You’re So Transparent. Balancing Transparency and Accountability in the Workplace

by | Apr 29, 2016 | Business

Every episode of a police procedural features a scene in which detectives look into an interrogation room at a suspect through a one-way mirror. The suspect knows that he is being watched, but he can’t see what the police are doing.

The one-way mirror has a parallel in many businesses. Employee performance is expected to be completely transparent to management, while employees are informed of managerial decisions only after they have been made and, occasionally, after those decisions have already been shared with others outside the organization.

It therefore shouldn’t be surprising that a 2014 American Psychological Association survey found that 25% of employees do not trust their employer, and only roughly half of employees believe their employer is open and upfront with them. This state of affairs has a negative impact on a business. It creates an “us versus them” mentality among the workforce in which employees distrust management.

There are good reasons to promote more transparent leadership. Transparent leadership promotes healthy, happy, and constructive work environments by bettering employee relationships, alignment, problem-solving, and engagement. Transparency builds a culture of trust, which leads to better colleague relationships and stronger employee-employer relationships. Employee alignment is more easily fostered when employers practice transparency in the workplace. It results in workers who can fully understand the company’s vision and goals, and how their efforts help achieve them. When leaders are open and honest about problems within a company, employees can more easily help find solutions.

Transparency also allows teams to feel comfortable with providing and accepting important feedback about problems they encounter. Transparency breeds engaged employees. A 2013 Harvard Business Review survey showed that 70% of employees feel most engaged when their leaders continually update them and communicate company strategies.

Here are a few steps that your management team can take to foster greater transparency between management and employees:

  1. Encourage clear communication. One of the first and most important vehicles for a transparent workplace is straightforward communication among colleagues, teams, and employers. You can encourage this by scheduling weekly meetings where management and team members discuss the previous week’s performance and set goals for the upcoming week.
  2. Decisions made by management should be communicated in a timely manner and their basis articulated. Nobody likes to find out what is happening at their company from somebody outside the organization or, worse, by reading it in the media. If there is a major development, particularly if the news is bad, make sure you communicate the news and inform your employees about actions you are taking in a timely manner. Ideally, employees should be given some insight into steps management is considering before a final decision is reached. While there are some occasions in which secrecy must be maintained (e.g. a corporate acquisition), employees should be informed of opportunities the company is considering and threats the company is dealing with. When management makes major strategic decisions, the decision as well as the reasons for the decision should be communicated to the workforce. Periodically, there should be an opportunity for employees to speak to management about the strategies the company is pursuing, during quarterly or annuals company-wide meetings, for example.
  3. Try an open office layout. Open office layouts provide a number of advantages. When people are together in a space with fewer barriers, they are more likely to open up, share ideas, and work together. There are more opportunities for collaboration and communication. Open office layouts also encourage transparency by eliminating the physical walls that separate leaders, employees, and coworkers. When a company CEO works on the same floor as a company’s intern, they appear more approachable. There’s no hiding in a giant corner office behind closed doors.

Your office layout, however, should also provide opportunities for privacy. Private spaces and nooks should be available within an office space for those who work best without distraction or who need to work within small groups in a quieter setting.

Transparency breeds teamwork and collaboration, but only when similar rules apply to your entire workforce, including management. Providing employees with additional opportunities to communicate with management and information about the direction of the company can improve their degree of engagement, leading to a more invested and productive workforce.

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