‘Openness’ means many things to different people. To some, it’s equivalent to transparency, while to others it means the courage to try new experiences, and to allow one’s self to be vulnerable. In this two-part series, I am going to explore each of these perspectives that sometimes make Openness an abstract concept in a professional context.
Experiencing the unknown by delving into the depths of the previously concealed can be daunting, but also liberating. In a professional context, Openness could help us become not only better employees and leaders but also better problem solvers and team players.
A common misconception about ‘Transparency’ is that it means to share everything, to be an open book, and to have no filters. However, as Simon Sinek explains in the video below, it is more about providing context and reducing uncertainty.
Transparency is about respecting one another enough to ask the difficult questions and listen to the difficult answers. It is to be inclusive and real with your employees and teams, involving the people in your organisation in the decisions that will impact them. It’s about trusting people to be able to handle the good news and the bad, and about not creating a false sense of safety.
Leading with Transparency
The pandemic made leaders step up across industries to lead through uncertainty while guiding their employees to live through the daily challenges. Transparency in organisations is the need of the hour. Companies that are not able to work towards having stronger internal communications end up making their employees feel left out of decisions that impact their livelihood and future.
When employees are informed rather than involved, their fear of the uncertain future only fuels doubt in the leadership of the company. Transparency allows a smooth and timely flow of information across teams, which creates a deeper shared understanding and increased respect and trust in one another.
In the Hospitality Industry, airlines, cruises, hotels, and restaurants were forced to lay off millions of people globally due to the pandemic. Some industry leaders preferred to paint a picture of false security until the day they had to terminate multiple contracts. Having experienced this first-hand at the beginning of the lockdown and having seen my friends and colleagues go through the same, I can confirm that while the purpose may have been to protect the brand image and attempt to reassure employees, this was not the most compassionate or respectful way to treat people during a crisis. It only made matters worse for those who trusted their leaders, and their well-intentioned but eventually empty promises of security. This erosion of understanding, respect, and trust coupled with escalating anxiety levels hampered the ability of the employee to be empathetic to their employer’s situation.
Creating a false sense of hope does more harm than good. It creates more stress for employees who hear one thing from management and see another in practice. In such situations, it is more beneficial for both parties to adopt transparency in their communication and respect one another. If your company is planning to lay off employees, do not tell them their jobs are safe. Explain the situation as it unfolds, share the challenges faced, and offer support to help them seek employment elsewhere. Give referrals, write recommendations, listen to employees’ concerns and let them know that the decision to let them go was the absolute last resort. It was not a reflection of their skills, dedication nor the quality of their work.
While some of the most respected leaders and largest companies in the world struggled with Transparency and Empathy during the pandemic, Brian Chesky, Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb did everything right whilst communicating with his employees. Take a moment to read this note and reflect on the importance of Transparency in Leadership.
Deconstructing his message, here’s how Transparency was achieved in a compassionate, empathetic, and respectful way while laying off 25% of the global workforce.
- Clearly communicating to employees over time that ‘nothing is off the table’, rather than creating a false sense of job security — Integrity and Trust
- Acknowledging that while the decision to lay off employees is a sad one for the company, it is even sadder for the employees who are losing their jobs — Empathy
- Providing context and explaining how the decision was made, as well as the new reimagined path the company wishes to take — Respect
- Introducing extensive and thoughtful resources for employees being laid off to support them through the crisis and help them find new opportunities — Empathy and Compassion
- Defining how employees will receive communication that lets them know about their future with the company, thereby eliminating some of the uncertainty — Respect
- Apologising to employees whose roles are being made redundant — Respect and Compassion
Serving with Transparency
Transparency between brands and clients is another aspect of Openness worth exploring. With the pandemic creating large safety-centric trust gaps between businesses and customers, transparency could go a long way in making customers feel safe enough to return to the business establishments they once frequented.
When a business is forthcoming about information regarding their prevailing safety measures, it shows customers that their concerns are respected, that they are valued, and that efforts are being made to protect them. Customers, in turn, could respect the protocols laid down for their own safety.
The value created by Transparency in customer service is reciprocal.
- Customers can revisit their favourite restaurants or stores and enjoy the experiences they missed out on during the lockdown, while also being mindful of the precautions in place for their safety.
- Businesses can slowly regain the trust and loyalty of their customers. This could lead to an increase in accountability and ownership among all levels of the workforce.
- Appreciation or positive feedback from customers could lead to service frontliners and store-level management investing more of their effort in customer service and safety, which could yield higher sales and increase employee productivity and engagement.
Trust cannot exist without Respect. Transparency can only exist in the presence of Trust and Respect.
Watch SatisFIND’s Reboot S1, E5 for a quick guide on how to practice Openness in the workplace.
How do you perceive transparency? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!