How to Lead With Transparency In Times of Uncertainty

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While not a new concept, the importance of transparency in the workplace became more urgent during the pandemic as our daily lives, including our work environment, changed. All over the world, both inside and outside the workplace, uncertainty became the norm and not the exception in many influential sectors: geopolitical, natural and business. And there are no signs that things will calm down anytime soon.

In a volatile climate, organizational transparency becomes more essential to the success of your business. As your employees face, or attempt to do so, constant convulsion and uncertainty, it is of great importance to help foster stability toward mental health. Any peace of mind you can offer your teams will go a long way in stabilizing their anxiety levels, at least in the workplace, as external factors are likely to be out of your control.

Ask yourself: If your management team is not leading transparently, what is your response to uncertainty? So, leaders with opacity? What does this mean for our employees?

Related: Six Strategies for Navigating Uncertainty

Transparency vs. opacity

Transparency facilitates a more open and less hierarchical approach to management and a culture that leans towards learning and innovation. It assumes that data and information will be of value to people. A culture of transparency helps to decentralize information, and with the right information, we have seen people become leaders.

The more employees connect to your company’s overall business goals, the more space will be given for inspiration to arrive. Transparency allows for ownership and alignment, allowing the business to unlock growth. In addition, it encourages people to take responsibility for problems and mistakes, solutions and their departments. It is not advisable to point with your fingers. It is a test of mutual respect between the organization and its employees.

In this environment, employees stay connected to what is happening in the organization and do not have to spend valuable time questioning the management or plans of the company. If a problem develops, the focus remains on resolving it rather than spiraling into a perceived cover-up and becoming part of the consequent whipping of rumors.

Transparency-led organizations foster a culture that recognizes that we don’t have all the answers and that we are learning together as the business grows.

Related: Five actions leaders should take in times of uncertainty

On the other hand, opacity assumes hierarchy. The lack of transparency permeates the organization, causing silos and territorial feuds. Opacity facilitates a culture that stores information and knowledge and instructs people on what to do rather than provide opportunities for leadership. There is no ownership by employees. There is the management team and everyone else.

These are some of the tactics your organization can take advantage of to foster a culture of transparency.

  • Document your vision, strategy and goals. Openly say these northern stars, even sharing them externally, instead of making people guess or invent them. This level of visibility will ensure the alignment of your exit strategy with your vision, mission and objectives.
  • Share internally how the company meets its goals. Measure your company’s performance monthly or quarterly with a transparent plan you have established. Share OKR (Key Objectives and Results) reports on how your business is performing. Use this information to foster a culture of learning. At PandaDoc, we understand that some of these OKRs will fail, but we let everyone know it’s okay as long as we learn from our mistakes.
  • Schedule regular meetings of all hands. Implement these meetings at the company and department level. The “ask me anything” schedule meets with leaders so employees can express their questions or concerns. All PandaDoc hands have a cadence. We publish a calendar that we will talk about; for example, a monthly or quarterly business review, an OKR review, show and explain what is happening in various departments. We also structure the time to talk about things that happen in the world that affect us.
  • Schedule sprint revisions. Have departments share their accomplishments over a set amount of time, for example, over the past month. Register them and post them on your business website so everyone has a chance to see them. At PandaDoc, we invite our entire company to join our weekly product reviews and engineering sprints.
  • Create a culture where your employees feel safe. Not all employees feel confident enough to ask leadership-related questions during a hands-on meeting. Provide structured ways to encourage questions. Let your employees know that they can have one of their co-workers ask the question on their behalf. It’s an easy way to let your employees know you’re behind it and offers a way for all employees to address their concerns.
  • Take note of what other companies are doing. Software developer GitHub, for example, is implementing some innovative ways to promote transparency. Two that come to mind: They publicly expose the incorporation of their employees and offer a two-week CEO follow-up opportunity for employees.
  • They understand that you don’t have to share everything in real time. You may not want to share a new development in real time; some may require a well thought out plan. But you want to get in front of the rumor before your employees start to have this annoying feeling that something is wrong. And definitely, before the information is available on the internet. Share as soon as possible what’s going on and what the plan is for your employees to decide on the next steps. Sharing this information helps cultivate mutual respect.

When thinking about leading transparently, it’s important to keep in mind that your business is already transparent, even if you don’t want it to be transparent. It makes no sense to hide negative information. It’s going to come out. And you don’t want the information to be shared on Twitter before you’ve shared it with your employees. Best business practice is to adopt and lead with transparency to foster a more positive work environment for all.

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