I get this question all the time. Don’t hate me, but the answer to this question is…it depends.
Consider Your Natural Tendencies– What is your mindset about transparency?
It’s not surprising that we need to start with our own mindset, beliefs, and natural tendencies! Each of us has different beliefs and experiences with transparency (or lack thereof). Some people, like me, are High Influencer in DISC language. We are external processors and tend to overshare. Others, with High Steadiness, want to hold on to information until they know how it is going to impact things; after all, they want a steady state so any information sharing could rock the boat. People with High Dominance are afraid of being taken advantage of. They are wondering how sharing information might give someone leverage over them or how they might use the information against them. Finally, High Compliance folks don’t want to make a mistake and hold onto information until they feel they have analyzed it so much that it is perfect.
So ask yourself, am I holding back information for personal reasons/preferences?
Consider your intentions – Why are you sharing (or not sharing) the information?
There are plenty of times when a leader can’t be fully transparent. A common example is when there is a person on the team not pulling their weight and everyone wants to know “what are you going to do about it”. It is not appropriate to share that information- in fact, your organization may have confidentiality rules about sharing aspects of performance management. That said, you can be transparent about your mindset that every member of the team needs to be engaged in the work. You can share your intentions to address any issues. And you can state that there are limits to what you can share about performance management.
Another classic conundrum is transparency when it comes to profit. One of my clients was typical in his thinking that the frontline team won’t understand the budget and that when they see top-line revenue, they will all ask for a raise because they don’t understand all of the expenses. Assuming that people don’t, or won’t, understand how profit is created limits your team’s ability to impact profit. In my Profit ZoneTM training with companies, we teach every team member how they impact the bottom line. While we don’t do a dollar-by-dollar budget review, we raise awareness that every employee has the responsibility of generating a profit and that there are 9 activities that impact profit. This level of transparency creates energy and momentum. Team members feel like they have insider knowledge about the business. They see how they specifically can impact profit beyond revenue generation. In fact, they become powerhouses for cost savings and for ways to ensure customers become raving fans.
Consider your system of communication– When, where, and how are you sharing the information?
Knowing your people, you can determine the best way to share information. Financials can certainly be in a large group format. Individual concerns are best served in person, on video, or by phone. Emails are only helpful when it is data sharing or giving an update. Remember that emails are one-way communication so you still need to seek out the feedback loop.
There is no perfect answer when it comes to transparency and leadership but if you have the right intentions, you are already one step ahead. If you make a mistake, own it and do better next time.