Transparency has become a hot topic in the corporate world, and that’s a bit of a double-edged sword for organizational leaders. Real transparency that’s instituted and lived the right ways adds tremendous value to an organization’s brand. But for all too many organizations, transparency is little more than a hollow word. I called it “buzzword transparency.” This type of transparency comes across as contrived—something an organization uses only for PR purposes, or it’s only lived out part-time—something that’s used when it’s convenient when times are good, as a stop-gap reaction to something bad, or it provides information without any attempt to add real value and insights. At best, that type of transparency is incomplete. At worst, it’s destructive to your culture and devastating for your future.
Employees and potential employees are looking for something more. To hire and keep the best talent, today’s organizations have to understand the importance of a more meaningful type of transparency. So here are some ways I believe you can “embrace” the type of transparency that truly serves your brand:
Embrace the Glass House
We live and work in a world of glass houses. Everything we do stands bare in the windows of the digital age for anyone to see:
- Our words.
- Our strategies.
- Our actions.
- Our policies.
- Our products and services.
- The cultures we create.
- All of it.
You can bury your head in the sand and ignore reality. You can spend money, time and energy fighting against reality, or you can step into the future and embrace it.
As mentioned in our other article, How to Ensure Your Employer Brand Is Helping Your Hiring Process,
Audit your company’s online reputation by, first, Googling your company (including your company’s job openings) to see what pops up. And then, browse through the top online review sites that feature your company to get a full perspective on what your current and former employees have said about you as an employer to the online world.
If/when you run into negative press or reviews, don’t get defensive; instead, consider ways to turn the tide around:
1. To counteract negative press, write a blog post on your company’s website that highlights something inspiring about your internal culture or something positive that your company is doing in your community or industry
2. For those negative reviews, go ahead and publicly respond to those without placing blame and while outwardly showing a commitment to improving; this demonstrates that you care about your employees and it also reflects well on your employer brand.
For most organizations, this is a shift of the mind and heart that begins at the top and needs to filter throughout all levels of leadership. It’s an awareness that we live in a hyper-connected, global culture that’s tethered by technology and heavily influenced by next-gen leaders. And it’s an understanding that people have very little tolerance for organizations that attempt to hide or explain away their bad practices or their problems. They simply won’t let you fake it.
Embrace Mass Accountability
Leaders no longer are accountable to just a select few people or groups of people. We face demands from shareholders, customers, board members, community leaders, employees, and all sorts of interest groups. They all represent congregations of people with shared values, beliefs, desires, and demands.
As workforces become more diversified and grow, organizations require more transparency internally. Employees desire to know how their work contributes to the company and how their work has meaning. Something that Samantha Moss, Editor & Content Ambassador at Romantific does to improve transparency at her company is:
I hold an “ask me anything session”. This gives my employees a chance to ask me anything under the sun, questions that they don’t have an opportunity to ask on a regular workday. Plus, I include them in the decision making process. I ask them for suggestions, comments, and feedback so that we could make a collaborative decision together. We want our workforce to work as a team so I always tell them to try to see the big picture and that is to work together for the greater good of the company.
Organizations will face demands for more information, more disclosure, more influence. And demands for the organization to open itself up and operate outside the traditional shrouds of secrecy. Whether we like it or not, we have a greater responsibility—and an unavoidable responsibility—to all of these congregations.
Embrace the Outcome of Trust
Organizations need to take proactive steps to operate with greater transparency, but with that comes the inevitable responsibility. Transparency doesn’t mean that everything about us and our organization becomes an open book. Transparency, for instance, isn’t a club used for pounding employees over their heads with brutally honest and highly public feedback. Nor is it an excuse to share sensitive information (like salary details) that will cause stress and distractions.
Here’s my simple filter:
Transparency must lead to trust. And what more do you ask of your brand than to earn trust?
Encourage employees to ask questions and give feedback. Use their feedback to make improvements to the company's internal structure. When companies are more transparent with employees and clear with their expectations, they are building a solid foundation of trust and respect in their employees which will allow the team to achieve success and reach their full potential.
Embrace a Worthy Vision
Horst Schulze, the founder of the Ritz-Carlton and Capella luxury hotel brands, points out that, “Most companies hire to fulfill a function.” What’s wrong with that? Well, he says,
“A chair serves a function. I hire people to be part of a dream and part of a purpose.”
Every company needs to have a vision or a dream. As a leader, it is your job to create this vision and make it known. Without a vision, your company is like someone swimming circles in the ocean and bound to sink eventually. Vision statements focus on the potential inherent within a company's future. It is a description of what the company intends or aspires to be.
In order for the company vision to be transparent and visible to all employees, it needs to be concise and relatable to every employee at every level. Employees are made aware of the vision from day one and it should be discussed consistently throughout the term of their employment. Every aspect of the employee's work should be done with the company vision in mind.
Organizations that embrace transparency that is authentic, inclusive, and builds trust throughout their workforce position themselves to achieve something bigger, more dream-worthy, more purposeful.
A brand is far more than a logo or a clever tagline. It’s a story that’s written over time by the people who work within an organization. By embracing this approach to transparency, you can create a trustworthy story that transcends the buzzwords and adds real value to your brand.
Walt Rakowich is a leadership speaker, former CEO of Prologis, a global real estate company that is the world’s largest owner of industrial distribution facilities, and author of Transfluence: How To Lead With Transformative Influence In Today’s Climates Of Change (September 2020). He works with several nonprofits, serves on the board of directors of Host Hotels and Resorts, Iron Mountain, Inc., and Ventas Inc., and is on the board of trustees of The Pennsylvania State University. He earned an undergraduate degree from Penn State University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.