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Truth, Trust & Transparency

The Pillars of Corporate Culture

 /   / 6min read

Man looking sad

Are you familiar with the feeling when friends or managers at work withhold crucial information? When you notice this or get to the information much later and thereby your trust suffers? I am sure that everyone has already been at this point where both friendships and loyalty to managers have been put to the test. For this reason, I would like to explain below the consequences of such a behaviour using an abstract example and how lack of loyalty can be avoided with transparency.

Even though trusting and appreciating employees is no less important, it is explicitly not part of this article, nor are management and organisational concepts such as holacracy. The focus is on the trust colleagues have in management.

Thought-Provoking Experiences

Beyond Belief

Due to my computer science studies, previous workplaces and my current job, I am in regular contact with friends and colleagues who work in the information technology sector. So, of course, job-related topics are also discussed after work. Thus, one not only gets to know what is going well with other companies — which is usually shared via social media anyway — but also aspects that bother people. So I have also realised that many people struggle with a shared experience, which I would like to discuss below.

The usual way this happens? Imagine, the company looks good and healthy, the managers are apparently unconcerned and forecast not only excellent quarterly figures but also a long-term success. You feel relaxed, secure and motivated. Then, colleagues are suddenly called to the manager's office and their faces tell that something is wrong; they are fired. Or, however, after the weekend or holiday, others tell you that not only individual persons but whole teams have been fired. On request, answers such as 'personal reasons' or 'due to restructuring' are given.

In those moments, you usually suspect that not all has been said: the business figures don't look so rosy, there were personal conflicts between management and people, both parties had different ideas or something completely different. Maybe it's really due to restructuring, but why haven't you heard about it so far? Why are consequences revealed first and then causes? You feel cheated, betrayed and suddenly neither safe nor motivated. You can't prove it, but you don't feel very well. The mood in the office shifts.

Believe it or not, I've heard this story from companies ranging from startups with a dozen employees to internationally successful companies with hundreds.

Why Transparency & Honesty Matters

As we have seen, both lying and withholding information can weaken trust, because without transparency it is hardly possible to build and maintain a solid foundation of trust; information must not be misused as a tool of power. Over the mid-term, this can even lead to mental and emotional decoupling from the company, manager and job, which can ultimately result in dismissal. This cannot and must not be the goal of people in management positions.

In a lecture on agile management, it was taught us almost weekly that trust is the most important currency in a company. Admittedly, we have heard this so often that it has been laughed at. Nevertheless, the statement is true. Trust in leadership not only leads to increased security but also has a significant impact on team performance since transparency strengthens morale and a sense of belonging.

Due to the fact that employees have all the relevant information and they see the common goal and mission more clearly, they feel involved and, further more, approach managers with questions, concerns or ideas more likely.

Seeing clearer with glasses

Transparency + Truth = Trust

Be a Human Being

As already mentioned, honesty is an essential part and the foundation of trust. This applies to both ourselves and employees. Be honest with feedback, thoughts & feelings. Be honest with personal and business expectations and aspirations. Show who you are and what drives you professionally — it's the so-called emotional transparency. But this also includes being vulnerable and accountable; the former is incredibly important.

Treat others how you want to be treated. unknown

These points are mainly about personal traits. However, company values are also important. Thus define and communicate values, goals and mission/vision authentically and clearly understandable, without any catch-phrases. Of course, this also includes any changes affecting these.

Involve Your Team

Even though I initially excluded the managers' trust in the employees, I have to refer briefly to it. After all, trusting employees and showing this by involving them in decision-making and problem-solving creates trust.

Furthermore, the other way is to be available for employees. This also includes listening and honestly answering questions. I like the Google platform, which enables employees to ask questions anonymously and have them rated by colleagues. The best-rated questions are answered by upper management in regular meetings, such as the TGIF. As a result of this process, managers cannot cherry-pick the questions and may be confronted with unpleasant ones. It is important, to be honest, rather than to beat about the bush like politicians.

Share Relevant Information

In terms of sharing information, it should be mentioned in advance that laws and regulations should obviously be complied with and respected. This applies in particular to financial, HR and business decisions. However, if information needs to be withheld, it is recommended to mention that not all information can be shared as well as why that's the case. This, in turn, leads to transparency without revealing too many details. Applying ethical business practices also creates trust — but that goes without saying.

Additionally, it is recommended to show the most important financial figures in monthly or at the latest in quarterly meetings. The comparison of target and actual figures, the reasons why targets have not been hit, and an explanation of how to deal with the situation help to create security. It is important, to be honest here; don't beautify numbers. Employees are your most valuable assets, don't bullshit them. Sooner or later it will be noticed anyway.

Another gesture, which I have always liked a lot: make your calendar public. In the best case, all calendars can be accessed internally. The fact that you not only know when someone is free but also why someone isn't, results besides transparency in other side effects. The most practical side effect is that it's easier to arrange meetings. At Brandwatch, for example, I was able to schedule meetings with colleagues and managers in such a way that there was enough buffer before and after important meetings. This reduces stress and helps to keep the focus.

Bunch of flamingos flying

To the Critics and Skeptics

I would like to briefly reply to the skeptics and critics of transparency before summing up my thoughts. In your opinion, you lose focus if you know everything? Well, that's actually a valid point.

As I already mentioned in the article about force-directed networks, organisational substructures should be shielded from noise to allow them to focus on their work. This opinion in combination with this article leads to the following statements: First, you don't need to have everything transparent overnight; many people can't handle that and it takes time. Second, it doesn't require complete transparency either, but to a certain extent. Establish a level of transparency that is necessary so that everyone can do their job enthusiastically and motivated, without trust problems arising.

However, be careful, if teams and different levels of the career ladder are already tackling each other, these problems must definitely be solved before transparency can be addressed. Anything else would further fuel the fire 🔥.

Summing Up

By opening up personally and sharing their passion for the product and the company, managers transfer that passion to their employees. Also, when managers reveal their concerns, aspirations and goals, they will bind employees and nurture a team spirit that delivers great results. In addition, be honest with the team and involve it in decisions; don't see yourself as being better. Finally, information should not be misused as a means of power but should be used to make employees aware, to motivate and to enable excellent work. Cheating and lying do not help anyone.


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