Rebecca Hawk is the product manager for ASAE Business Services, Inc.
Increasing organizational transparency between leadership and employees can lead to uncomfortable conversations, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Here’s why your organization should embrace—rather than fear—more transparency.
When you read about transparency in the workplace, your mind might first jump to company that looks like an edgy startup or a tech giant. But increasing transparency is a low-cost, if not zero-dollar, way to address issues ranging from recruitment challenges to stagnant innovation efforts.
Glassdoor defines a transparent workplace as one that operates “in a way that creates openness between managers and employers.” For associations, focusing on transparency can make the difference between a struggling workforce and an engaged, innovative team. Consider these five benefits that more transparency can bring your organization.
Increased employee engagement. A 2013 Tiny Pulse survey found that workplace transparency is the number-one factor in employee happiness. In a Harvard Business Review study from the same year, 70 percent of employees reported that they feel most engaged with their organization when leadership consistently updates staff and communicates about the organization’s strategy. If you’re aiming to build trust with your employees, becoming more transparent is one of the fastest and most reliable ways to do it.
Higher-quality, better-fit candidates in your recruitment efforts. When your organization practices transparency, you can expect to see changes internally, but job applicants will also notice the difference. Being open and honest about your organization’s culture, priorities, financial picture, and salary ranges in your job postings and during the interview process allows candidates to self-select more efficiently. You’ll find that your recruitment efforts will attract people who are truly invested in your mission and organization and more likely to be successful within your culture once they are hired.
Breaking away from knowledge-hoarding—which can be a serious issue, especially at organizations where longer-tenured employees harbor lots of institutional knowledge—helps employees collaborate and solve problems more effectively.
Fewer barriers to innovation. Sharing information about your executive team and board meetings, membership successes and challenges, and financial picture helps promote employee engagement. (Of course, make sure you provide context on complex issues and long-term strategy, so that information is helpful rather than intimidating to employees.) Breaking away from knowledge-hoarding—which can be a serious issue, especially at organizations where longer-tenured employees harbor lots of institutional knowledge—helps employees collaborate and solve problems more effectively.
And don’t forget: The simple act of speaking to the staff to encourage and set expectations around innovation is another form of transparency that is often overlooked. Encouraging team innovation sometimes starts with simply asking more questions, notes “Ask the Expert” blogger Barbara Mitchell. “People tend to get stuck doing what they've always done and usually need a boost to think differently,” she writes.
Enhanced member service. The transparency you create within your organization can enhance the service you deliver to your members. For one thing, more-engaged employees will be better able to serve member needs. For another, sharing your own culture of innovation and transparency with your members can be a benefit to them as they tackle similar issues in their own workplaces.
Clear-eyed leadership. If your organization has been prone to creating and maintaining departmental and position-level siloes, chances are your leadership doesn’t have the clearest picture of how the organization is working. When you increase transparency, your leadership—both on staff and on the board—gains a more accurate sense of the organization’s reputation and internal politics. While this might be uncomfortable at first, there’s an upside: When employees are in the loop about an organization’s challenges, they’ll likely better understand and support the tough decisions that leaders must make.
To truly build a culture of transparency, you’ll need to teach employees how to give and receive constructive feedback. You’ll also undoubtedly find that some issues should remain confidential and only be shared among executive team and board members. But as the association sector navigates a rapidly changing world, transparency can lead to the type of game-changing innovation and improved brand reputation that’s needed to thrive now and in the future.