People often think of “transparency” as being something that happens (or doesn’t happen) at the very top levels of a company, such as transparency with shareholders, the media, or the public. But transparency is also important for individual managers at the team level, because it will lead to better decision-making, better collaboration, and a great sense of ownership throughout your team.
Creating a culture of transparency isn’t that hard, if you’re committed to doing it. Here are five key places to start.
1. Explain your decisions. As the boss, you can sometimes get away with not explaining your decisions – but you should do it anyway. When you explain the “why” behind assignments, policies, and other decisions, you’ll get more buy-in because people will understand where you’re coming from and will have the benefit of hearing your perspective. People who feel that you respect them are more likely to respect you in return. Give people a chance to ask questions and have a real back-and-forth about decisions, and don’t get annoyed when people question you.
2. Invite input. Transparency isn’t just about sharing information; it’s also about giving people a chance to have a real dialogue with you. That means giving people opportunities to give meaningful input into the big decisions that you’re grappling with, and engaging with them in a real way when they do, by asking questions back to them, explaining where you disagree and why, and giving them a chance to consider and respond to that.
3. Don’t shoot the messenger or punish people for delivering bad news. There’s no faster way to train your staff to hide problems from you or wait to inform you until the last minute than punishing the bearers of bad news. If you want people to be open with you about challenges, obstacles, or outright bad news (from an angry client to signs that a big deadline might be missed), you’ve got to make them feel safe coming to you early. The way you do that is to be calm when you hear bad news, not react angrily or negatively, and make a point of thanking people when they’re candid with you, even when it’s something you didn’t want to hear.
4. Talk openly about mistakes. When a project doesn’t go as planned, be open about it, and talk about what didn’t work and why. It can be difficult to admit failure, but keeping employees in the loop will actually increase most people’s confidence in your leadership, and their confidence that they’ll know if something goes wrong in the future (rather than having to worry that they might be left out of important information).
Too often, when things go wrong, managers try to control what information gets out, but it usually backfires because employees can tell they’re being left in the dark, and that tends to make people more alarmed. Plus, people will usually start filling in the blanks on their own, and they either won’t get the facts quite right or it will get discussed without the sense of perspective that could have been added if the situation had been addressed more openly. If you’re open with people about what’s going on, you can probably avoid the worst of that and often build good will.
5. Let your team see you being transparent with your own boss. Your team will take cues from you, so if they see you modeling open, candid communication with people above you, they’re likely to pick up those habits themselves.
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