A 2014 survey by the American Psychological Association delivered some pretty startling statistics around employees and trust:
- 25 percent of those surveyed (employed adults over 18) didn’t trust their employers; and
- Only about 50 percent believed their employers were open and upfront with them.
All employers should take notice of these numbers, even those companies that believe they are open and honest with their employees. Lack of trust, real or perceived, affects employees in a variety of ways, and employers often see it in their employees’ increased use of their sick time, poor performance and higher than expected turnover.
Increasing your company’s transparency can positively affect your customers and prospects, as well as your vendors. Being transparent with these groups means you’re giving them the data and details that show you’re truthful, open and honest in your business dealings. Perhaps that means providing the salary of each of your employees (and how you arrive at those numbers) to all employees, posting your quarterly sales and marketing metrics internally or taking full responsibility for your actions, such as a spill or a recall.
Being transparent is critical to a successful business model, especially in this era of technology and research-savvy employees and consumers. Increasing transparency (more on the “how” in a minute) can deliver changes that become apparent pretty quickly.
When you’re transparent with your employees and your customers…
Your employees perform better, and as a result, so does your company.
When you are up front about your company’s activities at all levels, including your management, employees not only feel validated, they see the “big picture” and understand everyone’s role in meeting it.
Transparency, when it comes from the top down, leads to employees who better understand the company vision. It also allows your employees to do their jobs more effectively. As a result, their work habits improve, as do their teamwork skills, as the trust they have in your management team and their co-workers, increases. And, as they see they are on a level playing field, everyone becomes better aligned.
On every Google software engineers’ first day, they get access to almost all of Google’s code. In addition, every employee can view the goals and objectives of each of their co-workers, regardless of the employee’s level.
In addition, the company holds weekly company meetings, where any employee can ask the founders questions about any topics. Google calls this “defaulting to open,” and it permeates through all aspects of the organization, including email. Employees are actually discouraged from talking negatively about other employees in email. Those employees who are being maligned may find that they’ve been added to the email thread and can see, and respond, to what is being said about them.
Prospects become customers and customers stay.
What do consumers have way too much of today? Choice. From brands of gas and tires to athletic clothing and airlines, and everything in between. Organizations that step up and embrace customer transparency give their customers and prospects the information they need to make informed decisions. In return, they get more effective, longer term relationships with their existing customers and see improved prospect conversion rates.
Whole Foods was under scrutiny for their pricing when they were struck with a class action lawsuit alleging that some of their products labeled GMO were not actually GMO. The company is working to become the first national grocery chain to offer full GMO transparency. By 2018, they’ll require every product they sell that is labelled as non-GMO to go through a strict verification process. Whole Foods hopes that by making this commitment, they will show that they are “committed to providing our customers the information they desire to help them make choices.”
Zappos.com is another great example. They’ve created an entire department dedicated to ensuring customer transparency. Their Zappos Insights group makes it possible for customers to learn more about their products and services through tours, training events and live Q&A sessions with departments including customer service and marketing. (Zappos has also improved their vendor transparency, with an extranet site that gives vendors access to the inner workings of their business.)
Moving toward full transparency in your organization
So maybe you’re not there yet, either with your employees or your customers. But shifting to full transparency to improve your employee and customer relationships is an attainable goal. There are diverse steps you can take to share the right information that allows everyone to take part in the conversation.
They need the information that will make them feel validated, useful, and able to do their jobs to their fullest. Keep in mind that some of these ideas may require you to remind employees that certain information is confidential and not to be shared outside of your organization.
- Clearly communicate your mission, vision and goals;
- Have an open door policy and adhere to it at all levels;
- Hold regular meetings, such as town hall and skip level meetings (An individual’s immediate manager is not in attendance, so he or she can share honestly.);
- Post board presentations and recordings from board meetings on your company Intranet; and
- Include some communications best practices such as chat software like Slack, Yammer or HipChat, Cloud document storage and electronic signage (to decrease email volume and open up details like company financials, to the entire company).
Think about the face of your company seen by your customers. Do you have a social media presence? If not, or if you have one and you’re not using it effectively, change it up. Start posting on social media regularly, tweeting, facebooking and writing articles that show your company executives and employees as thought leaders. Most importantly, put your successes out there, as well as your failures. You had to recall thousands of tons of broccoli? Admit it when it happens and let your customers know what you’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
You may think that by sharing with the public you’ll be giving away all of your trade secrets. That’s far from the truth. You may not be able to share all of the ingredients in your highly successful chocolate chunk cookie recipe, but why not share a behind-the-scenes look at your manufacturing process? Once your customers see how clean your floor is, that trust will go a long way toward the number of cookies they buy or the number of people they send the video link to.
When businesses are open with their employees, vendors and the public, they build trust while holding themselves accountable, which will in turn improve morale, customer satisfaction and your bottom line.