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How Transparency Can Grow With Your Business

Kevin Xu
Kevin Xu

These tips can help your small business maintain transparency as it grows.

  • Employees will be more likely to trust a company that keeps them informed and engaged – just like consumers will be more eager to support a business that showcases its values.
  • Transparency becomes more difficult as companies grow larger, but it also becomes more important.
  • Cross-department shadowing and in-person meetings are two effective ways to encourage transparency. 

Transparency is an essential and desirable quality for any business. Consumers demand a clear and upfront look at how companies operate, and the people who work for those companies crave the same transparency.

With fewer employees and layers of decision-makers, small businesses might find it easier to be transparent. But what happens when those businesses grow and scale? Transparency becomes more difficult, but it also becomes more important. With the right strategies and approaches, a small business can develop a culture of transparency as it grows.

One of the biggest challenges of remaining transparent as a company grows is finding ways to integrate new team members. Most of these hires will not have an understanding of the origins of early operational decisions. Rather than leaving these new team members to make their own assumptions, it's important to let them see the context of the decision-making process. This strategy will unify new employees with the rest of the team while establishing a bond of trust between them and leadership. 

Along with a unified workforce, there are other benefits to transparency. For one, it can generate more support for management. When everyone knows how decisions are made and what's important, team members are more likely to be on board when there's a change at the top. Transparency can also make it easier to adapt by providing a track record to anticipate future changes and help employees adjust to shifting conditions.

A clear need for business transparency

It's not hard to make a case for increased transparency. Polls taken over several years show that at least two-thirds of consumers would be willing to spend more to do business with companies that prioritize transparency. When it comes to brand loyalty, 94% of consumers consider transparency to be the greatest factor in their decision to stick with a product. Transparency can also foster more trust among employees, who care much more and become more highly engaged with their businesses when they have a window into the decision-making process.

So why is this loyalty easier to maintain in smaller companies? A lot of it has to do with the size and structure of the operation. Communication is more manageable in a smaller company; there are fewer people to loop into a chain of events. When the framework is more navigable and fewer silos and barriers to communication exist, it's easier for thoughts to flow freely. As the size of a company often correlates with the scale of the work, those tasks are usually accomplished with fewer stratified layers than we see at a bigger enterprise. When the scale of work is smaller, it's easier to communicate what's being done and maintain transparency both internally and externally.

Making transparency grow along with the business

Thankfully, there are ways to ensure that transparency remains a company value as your business grows. Before you begin, you need to answer a fundamental question: How transparent should your company be? A team armed with all the facts may better execute its role and move the company forward, but sharing too much information could be distracting and detrimental to your company culture. If your enterprise is dealing with financial struggles, for instance, knowledge of those issues could paint a portrait of unsteadiness to those inside the company. Transparency should empower your employees rather than create stress.

Once that question is answered, these four strategies can help small businesses maintain open lines of communication and transparency as they grow.

1. Embrace meetings

I get it. Meetings can be slow down a company's workflow, but meetings aren't the problem  –  a lack of them can be. Conduct annual companywide meetings and regular conferences with mid- to high-level employees across departments. Develop a meeting strategy that works for your business to enhance communication and prevent wasting time.

According to research conducted at UCLA, up to 93% of communication effectiveness is conveyed through nonverbal signs. Because nonverbal communication is so important, people need to gather together so those exchanges can actually take place. As your business grows, change your role in meetings. In time, you may only need to meet with department heads.

2. Initiate cross-department job shadowing

Encourage employees to spend a day observing or learning the job of someone in another area of the company. Someone from the finance department, for instance, might help supervise the sales or marketing department and see the decisions they make on a daily basis. 

Work4, a social recruiting company, started an employee exchange program that allows anyone to spend one day learning the job of a co-worker in a different department. The job shadowers become familiar with the processes, demands and challenges of their coworkers' jobs while developing a more holistic understanding of the company's operations. Rotate roles in this shadowing process to make sure your employees have a well-rounded understanding of the various duties in every area of your company.

3. Design your blog for customers and employees

Make sure your blog isn't just public-facing. Create employee-oriented content that provides top-level guidance and updates from your CEO and other senior leaders. Think of the blog as the next wave of supervisory memos that used to be printed and distributed in the office. If you're struggling to find things to write about, try sharing thoughts on the book you're reading or the podcast you're enjoying.

Buffer Open, the blog for social media management tool Buffer, strives to be completely transparent. Team members post about a range of topics, including their budget, salaries, investments, and internal pay gaps between men and women. While you may not want to follow Buffer's transparency lead to that extent, there's a value to being upfront and honest about the inner workings of your company.

4. Be open about your wins and failures

Don't sweep challenges or failures under the rug. Shine a spotlight on them so the world can see how you're dealing with and learning from difficult situations. This has almost become mandatory because of how easily customers can create a dialogue or issue complaints on social media services such as Twitter and Facebook.

Accept failure as an opportunity to learn more about day-to-day operations. This begins with leadership brave enough to model that behavior. You might schedule a regular meeting in which employees share a mistake or failure. Make it a welcoming environment by having a leader kick things off by being the first speaker.

Learn to embrace criticism. Author and entrepreneur Neil Patel wrote a blog post about the lessons he learned from a failed startup experience. That experience taught Patel how useful constructive criticism and feedback can be. While he initially hated criticism and wrote off everyone who disagreed with him as wrong, he now welcomes feedback with open arms.

A small business that openly accepts criticism is well on its way to creating a culture of transparency. As the business grows, maintaining those open lines of communication is crucial to the economic and cultural health of the company. Employees will be more likely to trust a company that keeps them informed and engaged, just like consumers will be more eager to support a business that showcases its values. All it takes is the willingness to be open and honest about how you want that growth to happen.

Image Credit: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images
Kevin Xu
Kevin Xu Member
Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO International, a California- and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in applied health systems. He also leads Skingenix, which specializes in skin organ regeneration and the research and development of botanical drug products. Kevin is co-founder of the Human Heritage Project.