Sharing uncertainties about the future of a company is scary. Employees might lose faith and project negativity about the times ahead or even start looking for another job. Being transparent with your team can often be uncomfortable, but leaders need to face that discomfort head-on to build trust and create a healthy environment for growth.
Here are five steps for becoming more comfortable with transparent leadership:
1. Go Deeper
Develop relationships with employees beyond their daily work tasks. Spend time getting to know them and their motivations. Ask where they want to be in 12 months, and get on the same page about what they are willing and able to do as the business grows. This transparency lays the foundation necessary to really know your employees, which will help you decide on the right fit for different opportunities.
When you cultivate deeper relationships with your employees, everyone feels more invested in the team. So, engage with them during times of personal struggle. Work on community projects together, and open up spaces for fun. We used to do a lot of food and clothing drives for the homeless and other social events — each one significantly boosted our workplace culture of healthy relationships. This is part of the reason why no employee has willingly left our company since 2016.
2. Build Trust
Employees who trust you also believe in you as their representative. People who trust they have someone looking out for them, be it their CEO or general manager, tend to focus less on advancing their interests and more on what they can do for the team. When they trust that you’ll provide them with ample opportunities to grow, employees can spend time and energy reaching their fullest potential.
Trust can be fragile, so when it comes to transparency, sooner is always better. Tell people right away when, say, you’ve only got 60 days of cash in the bank and layoffs might come at any moment. If you hide something like this, those who stay will lose trust in you because of the weeks you kept them out of the loop. On the other hand, if they trust that you’ll get them through the company’s struggles, they’ll stick by you when you need them most.
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3. Stay the Course
Transparency is easy when everything’s going well, but it’s more challenging – and more critical – when times are tough. In my company’s early years, a partnership with Facebook made us millions of dollars and allowed us to grow from seven to 50 people. Then in 2016, Facebook changed its terms and shut down those operations. Revenue dropped, and we found ourselves with too many employees to sustain.
Avoiding transparency might have been the more comfortable option. But we realized that the longer we waited for things to get better, the more the chances of good severance packages would decrease if they didn’t. So, instead of hiding what was going on from our employees, we called in career counselors, LinkedIn experts, and resume writers and let everyone know that we wanted them landing on their feet if it came down to layoffs. In the end, the people who left were happy we took care of them, and those who stayed felt more confident in their role with the company.
4. Have the Hard Conversations
Confronting what scares us is never comfortable, but in avoiding it, you potentially hold back your business and its employees from success. For instance, even if it puts your shareholders on edge, have transparent conversations about fair compensation. Address the fact that conservative pay may lead to lower-quality work from employees. If you identify exceptional work and compensate for it well, you establish a consistent quality outcome. Then, when your employees succeed, everyone can see why paying a rockstar developer more money was worth it.
As another example, I’m a big believer in giving employees second or even third chances to improve, but giving someone a warning is another potentially uncomfortable conversation to have. They might quit or feel resentful if they stay. But, if you don’t have these conversations, you rob people of the opportunity to improve. Having transparent discussions can be nerve-wracking, but it’s a leader’s responsibility to face that fear and deal with the consequences.
5. Support Everyone’s Best Interests
Be willing to treat everyone’s development equally and make decisions with their best interests in mind. From shareholders to customers, everyone’s part of the same team and working toward a common goal. Transparency is easiest when you care as much about your employees’ outcomes as you do about yours.
Of course, even when you offer opportunities to grow, some employees will still leave – embrace that possibility. Make sure everyone knows that you genuinely want what’s best for them, even if that means pursuing an opportunity elsewhere. Develop the kind of transparent communication where employees will be honest if they want to leave, but offer enough comfort that they’ll be inclined to stay.
When it comes to building a successful business, neither fear nor selfishness is a worthwhile strategy, and avoiding transparency is always some form of both. Being transparent doesn’t have to be a struggle – try adopting these strategies and see how your business can flourish. Like turning lemons into lemonade, change your perspective so you can turn obstacles into opportunities. Once your problems lose their fear factor, overcoming them becomes a much simpler feat.