful:

  • No news is the worst news. If you don’t know the answers or the specific direction, say so. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking they are better off saying nothing until everything is definite. If you share where you are, the timeline, and dynamics for sorting out the answers, on the whole people will understand.
  • Skeptics will be skeptical. Focus on those who authentically believe in the organization, its mission, and its purpose. If you are truly being honest and open, over time, it will be difficult for skeptics to convince others of the opposite.
  • Have a communication strategy. There are multiple audiences in your organization, multiple media, various time constraints, multiple types of information, etc. Organize it into a plan where information is communicated and disseminated in an intentional way. One tool we have for doing such planning that is free for others to use is xMap.
  • Repeat the message in multiple mediums. There is a lot of noise in organizations. Sometimes trying to share everything can feel like it creates more noise. But finding multiple mediums to push—and allow for the pull—of information helps reinforce key messages and provides an appropriate avenue for each piece of information.
  • Bring things out in the open. When there is an inkling of an issue, buzz about something in the breakroom, a perceived tension that starts to bubble up, bring it out in the open and deal with it directly. Not defensively, but directly. Help people understand that it’s OK to talk about the negative things people might have issues with, but it’s only OK to talk about those in the open and with people engaged who can address it. That doesn’t mean you have to react and take action on everything, but you do need to process it openly for all to see.
  • Transparency is a two-way street. Finally, it’s important to reinforce the notion that transparency works both ways. If the organization is committed to trusting individuals with all it knows and has, as individuals we have a responsibility to share our views and reactions, constructively and openly with the right people. Forming beliefs but then not sharing them with the right people is irresponsible and will damage trust across the system.

A more transparent environment is a healthier environment. It requires commitment by everyone, but it’s worth the effort.

A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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