True Transparency

I hear a lot of companies toss it around – a buzz word like “web 2.0” and “organic.” Think you’re transparent? Call me crazy, but the following things mean “transparent” to me:

  • Total access to numbers and data
  • Public punishment and public reward
  • Open doors (or none at all)
  • No hierarchy, only leadership
  • Forgiveness, not permission
  • Strong communication
  • Free-flowing ideas

While company culture stands to benefit from it, transparency may not work for everyone. Apple is doing just fine without it. If you cannot accept the list above, do not pretend to embrace transparency.

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Let It Flow

If you want to foster a culture of open ideas, you cannot stand in the way. Do not shoot suggestions down, do not fight back and never stifle the feedback loop. Close your mouth and bite your tongue if you have to. Whatever it takes to let your team know that they are being listened to and that there is room for their ideas. After ideas have been heard, let open debate ensue. Invite extra opinions and open your ears even wider. Make sure opinions are genuinely collected and heard. Show the idea collection process with surveys, emails, whiteboards, etc. if you think it will help your team see and appreciate your reception to their opinions. And do not fear disagreements. Disagreements are healthy – they suggest that ideas are being contributed and tested. As with any relationship, team relationships stand to grow and strengthen through overcoming disagreements.

If you need to make a quick decision and do not have time for collecting feedback, don’t close the deal immediately. Help everyone understand why you feel the way you do and thank them for their understanding. At the very least, it shows you respect their autonomy and the other contributions they make.

What or Who Are You Competing Against?

Do you even know? No one can genuinely create a sense of urgency without cause or reason. Everyone is competing against the clock (we’re mortals, after all), but why? For what reason? Is it a race? Against whom?

If you have a clear opponent to beat, that’s easy. Wave the enemy’s flag in spite and embrace competition as a positive energy in your organization or life. Move forward and fast, as if it were a fun game.

If you are a startup or non-profit without grasp of a market, what are you competing against? Most small organizations compete against sinking bank accounts. Young companies not yet cash-flow positive must sweat their burn rates and execute on their vision before running out of money. If the money drain is your greatest enemy, make a big deal about that, too. Don’t hide it from your people; share the bank statement with managers if you want them to understand that particular sense of urgency. They will understand.

You cannot motivate people from scratch. You can only give them the tools, information and environment to hopefully inspire them to motivate themselves. As a leader, you must know what you are competing against. And do not forget to share that information with your people who suffer the whip every day.

Transparency and Trust

Unless the key to a secret is murdered and disposed in a large body of water, people tend to find things out. You can try as hard as you can to guise things, but always prepare for the day when you need to own up to it (whether you blow the cover or someone else does).

When it comes to daily life, transparency may be the easiest and most genuine way to build trust. If you have nothing to hide, others will take comfort in believing you and run out of good reasons to hide things from you.

Throughout my entire management career, I have struggled with shielding information from my team to keep the machine running. Secrets don’t make friends, especially in business. As a common example, most managers pad deadlines so that their final deliveries can be met. In many cases, the real deadlines surface and proactive fake deadlines lose credibility. Why not admit final deadlines up front and set padded expectations for your team? Most people understand the truth and will respect you for being honest with them. They will deliver accordingly. Trust me.

Sometimes you need to keep secrets. If that is the case, at least be honest about the reason why (a security clearance or NDA contract are perfectly viable excuses). As hard as it may be for some people to accept, the honest explanation goes a long way. Don’t hide, don’t ignore, don’t dodge the question. Be as honest as you can when you can.