Brinker International, the restaurant group that includes brands such as Chili’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, It’s Just Wings, and more, had a transparency issue. Employees weren’t clear on the company’s overall mission, purpose, values, or goals. This lack of transparency led to misalignment on the company’s direction, poor employee engagement, and even a dismal stock price.
However, once Brinker set out to create alignment through their culture journey with Culture Partners, they saw their stock price increase ten-fold, and they now enjoy industry-leading retention and engagement scores.
That’s the power of workplace transparency, which is sharing information, creating openness, and being respectfully honest throughout the organization. It has the intent to support employees with their work and create a better organization and company culture. Workplace transparency is also being clear about your company beliefs and values as well as sharing company goals and progress toward them. Examples include:
- Leadership holds frequent all-hands meetings to share company updates, successes, and challenges
- Employees are often and routinely given feedback on their performance
- A CEO addresses employees on how a crisis is affecting the business and directions to adapt
Transparency can be demonstrated among peers or between supervisors and their direct reports, but for this article, we’ll examine transparency between executive leadership and the workforce.
What does workplace transparency look like?
Successful companies give their people a clear view of the organization’s overall direction. Transparency is critical to achieving that.
When you are transparent about your company’s mission, cultural beliefs, priorities, strategies, goals, challenges, and more, you give your people a 360-view of the business. In turn, they gain a deep understanding of where the company is headed. This helps your people make more informed decisions on how they can support the overall direction of the company. In short, transparency ensures everyone is on the same path working toward common objectives.
If leadership was opaque and avoided questions about the overall goals and direction of the organization, creating an experience for employees that makes them feel unclear about the future, that would lead to a belief that they don’t care about employees. In turn, employees would question why they should care about the company, creating a culture of disengagement and misalignment. By being upfront, leadership embody the five core skills they need to be successful: empathy, clarity, visibility, agility, and accountability.
Transparency also fulfills what employees crave: purpose. Gartner research shows that employees increasingly seek a sense of purpose and value at work. Employees want to know how their work fits into the big picture. They don’t just want to know what work they should do. They want to know why it matters.
How transparency and trust create a strong culture
Trust is the foundation of an aligned, agile, and accountable organizational culture. To build trust, company leadership needs to be transparent. Here’s how these all correlate.
Trust occurs when employees believe leadership acts in the best interest of the business and its people. When leadership is transparent, it shows employees that their beliefs are true.
When leaders are open and communicative about their decisions and the reasons behind them, employees get a clearer view of leadership’s intentions. When those intentions are honest and ethical for the business and workforce, employees will know leadership is acting in good faith. This motivates employees to take actions that reinforce the values of openness and communication, which are elements of a healthy, positive, and respectful culture.
Benefits of workplace transparency
Increased employee engagement
In a Harvard Business Review study, 70 percent of employees said they feel most engaged when leadership consistently provides business updates. This goes back to one of the earlier points: your employees want a greater sense of purpose. It’s about helping them understand the connection between the work they do every day to the results you need to achieve. As a result, employees know that their work is making a difference in the organization.
Transparency brings a culture of openness to the organization, which makes employees comfortable enough to share ideas and opinions without judgment or fear. That helps with innovation because your employees are empowered to bring bold and fresh ideas.
If your employee sees something wrong with your product, service, or company, they’ll comfortably tell you. That’s a good thing. It’ll help your leaders identify problems early on rather than later when they become hard to manage.
For example, a janitor at a manufacturing plant noticed a large number of bolts being thrown in the trash. He took the bolts to management and asked if they were important. It turned out that the bolts in such large quantities were costing the company millions of dollars per year. Because the janitor was empowered to speak up, the company was able to save money.
How to bring transparency to your company
Lead by example
Companies that expect employees to be transparent need to set the standard. If your employees see leadership acting on the values of transparency, your employees will have a point of reference to mirror that behavior.
Provide avenues of transparency
Transparency requires ways to openly communicate and leadership needs to provide them. Examples include newsletters, employee focus groups, company-wide meetings, and an intranet.
Hire people who value transparency
Empower managers and recruiters to identify interview questions that gauge if a candidate values transparency. Questions to consider:
- Tell me a time when you made a mistake at work. What did you do?
- What’s your approach to providing feedback?
- How do you ensure everyone on your team is on the same page?