Online and virtual businesses often operate at the speed of light. In modern companies, keeping workflow transparent and obvious to everyone within the company is vital.
Transparency is important when sharing basic information and data, yet the importance of transparency in the decision-making process is frequently overlooked. Everyone should know the who/what/when/how/why of big decisions so they can continue to feel important and involved in the company. For example, simply letting everyone know who is responsible for a task clarifies two things:
- The person responsible for the task understands what he or she should do.
- It frees up everyone else to work on their own jobs without worrying about what other tasks need attention.
Transparency ultimately leads to clarity for everyone, which makes people more productive. No one likes to be in the dark.
Model of Transparency
My company had to work hard to make our actions transparent to the whole team. We do much of our work in the cloud using tools like shared Google Docs, which minimizes email confusion and gives everyone access to important documents.
Our internal systems also include performance measures that all employees can see. We believe these measures are as essential to a company as a gas gauge or speedometer is to a car. Without those, it's impossible to know if you’re going too fast or too slow or are running low on gas.
We also have a relatively flat corporate structure. Employees regularly pitch ideas directly to the CEO, and we take the time to listen. We particularly pride ourselves on quick turnarounds for great ideas, and make transparent the reasons we come to our decisions.
Another transparency technique is open emails. According to a recent Business Insider piece, CEO Patrick Collison of Stripe explains that with every email internally searchable, it results in more fluid coordination and fewer meetings. We decided to communicate with clients via a shared email account that everyone can access, but we also respect the privacy associated with personal email accounts. It’s the best of both worlds.
Transparency is not limited to internal operations. Your customers will appreciate transparency, too. Think about the last time you went online to book a plane ticket. Was it annoying to arrive at the last page and then discover all the extra fees that were added on to your final price? It would be simple to put that information at the beginning of the process so the customer feels less ambushed.
Transparency is Teamwork
Of course, mention more transparency and everyone immediately thinks of “big brother.” Your team doesn’t want to feel they aren’t trusted, and CEOs don’t want to feel like spymasters. There are some simple ways to counter this feeling.
1. Make it clear that transparency applies to everyone. From the CEO down, transparency is a two-way communication street. When you implement it throughout the entire company, it becomes more about teamwork than about a focus on any one individual.
2. When you point out areas for improvement, include suggestions. People quickly tire of “this stinks” conversations. Instead, challenge your team to think creatively about ways to change course. Everyone likes to feel challenged and included in the problem solving.
3. Make transparency about the company’s goals a priority. Communicate that the more everyone knows, the better you can work as a team. Line up goals with your vision of the company, and let everyone see it. Your team may be deep in details, but because of transparency, you can help point to the bigger picture. This will give fresh life to a project that may have been lagging.
4. As the business owner, make yourself available. Your employees will feel safer being open and transparent with you.
Transparency in a company can vastly improve company culture, employee morale and productivity. If done right, it doesn’t have to be negative or unpleasant. Rather, the more information employees have, the more invested they will be in the company. And motivated, well-informed employees can be a company’s greatest asset.
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Chuck Cohn is the founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors, a leading national tutoring and test prep company with operations in 25 cities, 2,000 tutors and 80 employees. Prior to Varsity Tutors, Chuck was a venture capitalist with Ascension Health Ventures, a $550 million venture capital firm, and worked as an investment banker in the Energy & Power Investment Banking Group of Wachovia/Wells Fargo. He is also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.