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How to Create a Transparent Workplace

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All too often, company boilerplates describe how they think their culture should be rather than what it actually is. That’s not to say they’re hiding some deep, dark secret. But there’s a disconnect between what leadership thinks they should be and what they honestly are.

The truth is that there’s a battle for talent in nearly every industry. Why? Because the best and the brightest are in short supply. Business is moving at lightning speed, strategy is vital, and human capital is at a premium.

Often, the need to hire quickly outweighs measuring the cultural fit and hiring someone who isn’t culturally aligned can be just as detrimental as not actually recruiting for the role.

Culture meets expectations

One of the big challenges organizations face in securing human capital is a sea change in employee expectations. It’s no secret what Gen Z wants. Endless research studies show they’re looking for more flexibility in the workplace and hours. They seek purpose beyond the paycheck, and their view of the chain of command, deference to more senior staff members, and the role of corporate hierarchy is very different from that of Gen X or Boomers.

To their credit, many organizations recognize this and are taking steps to adapt. For example, Gen Z’s focus on mental wellbeing is seeing the rise of mental health first aiders in the workplace as standard.

However, others are less willing to bend to these demands, and that is OK as long as they are clear about the policies and why they believe they are important. As of January 2024, several major technology companies, including Google, Amazon, Meta and Apple, have implemented return-to-office mandates requiring employees to be in the office at least three days per week.

We’ve also returned to the office in a hybrid capacity, driven by our belief that culture matters. Connecting with your team members in person builds a bond and team chemistry that you cannot replicate being fully remote. We also believe exposure to in-person meetings, brainstorming, and informal office chats drives greater development and growth opportunities.

Related: How To Be An Empathetic Leader (Without Getting Walked All Over)

Your cultural value system shapes your team

Cultural transparency requires being upfront about who you are, why you exist, what you value and how you want to work together. Being clear and realistic about your company’s culture is more important than creating the perception of “perfection.” It doesn’t always pay to be idealistic.

For example, adopting the motto that you want to “move fast and break things” could well mean your business will attract self-starters, risk-takers, innovators and people with a healthy appetite for debate. Living as we do in a time where “disruption” and “transformation” are the words du jour, it’s understandable that a company seeking to fit into that environment would want to position itself that way.

However, if the leadership is also protecting a risk-averse financial position, dealing with stakeholders who cling very tightly to the status quo and favor a tightly controlled work process, candidates with a “move fast mentality will almost certainly be at odds with the company culture from day one.

Move with the times — gradually

When it comes to culture, you can’t fake it ’til you make it. Company culture drives the business, determining how your team interacts and performs and, therefore, the foundation for identity.

Cultural change is one of the hardest strategic maneuvers to execute. It requires time and patience from all sides, and everyone must be willing to flex to some degree.

It still pays to hire for cultural fit rather than purely on skills. In my experience, it’s easier to teach someone to use Excel than to teach them to be free-thinkers. If your business is transitioning, you need to hire people with adaptability and attributes that match what your business seeks to become.

You have to be willing to change, too — perhaps more than you are comfortable with. A boss who is used to complete visibility of his team in an open-plan office may struggle with an increasingly remote workforce. Senior leadership, used to rigid hierarchy, will find it tough to be challenged on ideas by a junior, recent hire.

Wherever you are in the process, the key is to be upfront. What you are today is unlikely to be the status quo forever—the best businesses can and must evolve with the times. Finding the best hires who can evolve with you means cultural transparency, warts and all.

Related: How to Be an Adaptable Leader and Use Change to Your Advantage

Being transparent about transparency

There was some trepidation when our leadership first agreed to be transparent with our employees. Questions arose, such as what we would share with employees when we would provide these updates, how often we should loop people in, etc. The reality is that you can still make mistakes even with a brilliant plan.

Employee communications are a critical success factor. I focus on the three Cs of consistency, clarity and connections. It’s important to ensure leaders are consistent in their approach and messaging, clear in what they’re saying, and explain when certain information can’t be shared. They also need to be cohesive so everyone feels they matter, knows their part of the business is important and understands that communications connect all of the business, even non-client-facing teams.

Sharing anything and everything with everyone is not the goal of transparency. It is about providing the team with timely, well-thought-out updates on the business in a way they can digest and make sense of. Consider this: If you update the whole company every time something negative happens, people are going to start to worry about the health of the company when, in reality, the company may be growing. This doesn’t mean you never share that information, but there is an appropriate time, place and amount of information to share.

We’ve found that internal press releases of important news work well, gathering necessary information into one central document. We also include an FAQ section in anticipation of questions that may arise.

But there’s no “one size fits all” approach toward conveying information, and you need to find out what works best for your company. Clear, authentic communication about cultural values and expectations remains critical, especially as employee priorities shift towards flexibility and mental wellbeing.

Let’s face facts: Internal marketing and announcements tend to take a backseat for most companies, and while that’s understandable, you’ll always be struggling to get everyone on the same page unless you prioritize it. So put in the legwork now, and you’ll reap the rewards later.

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