Transparency Is Practical and Makes for a Productive Team—it Also Pays Well 26 Feb 2019


Do you have an open office or use cubicles?

Your business might be part of the hot-desk trend—open office layouts and shared-desk workspaces. This is, to some, the way of the future, being cost-effective, creating openness, and removing communication barriers. To others, it’s riddled with problems including distractions, increased rates of illness, and stress.

The open-office trend is part of a movement toward greater transparency in all aspects of business. Removing the traditional structure of business, like hierarchy and cubicle walls, can be controversial, especially when it’s supported with dubious benefits.

But there is proof that full transparency in an organization can make your team more productive and improve financial results.

What is “full” transparency? Beyond business buzzwords, transparency can involve:

  • Sharing reports with your entire staff and the public
  • Communicating business intentions early and often
  • Publishing all pay grades in full
  • Opening internal company data
  • Flat management or transparent business structures

You might think some of these won’t ever apply to your business. But you might be surprised to discover what leading-edge research and companies are saying. In reality, transparency can benefit your business even while it’s still growing.

Transparency Makes for a Productive Work Team

Employees like knowing the truth. Employers that deal in truths, gain respect.

Transparency allows employees to understand the full truth and to see how their work truly affects the business. When transparency is lost, perhaps through silos developing between departments, employees lose this perspective. Without this context, they won’t know how their work contributes to the success of the company.

Transparent workplaces can also be directly linked to better health. Unexpected organizational changes are the leading cause of chronic stress in workplaces. Americans who reported unexpected organizational change are also three times more likely to say they don’t trust their employer, and three times as likely to leave in the next 12 months.

The research indicates that growing transparency improves work culture at an individual and collective level. But what can it do for your balance sheet?

Transparency Improves Your Bottom Line

Research finds that disclosing more information to workers results in higher productivity and profit. This is because transparency reduces information asymmetries and generates more genuine buy-in from workers.

A more engaged employee is likely to stay at your company longer, meaning less time and money spent on recruitment. Increased employee loyalty also lends weight to long-term goal success and keeping company knowledge in-house. In a tight job market where people frequently change jobs, this could be a key driver behind more notable transparency advocates.

Startup “Unicorn” Asana Champions Transparency

Asana, rated one of the best startups of 2018, is a project management tool and full-tilt transparency advocate.

To answer its critics, the company says transparency is not about getting your nose in everyone’s business. “It’s that everyone has the information they need to do their job effectively,” says co-founder Justin Rosenstein.

How does this work, exactly? Here are some tips from Asana that might provide inspiration:

  • Provide your people with context and goals, rather than giving orders. For example, Asana posts the minutes from meetings among executives for all staff to read. This way, lower ranked employees feel included and can contribute ideas.
  • Set responsibilities and subject areas. Give certain metrics over to individuals and make them accountable. Let these individuals develop expertise in their area.
  • Share your plans with the world. At Asana, “roadmaps” are freely published to the public.
  • Form committees according to who can bring helpful attributes, not according to job title. Transparency up and down the line lets this happen.
  • When discussing transparency with potential hires, make it a selling point. Because, in Asana’s experience, transparency gets employees really excited. And workers are more likely to engage in company successes.

Has this worked in practice? Asana raised $125 million last year, much of which is attributed to their radical business model—complete transparency in the workplace.

But what does “complete transparency” mean to you? Are there some areas of a business that should still be off limits?

Not Everything Must Be Transparent

Tech start up owners working together at a cafe

Some things will never be transparent, even at groundbreaking tech start-ups. Examples of this include personal HR issues, individual background checks, performance reviews, and valuable intellectual property.

Here is one controversial example: transparency regarding paychecks. There is evidence that publishing everyone’s pay level can work to an organizational advantage. In some firms, after divulging their salaries, employees actually worked harder, especially the inspired top-performers. The companies revealing their pay also received a boost in job applicants.

Would extreme transparency work at your workplace? It’s hard to know without action. Ultimately, leadership decides how transparent a company will be. Openness works better in some companies than others, and the right moment must be chosen.

Transparency Done Right Provides Clarity, Honesty, and Trust

Promising research points to transparency fostering happy and productive teams. Providing clarity creates a positive and rewarding atmosphere, which is proven to convert into added revenue. While opening up might seem like a big step, many leading tech firms have shown full workplace transparency is possible.

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