Growing up hearing old-school maxims like “business is war” and “loose lips sink ships,” the concept of workplace transparency—no matter how earnestly proposed—always seemed a little idealistic to me. But I’ve since lost my skepticism.
Workplace transparency is proven to breed long-term success. Done well, transparency creates trust between employers and employees, helps improve morale and lower job-related stress while increasing employee engagement and boosting performance. And being transparent costs nothing, which gives it an exceptional ROI.
If I’m on board, why aren’t more organizations practicing openness and transparency in the workplace? It could be that the fear of vulnerability—of someone saying or doing something that hurts the business—makes transparency sound more risky than rewarding.
You may not have the power to create policy, but there are still many ways you can promote transparency in your workplace and change a few minds in the process.
What Is Workplace Transparency?
In general, workplace transparency is a philosophy of sharing information freely in an effort to benefit the organization and its people. That could mean executives sharing company information with the whole team or individual teammates sharing feedback with each other, and it can even go beyond the walls to involve what your organization tells candidates, customers, and the public.
You may not be able to tell your executive team to be more open about company performance, but that doesn’t make you any less integral to workplace transparency. Transparency involves everyone in the organization; it takes a collective effort to foster and maintain a transparent culture, especially when it comes to setting boundaries and managing expectations.
Defining boundaries is critical because the wrong kind of workplace transparency can create just as many problems as the good kind solves. If the goal is to encourage constructive communication, people need to understand what that means, what they should expect from coworkers and executives, and exactly where the limits are. Even before that, it’s crucial to understand the intent of workplace transparency.
Defining the Intent Behind Transparency in the Workplace
One of the most effective ways to prevent the wrong kind of transparency from happening is to make the organization’s motivations for transparency well-known. All the worst elements of a toxic workplace—political maneuvering, backstabbing, offensive behavior, and even harassment—can hide behind the excuse of “I was just being honest” if boundaries and intentions are not crystal clear from the start.
At BambooHR, that intent is expressed in the company values introduced during onboarding and reinforced constantly with internal communications, meeting themes, performance reviews, and annual awards. Our belief in transparency lives in the value Be Open, but that value exists within a framework of others like Assume the Best, Lead from Where You Are, and Do the Right Thing.
Employees learn from day one that being open supersedes title or experience (Lead from Where You Are), is subject to our business standards (Do the Right Thing), and should always be constructive rather than personal criticism (Assume the Best). This multifaceted framework keeps people mindful of the intent behind Be Open and discourages the idea that you have permission to say whatever you want without considering the consequences.
[Related: How to Respond to Negative Glassdoor Reviews]
What Does Good Workplace Transparency Look Like?
If company values and internal communications define the “why” behind transparency, some areas where best practices can create a very positive impact include:
Recruiting and Hiring
There are ways to create transparency throughout the entire recruiting and hiring process, all of which will benefit an organization. Detailed, accurate job descriptions, timely and honest communication from recruiters, and open discussion between collaborators during the interview process are all examples of good transparency. Transparency translates to faster, more accurate hires and an improved employer brand for when a new hiring cycle begins.
Performance Management and Career Development
One way BambooHR has encouraged transparency in performance management reviews is by separating reviews from their traditional ties to promotions and salary increases. Shorter, more frequent evaluations allow managers and employees to remain in the moment, discussing current events rather than judging an entire year in one agonizingly long review. Peer evaluations offer insights at ground level that might be hard for a supervisor to see when they’re managing an entire department. These factors and others create a more transparent, less intimidating review process that’s been shown to boost employee engagement.
Company Performance and Goal-Setting
It can be difficult to convince executives to pull back the curtain on company numbers and big decisions. However, being open with employees about the company’s performance and future plans prevents speculation, keeps anxiety levels low, and can even offer an increased sense of ownership and trust. All of those are hallmarks of a highly engaged workforce, and it’s no secret that engagement directly impacts the bottom line.
Whether between two partners or multiple departments, transparency in group projects is essential for even the smallest organization. You can encourage this kind of transparency by implementing good processes and formalizing feedback. Project managers should feel responsible not just for scheduling, but for setting and maintaining high expectations at every stage of a project. Stakeholders and service providers alike may need some time and education to begin collaborating more effectively, but the improvement in quality and the reduction in shoulder-tap requests should convince all parties that the outcomes are worth the effort.
[Related: Employee Engagement Checklist and Calendar]
Self-preservation is a powerful instinct. The knowledge that the truth isn’t always pleasant means that even as adults, many of us hold back when transparency might make us vulnerable. We’re taught that honesty is the best policy, but that if we have nothing nice to say, it’s better to say nothing at all.
But transparency isn’t about throwing caution to the wind or blurting out whatever comes to mind, it’s about understanding the benefit of honest, forthright communication in your organization. Knowledge is power, and the lesson to take away is that transparency, truth, and openness spread the knowledge that empowers people and businesses to do better work together.
Rob de Luca is the senior copywriter for BambooHR, an award-winning leader in HR software serving over 11,000 business clients in more than 100 countries worldwide. Rob has written extensively on the topics of HR leadership and best practices, and aims to contribute helpful content to the HR industry. He believes HR professionals deserve great content that enables them to do great work.