Workplace equality is one of the most buzzworthy business phrases of the 21st century, with forward-thinking companies scrambling to introduce concepts such as open work stations, 360-degree feedback sessions, and publicly-listed salaries. Transparency is perhaps the most central component in this philosophy, because how could you claim to have equality in the workplace if information is kept guarded by a group at the top of the pyramid?
Some companies, such as the social media marketing management tool Buffer, have aimed to incorporate relentless transparency within the organization, sharing everything from financial reports to restructuring plans. It’s a radical new world to some, but as we have learned over the past several years at Blank Label, the potential benefits of becoming a more transparent organization should make every leader take stock of just how much information they’re keeping too close to the vest.
Falling victim to information superiority.
The old adage states that information is power, and many executives, and managers obviously think that sharing their information would diminish their position of power within the company. In fact, it doesn’t just stop with the people in charge; I believe it’s a part of human nature that we have to actively seek to overcome.
Before I started Blank Label, I saw entry-level colleagues in the workplace guard information about their position in order to avoid meddling from other parties. Then, when Blank Label began to grow in 2014, I fell victim to the same mentality. Our team was getting bigger and its responsibilities were becoming more complex, yet I wasn’t giving the team members the information they needed to adapt. Our business struggled as I saw my employees making decisions I disagreed with, not realizing at the time it was because I had information they weren’t privy to.
Adapting to transparency.
The following year, I began to realize that something needed to change. Although it didn’t happen overnight, I resolved to open up the company somewhat, and begin sharing information with others that I previously thought was the exclusive province of top-level management. In the beginning, it was mostly the high-level financial data for the company, but since then it has grown to include forecasts, profit and loss statements, presentations at board meetings dealing with strategic concerns, and feedback on the company’s performance from the board members themselves.
The founders of Buffer recommend a similar buildup approach, especially for companies who are unsure of how transparency will work in real-world situations. They suggest you can even begin with details as small as website traffic or signup statistics, in order to build a culture of trust before moving on to the more consequential data.
Employee ownership and empowerment.
Throughout the process of transitioning into transparency, we realized that our people were our most important asset, and that protected information was keeping them from having the tools they needed to do their jobs well. Our efforts at increasing transparency have resulted in our employees feeling a greater sense of ownership in the direction of the company, and it has improved decision-making across all levels and units of the organization.
According to Joel Basgall, CEO and co-founder of Geneca, “People who take ownership (because again, ownership is taken) naturally have the habit of exposing problems because those issues get in the way of their success. They want to overcome problems. So they’ll raise issues, admit short-term failures and ask for help - all because they want to succeed.” Companies with a transparent culture that encourages employee ownership are more likely to position themselves for sustainable growth, and they’ll be better equipped to handle said growth and all the pains and joys that come with it.