In Business, Be a Straight Shooter

Transparency in employer-employee communications will promote an efficient workforce and position your company better for an economic recovery.

In Business, Be a Straight Shooter

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With a daily dose of bleak news on the economy, perhaps you’ve noticed that people seem anxious and distracted. It’s obvious everyone is worried.

If you’re like most business leaders, you have a pretty clear picture of the state of your industry and the financial health of your business. And you’ve likely wondered, “How much should I tell them about what’s really going on behind the scenes?’’ The answer is simple: the more the better.

Leaders have talked about the concept of transparency for a long time, but it’s never been more important than it is now. Remember, we share information with employees for a couple of reasons: one, it’s the right thing to do, and two, it’s good for business. And most companies can use every possible edge these days.

If your company doesn’t have a culture of openness and free-flowing information, now is the time to move in that direction. Here are seven reasons why you should embrace transparency:

1.    People assume the worst when they don’t hear from the boss.

Silence from the leader’s office causes a lot of fear and resentment, which certainly doesn’t contribute to a productive culture. Maybe the news is bad, but maybe it’s not as bad as they are imagining. And even if it is, once they know the truth they can plan and act accordingly.

2.    Transparency helps employees connect to the why.

When employees are working in a vacuum, they can’t see the financial big picture, and decisions leaders make may seem ill-advised or unfair. Transparency connects them to the why — and that understanding prompts them to act. You can ask people to change their work habits and established processes all day long. But if they don’t know why they’re being asked to change, they won’t change — at least not for long.

3.    Employees need to hear consistent messages.

When you commit to transparency, people don’t have to get their (speculative, distorted) news through the company grapevine. They hear what’s really going on, in a controlled and consistent way, from their manager. When everyone hears the same messages from their leaders, everyone is motivated to respond in similar ways. Everyone knows the rules. And this consistency trickles down to customers, who get the same basic experience regardless of who they’re dealing with.

4.    Transparency leads to faster, more efficient execution.

When times are tough, execution is everything. And what’s required for better execution is a shared sense of urgency. When employees know customer spending is down 30 percent and that a new competitor is eating into market share, they tend to get focused fast. And helping them understand that downsizing might occur if sales don’t increase can change their behavior overnight.

5.    Communication keeps good people from leaving.

Top employees don’t thrive in an atmosphere of secrecy and uncertainty. They want to work for a company that treats them with respect and values their problem-solving skills. Hold critical information too close to the vest and they may assume the company isn’t healthy — and because they often have options in even the worst economy, top performers may leave for greener pastures. And, obviously, your hardworking innovators are the very people you want to hold onto in times like these.

6.    You’ll encourage employee leadership.

If you were lost in the woods a few times and a park ranger always showed up and led you to safety, you wouldn’t develop any survival skills. The same is true of employees who wait for their heroic park ranger (that’s you) to lead them out of the economic wilderness. It’s far better for employees to pursue their own salvation than to wait passively for rescue … and that means they need to know exactly what threats they face. When people know what the problems are, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions.

7.    Workers will transform into problem-solvers.

In transparent cultures, leaders encourage employees to solve problems themselves. And because those employees are the people closest to a problem, and because they must live with the outcome, they almost always design the most effective, efficient solution. That’s what employee ownership means. When people are allowed to solve their own problems, they’ll do a much better job than if they have to work with a solution imposed on them.

One more thing: Don’t think of transparency as a “crisis control” program. It’s a long-term commitment. When the good times roll around again, the strategy will serve you just as well. Transparency shapes your organizational culture and drives results in any economic environment. As long as you maintain your commitment to openness and constant communication, your business will get stronger as the recovery begins.


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