Smart leaders say they are taking this lesson away from the pandemic
Most likely you’ve felt a communication void at some point in your career. Maybe you found yourself on a team where information was shared on a “need-to-know” basis. And you? Well, you never seemed to need to know anything.
Much of the distrust I find in organizations can be traced to misunderstanding the intentions of others—especially leaders. When employees aren’t sure what’s happening around them, trust levels drop like a rock, employees tend to suspect the worst, and anxiety levels soar.
A year into the pandemic now, I’ve heard from various managers who say they’ve had to up their level of openness during this crisis. They’ve learned to be more transparent with their teams about problems as soon as they come up, explain how specifically their team can step up to address each issue, and update their people regularly on the perception of higher-ups about the future vision of the organization. These tactics have helped their workers not only feel they were “in the know,” but also feel like valuable members of a collective effort. And perhaps most importantly, being more transparent has helped them bring down levels of stress considerably.
We instinctively know how important transparency can be in our personal lives. We wouldn’t fall in love with someone if they failed to be open about themselves, or we shouldn’t (So my mom saw you on Dateline last night; anything you want to share?). Similarly, in our work lives, we don’t create a true connection with a manager who keeps information close to the vest—especially during a crisis.
Joe Badaracco, professor of ethics at Harvard Business School, advises managers, “If you find yourself editing a lot of what you say before you say it, or being secretive with information, hiding things from people—I’d stop and ask what is really going on. It may be time to take a step back and do some reflection.” If your people don’t know what’s going wrong, how can they possibly help you fix it?
Our research has found transparency is particularly important in engaging younger workers. Melissa Aquino, president of Leica Biosystems said she believes young people coming into the workforce have the potential to be the most productive generations in history but acknowledges that organizations face a challenge in getting some of them started. Transparency is particularly important in this process. Aquino said, “Millennials want information. They are used to living in a world of perfect information, and if it’s not, they often don’t get started. I’d estimate this generation can give twenty percent more productivity if they have the right information.”
As such, she explains that managers should encourage new hires to seek out knowledge and provide them ways to get that information. “I give each of my new people a list of five people they need to meet and the core knowledge those people have. They are supposed to set up meetings, meet with them face-to-face, and interview them. Then they come back and give me a summary of what they learned. That’s led to some really rich discussions.”
Through actions like this, leaders can create a culture of transparency that can be a big factor in helping people feel engaged, enabled, and energized to give their all.
A few questions managers might ask themselves to gauge the amount of transparency within their teams include:
- Do I regularly and frequently share everything I can about the future vision of our organization with my employees, or do I find myself keeping information secret that doesn’t need to be?
- Do we have a clear way to post team goals and current performance levels for all to see?
- Am I consistent about involving my people in decision-making with issues that affect their work lives?
- Do my employees have a say in setting goals that are important in their jobs?
- What safe avenues do my team members have to voice their ideas and concerns?
- How do I show my employees their opinions and ideas are appreciated?
While there’s a tendency to think about transparency as something to do when we mess up, what smart leaders are focusing on is proactive transparency. Openness like this drives out uncertainty and helps people build trust in a culture.