Building trust and transparency in your organization

Transparency is a growing concern in the business world -- how can we create a more honest, trusting company culture?


Modern-day employees have a lot of expectations when it comes to their companies. Given the talent war that continues to rage on, highly skilled top performers can afford to be selective about the type of company they work for and it has been increasingly shown that employees want to be part of honest, authentic and transparent organizations.

Transparency in business is something that has been discussed a lot recently, with a recent Forbes poll revealing that 50% of employees think their organizations were held back by a lack of transparency. But it is one thing to be aware of the value of workplace transparency and quite another to conscientiously build it into your corporate culture. What steps can we take, as managers, HR execs and business leaders, to make our workplaces more connected and transparent? And what role can performance management play when it comes to improving levels of transparency in a business?

Below, we discuss simple and effective ways of increasing levels of transparency at work and why, exactly, transparency is so important to modern employees.

What is organizational transparency?

Transparency in an organization can come in varying degrees. It can also have a slightly different meaning for each business, but in essence it means not holding back valuable information from your employees. Whether the information is positive, negative or neutral, organizational transparency means sharing and keeping employees in the loop, because they care about the state and success of your organization as much as you do. The more your employees know, the more they feel a part of what you are doing.

Benefits of transparency in an organization

Transparency at work results in the following tangible benefits:

  • Transparency builds trust: Transparency is key to building trust in an organization. The more you share with your employees, the more faith they will have in you and the more they will show themselves to be trustworthy.
  • Transparency is good for recruitment: An Atlassian survey recently demonstrated that 87% of people want to work for transparent companies. The more you build transparency into your values and company culture, the more you will build a transparent reputation, which will make you a more desirable employer.
  • Transparency motivates your employees: If you are wondering how to motivate employees to perform to a higher standard, you might want to consider becoming more transparent, as transparency can motivate and inspire employees to work longer and harder.
  • Transparency results in increased employee engagement: When employees know more about their company, they generally care much more and become highly engaged with their business.
  • Transparent companies are more enduring: Transparent businesses generally benefit from greater profitability (two-thirds of consumers would spend more if it meant buying from a transparent company, for example), increased innovation and better decision making.

Ways to improve levels of transparency in an organization

You might know and appreciate the benefits and value of a transparent organization, but how do you begin to improve levels of transparency in a meaningful way? Below, we outline actionable and proven methods of boosting organizational transparency in the long term:

  • Embrace transparency and incorporate it into your company culture: Driving cultural change in a company is never easy, but it is necessary to ensure your organization remains relevant and competitive. To integrate transparency into your company culture, begin by questioning how you want other people to behave in certain situations. Be consistent with transparency and keep it in mind when it comes to every decision – major and minor – that affects your company. You should also consider transparency when recruiting. You want to hire employees who are authentic, honest and open. The employees you take on will shape your company's culture, so you should make sure their beliefs and values are in line with your organization's.
  • Respond to your employee's questions and concerns in a timely manner: When your employees come to you with an issue about a certain workplace process, or a question about organizational objectives, make it a priority to respond in a timely manner. You should also be as specific with your reply as possible – don not cut corners with transparency by omitting important information. Consider holding a "no holds barred" question and answer session with your employees. This will give your employees the opportunity to ask any questions that have been on their minds and it will give you, as the manager, the chance to answer them all at once. After all, the answers should matter to everyone, not just the employee asking. This will further illustrate to your employees that you place a premium on transparency, and it will also arm them with the information they need to make tough decisions.

  • Be prepared to answer tough questions: Transparency is not always easy. Sometimes, you will have difficult waters to tread and tough questions to answer. It is at times like this that transparency is all the more important. Your increased levels of transparency might also cause you to question certain decisions you, or other managers, have made in the past. For example, if you have to cut bonuses for employees during a tight financial year, you should be willing to discuss why you believe the company can (or should) afford a given project. You should also be willing to share with your employees whether manager bonuses have also been cut. There is no reason to hide financial realities from anyone. Just be sure to do your research so you know how best to answer these difficult questions.
  • Keep your employees posted: When something changes, such as if you have altered a company process or made an adjustment to your performance management system, let your people know. This helps to keep them connected to the bigger picture. Consider introducing company newsletters or holding employee forums to facilitate this flow of information. Share wins, losses and pressing challenges. Remember, it is easy and exciting to share wins – and it is much harder to admit when things aren’t going to plan, but this form of transparency helps to unify a workforce. When you have bad news, treat employees like adults. They can handle the reality of the situation, and when employees sense something is off but do not know what the problem is, they have a habit of imagining something that is actually far worse than the truth.
  • Have regular performance discussions and allow for real-time communication: If you are going to improve levels of transparency, you first need to improve levels of communication. This can start with the introduction of regular coaching conversations. Allow manager and employee to develop a trusting and authentic workplace relationship. This will facilitate the exchange of feedback and the employee will feel more able to ask questions. You should also consider introducing communication tools that encourage in-the-moment feedback and communication – this is a modern-day equivalent of an 'open door' policy but much more convenient and even more instant.
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