Transparency, Openness, & Trust
If you imagine a company as a house, envision the typical departments occupying various rooms throughout the house. Perhaps human resources is in the foyer, operations in the basement, product development in the kitchen, and so forth. In this analogy, the traditional role of marketing has been to create a winsome awning and a fine porch to attract customers.
As we are now in the age of transparency, the customer is no longer willing to stand on the porch. There are people peeking in windows, walking the perimeter of the property, and resident workers pushing messages through bricks in the wall. There are eggs thrown at the porch via social media. Even for small businesses, there is quite a bit of commotion around our tiny homes.
This is stressful for companies that like their pristine porticos. As McChrystal writes,
“Most organizations are more concerned with how best to control information than how best to share it.”
There are more people now who want to know how a company treats its workers, how they treat the planet, and what they stand for. They expect an available chat window, phone line, or response on Twitter.
With communication networks, this information circulates quickly. A bad retail experience may have previously been shared with a few folks at the bar or salon, or in the church basement with a dozen people. Now, the network effect kicks into gear and a story can reach thousands within minutes.
You can try to maintain the organizational facade, or even install security cameras, but recognize that information wants to be free. Rather than having a surveillance approach, I encourage you to selectively open doors and windows. Invite people in to see the inner workings of your company.
The visitors may applaud, or they may gasp. Each gasp is an opportunity to learn, an invitation to respond with real questions, acknowledge flaws, and offer amends and aspirations. The public wants authenticity, not defensiveness, and tends to reward companies that reveal their own maturation process. This gives you the chance to utilize a positive network effect. As consultant and author Harold Jarche writes,
“Trust emerges through openness and transparency.”
The online retailer Zappos openly publishes an annual culture book of employees’ statements and art about working at the company. It is unedited, and thus includes complaints as well as praise. It is an authentic representation of culture – more of a glass house than a contrived porch.
The technology company Buffer openly publishes how they calculate their pricing model and employee salaries. As a customer or prospect, you can see how the subscription fees you pay are allocated. The consulting firm August posts their strategy documents in a public Google Drive for anyone to review. Billion dollar tire retailer Les Schwab has shared profits with employees since opening their first store opened in 1952. Now they have nearly 500 stores, crediting their growth in part to training each person, who starts by changing tires, on how to read financial statements and ledgers. Everyone in the shop has full access to the books.
Capitalism needs more accountability. We need more open books, open data, and openness to dialogue. This is the path to restoring trust.
Invite the public to meetings. Have open Q&A sessions with workers, prospective employees, customers, and citizen media representatives from the community. Share unfinished ideas and concerns with employees. Facilitate a strategy rather than deliver one. Admit uncertainty, and acknowledge mistakes.
There’s a timeless truth about trust – it is based on experience. When organizations deliver on their promises, and authentically reveal their aspirations and struggles, people begin to empathize and trust, one experience at a time. This applies to CEO’s as much as it applies to cashiers. When customers get invited into the boiler room and the kitchen, they start to invite neighbors too . . . not because it’s perfect or beautiful but because it is common to us all. They’ve been asked to participate. As the trust builds, they likely will.
This article originally was originally posted at LinkedIn Pulse