Why Transparency Makes Good Business Sense Even for SMBs

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    Before President Obama issued his Transparency and Open Government memorandum in 2009, most businesses didn’t really advertise honest communication as a business process. Since then, though, the word “transparency” has become a popular business topic and has brought many companies to a new way of communicating with customers and employees.

    If you consider how technology has affected the ways businesses communicate, transparency seems to enter naturally into the mix. To find out about a company, one simply needs to Google its name and pages of data can be found. One click of the mouse can show consumers bad reviews of a product; the same click can show employment candidates how the company treats its current workforce. The same type of search can also present company performance information for potential investors or business clients.

    So how does transparency work for business? It helps create trust.

    As FastCompany reported, a survey from 15Five of full-time employees in the U.S. found that 81 percent of those questioned would “rather join a company that values ‘open communication’ than one that offers perks such as top health plans, free food and gym memberships.” It also revealed that 85 percent of respondents weren’t satisfied with the honesty and communication in their current workplace. David Hassell, founder of 15Five, said the survey was developed to try to find out what makes companies and teams work best together.

    The study showed that good relationships that flowed with open communication lead to trust, and with that comes innovation and real discussions. People share problems and work together to create solutions. They feel more open to contribute ideas, and that can lead to smoother business processes and less stress for employees.

    How does a business begin to increase communication and openness within the company’s walls? A crowdSpring blog post offers several steps toward transparency:

    • Managers should be inclusive in meetings—include everyone in the discussion and ensure attendees that there are no bad ideas or dumb questions.
    • Brief teams with regular updates—share thoughts, challenges and strategies. Encourage others to chime in with solutions or thoughts.
    • Create quarterly or monthly emails that include business intelligence information, financial data, upcoming events and other relevant news.

    FastCompany’s article also offers a case study where a manager has one-on-one sessions with employees to discuss weekly reports and invite conversation, which may work better for those employees who aren’t comfortable speaking up in meetings. And the Standard Examiner goes further with its list, saying that companies should “practice open leadership,” and “work from the top down to get everyone on board and trained” with being more transparent.  

    Everyone should be alerted to changes as soon as possible to further build trust in workers. When difficult decisions are made, share them—don’t sneak around or be secretive. And when decisions are announced, explain why they were made, then allow workers to ask questions and have discussions about the choices. But don’t just be honest during rough times; be sure to share good company news, too.

    From a business-to-customer standpoint, transparency can take on other forms. In a recent Wired article, the author explains that gaining the trust of the customer is “the mark of a good business.” In many ways, the very use of technology makes many aspects of business more transparent. Technology, however, often creates issues where trust is broken—for example, data breaches. To regain trust after such an issue is a near Herculean task. One good step, though, is to be honest with the customers about the issue and then be transparent with the steps you will take to remedy the problem and increase security for the future. The author, Himanshu Sareen of Icreon Tech, offers one piece of advice especially for tech businesses:

    If you’re not prioritizing trust in your own tech business, you’re behind the curve no matter how revolutionary your product might be.

    Kim Mays has been editing and writing about IT since 1999. She currently tackles the topics of small to midsize business technology and introducing new tools for IT. Follow Kim on Google+ or Twitter.

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