The world is getting more transparent every day. Globalization, social media, and information platforms on the web have opened up the world to us. We are more informed of everything than a generation ago. And we expect more transparency from our social institutions, such as the state, businesses, and even religion.
On the other hand, the business world still clings to opaque practices established almost a century ago, starting with Frederick Taylor. Hierarchical management structures, a focus on mechanical efficiency instead of innovation, and secretive cascading goal-setting. All outdated, especially the last one.
Top-down, cascading goal-setting doesn't work as it used to in today's hybrid, agile, and global business environments. It creates a culture of silos, reduces team alignment and agility, and encourages thoughtless tasks-driven execution. And yet, it persists.
According to a Harvard Business School study, "only 7% of employees fully understand their company's business strategies and what's expected of them in order to help achieve company goals". How can these companies excel when 93% of their workforce is in the dark and not aligned with organizational goals?
Solution? Make the goals transparent. Research and real-world success stories suggest that making your goals open to your entire organization produces better results. The world's most successful companies, such as Google, Amazon, Deloitte, GE, Intel, Netflix, and Samsung, have transparent goals.
What is Workplace Transparency?
A transparent workplace promotes openness between managers and employees, no matter how challenging it might be. Many companies have embraced transparency as one of their core values. They have realized the immense benefits of having transparent goals in the workplace.
Here are some indicators to understand what workplace transparency looks like.
- Transparent goals in the workplace
In a transparent work culture, there will be clarity on the vision and goals of the company across the workforce. The goals will be visible at every level and will not be stated in vague terms. Having transparent goals in the workplace offers many benefits. Employees will be able to know what their co-workers are working on and how that impacts their team’s performance. This goal clarity will also help employees understand their roles in the larger scheme of things. They will be able to contribute better to the organizational goals.
- Accountability and ownership at all levels
Workplace transparency eliminates confusion. In a transparent environment, the goals are broken down into smaller tasks and assigned to individual employees with clear communication of their expectations. Each employee can then be held accountable for the outcomes. This makes the employee more responsible and takes ownership of the task assigned.
- Open and honest communication
Honest communication is the bedrock of transparency. Managers and employees both should not shy away from asking tough questions and answering honestly. This will only help in the growth of the employee and the organization.
Transparency requires you to acknowledge and face a problem instead of hiding it. Employees are encouraged to discuss issues and seek help from colleagues. Honest criticism and constructive feedback are the results of transparency.
Importance of Transparency in an Organization
According to research, shared goals are more likely to be accomplished than private ones. Making your goals visible to everyone brings everyone on the same page, boosts collaboration and productivity, and gives employees autonomy to develop innovative solutions to business problems.
The following points indicate the importance of transparency and transparent goals in the workplace.
- Better employee engagement and happiness
When managers lead with transparency and are open with their teams, employees also feel empowered to share. This allows them to bring forward innovative ideas, processes and honest feedback during reviews. In a transparent workplace, employees are not just given honest criticism but are also honestly praised and recognized for their hard work and success. This kind of environment significantly improves employee engagement and happiness. It further positively impacts the employees’ overall development and well-being.
- Effective team building
When there are transparent goals in the workplace, you can assess what kind of team you need. It will help in figuring out which employee fits best in which project. A fair assessment of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses can be performed in a transparent work atmosphere. This will lead to forming the best possible team to achieve the goals effectively.
In a recent BCG survey, employees put the relationship with colleagues and superiors as their top two work priorities. Having transparent goals fosters teamwork among employees. That creates trust, turns competitors into collaborators, and deepens work relationships. When employees know they are working with others to achieve the same goals, they are more motivated, engaged, and deliver high performance.
- Psychological safety
Workplace transparency can lead to psychological safety. This is because a transparent environment is conducive for the employees to openly speak their minds and express their opinions, ideas and thoughts. A sense of trust is established among the employees, and they know that their managers have their best interests at heart. Thus, transparency in the workplace drives them to perform better.
- Stronger work culture and values
When your organization consistently enhances transparency in all its processes, it sends a positive message to employees at all levels. It builds a strong bond of trust and respect among everyone in the company. Leading your company with such values strengthens your work culture and sets a precedent for other organizations to follow.
- Transparency is inherently better
Neuroscience shows that our brains work best when we don't feel threatened. In business environments, one can feel threatened or stressed because of a lack of clarity, insecurity, and politicking. When you make your goals transparent, employees know everyone's responsibilities and performance. This clarity shuts down their "fight or flight" mode and drives them to give their best to fulfil organizational goals.
- Everyone on the same page
In a survey by MIT Sloan School of Management, 40% of 400 global CEOs cited the lack of alignment as their number one challenge to executing strategy. Transparent goals help employee align their individual goals with those of the organization. This alignment drives teams to hit their targets. According to a Harvard Business Review research, aligned employees are 2.2 times more likely to be top performers.
- More collaboration
Collaboration among employees and teams is critical to achieving business goals. In a transparent organization, every employee can see each other's goals and progress. When one employee struggle with something, others come to support. The same goes for collaboration among teams, which is the second most cited challenge by CEOs in executing strategy. Having transparent organizational goals motivates teams to collaborate and come up with unexpected and brilliant solutions.
- Prevents redundancy
Having transparent goals and clear progress charts lowers redundancy inside the company. When everyone knows what everyone else is working on, the chances of two employees or teams unwittingly doing the same thing decrease
- Prioritization brings focus
"I believe most companies fail because they're not focused.... or they're focused internally on things like politics and bureaucracy." Ryan Smith, co-founder and CEO of Qualtrics said in a New York Times interview. Transparent goals help employees prioritize things that contribute to achieving those goals. Prioritization brings focus to the organization and prevents productivity-killing politicking, bureaucracy, and lack of drive.
- Enables stretch goals
Google co-founder Larry Page once said, "If you set a crazy, ambitious goal and miss it, you'll still achieve something remarkable." He was talking about stretch goals at Google, called "moonshots." Stretch goals are goals that are somewhere in between audacious and unachievable. While your organizational goals are linear and incremental, your stretch goals can deliver non-linear, groundbreaking results. In Google's case, Gmail, YouTube, and Chrome all came out of stretch goals.
Ways to Create Transparency at Work
Being transparent at work is easier said than done. It is not easy for everyone to be honest and straightforward, particularly in certain situations and before certain people. Thus, it becomes essential for organizations to have such processes in place, which creates transparency in the workplace.
Here are some ideas that can be easily implemented.
- Document every process
Every process should be organized and documented so all employees can access it. This eliminates any information gaps and misinterpretations. When the whole team is working on a project, every action taken and the results achieved should be mentioned on a platform where each member can access it. This boosts transparency and avoids confusion within the team.
- Invite questions
As a leader, you must encourage and inculcate transparency in your organization. To do so, invite questions from your employees so that they stop feeling intimidated or hesitant to speak up. You can hold regular Q&A and brainstorming sessions as a means to gain valuable insights from employees. Normalize asking questions to senior management or the CEO during company meetings.
- Lead by example
Action speaks louder than words. Just telling the employees to develop a transparent work culture is not enough. You have to set examples for them to follow. You have to practice transparency with your team and set the standard.
- Foster accountability for each goal
As a team leader, you should assign ownership for every task. Set transparent goals in the workplace and allocate each task to individual employees according to their capabilities. Just expecting employees to perform their part effectively will not serve the purpose. Each member should be held accountable for specific objectives.
What successful organizations do differently?
So, now that you understand transparent goals are better for everyone, let's discuss how to make it happen. Every organization is unique, and you may need a different approach to achieve it. Here are some things that most of the successful companies with transparent goals share.
OKRs, or Objectives (What) and Key Results (How), is one of the most popular goal-setting frameworks. OKRs are public for everyone to see what objectives the company is trying to achieve and what others are working on. Using OKRs brings transparency and agility into your goal-setting. Read more about OKRs: Here, here, and here.
Share goals, context, and results
Communicate your organizational goals (the "Whats" and "Hows") with everyone in the company together with the context (the "Whys"). It will give your employees a complete picture of what you are trying to achieve. And once the results are in, share them too. Avoid the temptation to spin. Communicate your failures and learnings, not just wins.
Trust employees to make decisions
After you've communicated top-level business goals to your employees, trust them to make decisions independently. Micromanagement is mismanagement. Autonomy is crucial to creativity, innovation, and experimentation. Let your employees forge their own paths to achieve the desired outcomes.
Hire people who care about transparency
Building a transparent organization starts with the interview process. Hire people who care about your mission and values, especially a transparent work culture. The correct candidates will be excited about joining an open environment and not just the role.
Create a communication infrastructure
Communication is crucial in a transparent organization. Build an infrastructure to foster communication in your company. It could be Slack channels, Microsoft Teams, or a modern HR system like Mesh. With Mesh, you can set public goals, manage projects in a better way, and have 1:1s with your employees to coach and develop. Learn more at mesh.ai
Today's employees have become more purpose-driven, relationship-focused, and aware of the employer's impact on the world. Having transparent goals earns their trust and provides them with the context, purpose, and motivation to perform their best—a win-win for the company and the employees.
Speaking the truth is not always pleasant, which is why most of us avoid it, particularly during difficult times. But, a transparent workplace where everyone feels comfortable speaking their minds and sharing their successes and failures brings people closer to each other and allows them to work together in the best way possible.
Transparency in the workplace should be reflected in all aspects. It should begin from the hiring process itself and should be practised in all the functions and levels of hierarchy.