How about a culture of trust via transparency?

Transparency At Work

Very buzzword-laden headline, no? I’m here for you.

I fully understand, and write often about, the idea that words like “culture” and “transparency” don’t mean anything to most people in terms of making money, and the goal of most orgs is “making money.” If you spend too much time thinking about “a culture of trust,” that’s time away from “making money,” and then, well, maybe no one has a job anymore. (People think like this.) This is also one of the reasons the idea of “talent strategy” is a fucking farce: add up the number of hours your senior decision-makers spend talking about talent, then add up the number of hours they spend talking about margins and targets and deliverables. Tell me which one is higher. I have a guess.

I’m real big on transparency. My core guy friends and I have a group e-mail thread where we’re currently talking about depression, anxiety, our parents getting older, sex stuff, in-laws, etc. Remember: these are guys. That’s supposed to be the non-emotional gender. I also (try to) write in a transparent way about some issues, like my marriage or how 2013-2014 was one of the harder stretches of my life.

So I’m a big believer in transparency. And literally no place I’ve ever worked has been, even though every CEO/CFO/COO I’ve worked with talks about it all the time. Clearly a disconnect there. But maybe there’s a way around it…

Check this out. Here’s a CFO talking about something they do at his company:

One of the things I do, on a regular basis, is share the company’s financial metrics with a large group of employees. They’ll see what our sales are and what our profitability is like. I’ll share the operating plan for the year, outlining our priorities, our current focus, how we’re managing any debt and our construction.

I think that shows trust. Some folks would say, “Well gee whiz in my organization we wouldn’t do that.” To me, your goal should be to gain widespread support for your actions and you do that by being transparent. Moreover, by providing this information to our employees, we’re showing them we have confidence in their ability to recognize what’s important and what’s sensitive. It’s an acknowledgment of how we view them and what we think they’re capable of.

To me, that idea seems logical, right? If you have employees and you show them proprietary shit, and then they go and share that in the wrong places, they probably realize they can get fired, no? It’s a tough job market. So they probably don’t want to get fired. So they probably won’t do it. And the sheer instance of you opening up about something normally reserved for the top levels … that can foster a lot of connection from “the individual” back to “the organization.” People like and respond to trust and real stories.

Those two concepts, actually — “trust” and “real stories” — are basically two of the things that keep us connected as human beings. So you’d think fostering them in a company would be valuable, right? Often it isn’t.

Another thing I’ve never understood about this general topic: Americans have a huge fucking problem with financial literacy at the individual level, but almost every company has a CFO, an accounting team, a finance team, etc. Why couldn’t those people teach seminars on finance? I realize “personal finance” and “organizational finance” are different, but many of the core concepts are similar. If you opened up those opportunities for learning and transparency and connectedness, couldn’t that be valuable? Logically, I would think so.

Again, this is all a fool’s errand. No one really cares about “trust” because you can’t toss it on a spreadsheet, schedule it in Excel, or speak to its bottom-line value. Process and product > people, baby.


Ted Bauer