There’s much talk about corporate transparency, but what does it mean in practice? Chris Catliff, CEO of BlueShore Financial, and Andrea Soberg, associate professor and former dean of the Trinity Western University School of Business, clear the air
“Transparency breeds trust, which breeds engagement, which is your key to success—whether that engagement is with your clients or your business partners or your staff,” says Catliff. “No secret life for work or wife—it’s all out there. And then people forgive your faults because they see them at least consistently.” “The better organizations truly are transparent and honest—to their clients, to their employees, to their board,” says Soberg. “What makes them successful is that the leaders become trustworthy, due to their transparency.”
Clear systems and processes consistently applied let everyone know the rules of the game, from the company’s culture to corporate reports to the activities of the board, says Soberg. “There’s this consistency of language but also consistency of application.” For Catliff, strong, shared corporate values are equally important. “We explain our decisions in those values, and we don’t make decisions that are outside those values. One of them is 360-degree accountability, so we hold each other accountable, but I’m just as accountable to the staff as they are to me.”
Keep communication lines open
It’s important to ask for feedback and listen to feedback, says Catliff. BlueShore employees can “connect with Chris,” anonymously if they prefer, via intranet and receive a response within 24 hours. It’s also important to “initiate brave dialogue” and not allow things to fester. “The worst thing that I can imagine is if an employee hears some bad news first in the newspaper or from a customer.” When rumours begin, says Soberg, transparency breaks down and you lose people’s trust.
Focus on why, not what
Honesty and transparency help give employees a sense of purpose, but telling them why also allows them to figure out where they belong, says Catliff. Soberg agrees that employees need to see how their work fits into the organization’s mission. “Employees are participating in the organization’s success, and also in the development of policies and procedures that affect the work environment,” she says. “So it’s not just top down. A participative environment is created, which further creates transparency.”
Know your limits
Transparency doesn’t mean sharing everything, says Soberg. It should be clear, however, that established procedures have been followed without revealing confidential details. Catliff says everything needs to be transparent and authentic, with two exceptions. Management can speak about options, but musing about hypotheticals creates uncertainty, plus sometimes information critical to the business’s success must remain secret: for example, when BlueShore was rebranding from North Shore Credit Union. Staff were kept informed about the process but not the details until a week before the public announcement.