Is Transparency The New Black?

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Why being completely upfront could make your business better

For those of us who didn’t grow up around business owners, the whole idea of “business” can seem a little....well, murky. “Follow the money” and you somehow always get to a situation that’s riddled with concern. Movies show shady business deals, and politics can seem like an endless supply of corruption and abuse of power in the name of profit. Even trusted brands come up with big scandals about underpaying employees, discriminating against women or minorities, or investing in other companies that go against their ideals. For plebs, it’s not all that surprising that the vague term “business” can be aversive. But the real problem isn’t usually the transactions themselves - it’s the lack of transparency. Or the fact that a lack of transparency led to shady stuff.

As information becomes more easily available and every secret is harder to stay hidden, we’ve come to expect companies, organisations and institutions to offer up full accountability and accurate information about how they operate. In recent years, businesses that focus on being completely transparent are seeing success. Here’s why.

Transparency builds trust like nothing else

It’s a pretty basic concept, really. People are more likely to be trusting if they know what the other person or business is doing and thinking. Transparency in the good times is a signal that if something went wrong, your business would handle it in a clear and reasonable manner, rather than trying to cover something up or shirk responsibility. It also lets you figure out directly where problems are occurring, and keep your whole operation accountable.

Employees are happier when they know what’s going on

Your business is stronger if your employees are dedicated, motivated, happy and informed. Keeping your employees in the loop about how your business is doing, what the challenges are and how they’re being dealt with is a major step toward a more productive workplace. Creating a work environment where information is openly shared leads to new ideas springing up through collaboration, and importantly it’s a good way for executives to truly understand how their business is doing.

One difficult but important step in this is allowing for authentic conversations between people in different positions within your company. Having genuine rapport with all employees will allow you to get a better sense when there’s a problem, instead of having your employees say everything is fine to save face.

Customers are happier when they’re part of the process

We’ve always been a pretty scrutinous bunch, but now more than ever, we have the information available to make decisions based on more than just gut feeling or availability.

Customers want to be able to choose their products, and upfront information is an essential piece of that process. If you as a buyer are faced with two products that seem the same, but one company is more transparent about how it’s made and what they’re about, you feel like you are making more of an informed decision by choosing them.

How do I include transparency in my business?

There are many ways to stay transparent - but one of the most important is making it the “default” for any interaction. With your customers, with clients, with suppliers and with employee. Here are a few specific ideas you can use to increase how transparent your business is.

Post salaries for all to see

One of the reasons the gender gap still exists is because women tend to ask for less in salary negotiations and don’t negotiate as hard as their male peers. Gender aside, when employees learn that the person next to them is being paid more for no apparent reason, it’s likely they’ll be frustrated. Posting salaries and what factors went into deciding them (such as seniority and position rank) can go a long way in reducing employee frustration and being fair in your hiring and promoting practices. Take a look at this example for inspiration.

Follow your supply chain

It can be a big undertaking, but if you’re buying and selling products, it’s important to know where they came from. Take a look at NPR Planet Money’s example of how they traced a t shirt all the way back to the lives of the people who made it. Or, try Patagonia’s awesome example, where they post the “footprint” of every single one of their products for all customers to see. Although your business might not (yet) be able to make a huge difference in how it’s produced, knowing is the first step.

Be clear about what’s in your products

All western countries require that food is labelled with ingredients. People are interested in and affected by what goes into your products - whether it’s food-related or not. Being clear about what goes into making your products can help you stand out from competition that uses fillers or cheaper stuff, and gain trust from your customers in the quality of your products. Another example is tracking your eco-footprint, like this company does.

Switch to an internal platform where your employees can see what the rest are up to

Even though most of the time no one employee needs to see what every other employee is doing, doing your day-to-day management with applications like Slack, Flow or Trello can help all of your employees see exactly what their colleagues are working on. This can help employees stay more productive (because they know how fast their peers are working compared to them) and help pinpoint areas that might need more internal work. It also helps you keep a record of how your company operates, and how that changes over time.

Create regular check-ins and use them wisely

Rather than telling your employees to speak up if there’s a problem, create a structure that includes regularly checking in with them. Go over the projects they’re working on, and create a regularly-scheduled designated time and place for them to be candid about what their concerns might be.

Want more tips on making your business the best it can be?

We’ve got loads. Talk to us today about taking your online commerce business to the next level, both in terms of internal organisation and making sales.

*images via Reformation