I’m looking forward to writing this piece. I hope I don’t let you down! It’s been inspired by the feedback I got from the last post I did on the importance of acting on the lessons I learnt from 2019. On the back of that post, I had four meeting requests, ranging from an Executive Director of a global bank through to a digital business owner who had faced similar challenges. As is my way, I accepted all invites and shared a lot over a coffee, brunch, lunch and dinner!
What inspired me to write this piece wasn’t the information I learned from those meetings, but more the importance on being transparent. By opening up on my trials and tribulations of 2019, I emotionally connected with people.
It was a genuine cathartic piece when I wrote it. However, on reflection, I see it now as how I like to lead from the front and be honest with people (lots who’ll testify to this!). I have found great comfort, personally, from having a business coach, and a set of peers who I can share issues with openly on business and personal challenges to get a fresh perspective on solving them. It’s also led me to having a more open and creative mindset to implementing new ideas.
In doing this from a personal perspective, I think it’s become intrinsic within the culture of our business.
Within a week of writing the last post, we had held our quarterly update meetings with the company across the UK, and we shared the highlights and lowlights of the quarter and reflected on hitting all our core targets in client satisfaction, happiness, revenue and profit. But more importantly how impressive that was compared to last year and how we still see the rest of this year being a challenge; so prudence and ambition need to be balanced accordingly.
The feedback from the team was great – they loved the fact that we are open and honest. As one said, “we are adults – its better we know what’s going on”. That is something that is important. I have listened to other CEO’s talk about telling only half a story – “a bit of transparency” - but in my view you can’t be “a bit pregnant”. You are either transparent or you aren’t – make a decision and stick to it.
My opinion is that your team will try to fill in the blanks, so you have the option to fill them in with facts, rather than let them guess.
We also have a company pledge that is “to tell our clients the truth quickly, good or bad”. This stems from our company values - and specifically our Straight Talking one - but also understanding our role within the client ecosystem. Our independence is key – one of the main reasons they buy from us. In that position, you have a responsibility to be open and honest, whether you are sharing information that halts a project or that you are ahead of schedule. In building this trust and transparency, you can become that trusted advisor that clients crave.
I have had a lot of meetings with very senior folk in very large organisations in the last 18 months, and the distinct lack of trust they have in their suppliers is shocking – they certainly wouldn’t be married to any! The lack of transparency and having to fill in the blanks is costing companies millions each year.
In having this approach with our clients, it is hugely beneficial for our team who are working tirelessly to deliver services to some very expectant clients. The culture we have created is that people don’t feel afraid to challenge a client or provide the feedback. We trust them to do that, without seeking permission first. If they know something is wrong, we expect them to flag it – as long as it’s done professionally, supported by facts and with some mitigating plan of action then it’s always appreciated by the client.
In addition to this, the open culture means that we have effective feedback mechanisms for the team to challenge each other and learn from each other. There is no backlash to saying you can’t do something – in fact we’d openly encourage the team to do lunch and learns to demonstrate how they overcame challenges.
I genuinely think being transparent has huge cultural benefits to an organisation and I hope that this article has highlighted a few examples.
I understand that some companies are afraid to share sensitive business information – in case they strike fear into their teams or upset their clients. My feeling is that it probably won’t be as bad as that – and if it does impact a few, they are probably not the people you want working for you or the clients that will serve you well over the long term.
In summary, the three key areas that I think will benefit from having a more transparent culture are:
Leadership: I have always been taught, and it’s now firmly held within my belief system, that you should lead from the front and forge the way. In terms of transparency, I fundamentally think if it doesn’t come from the top, you can’t expect your team to do it.
Stakeholders: It is also refreshing and rewarding for your clients, employees and peers. Probably the three most important stakeholders in your business world. ‘It’s all about relationships’ was something I was taught early – what better way than having trusting ones!
Employee Wellbeing: By sharing issues and encouraging your team to do the same – without fear – then you are almost certainly supporting a positive approach to employee wellbeing. People won’t have sleepless nights (or certainly less) worrying, if they know they can talk openly.
As always, happy to discuss and build up my caffeine levels.
Director and Co-Founder, Stephen Johnson