Transparency shouldn’t be scary. It’s a vital part of your business.
Transparency sometimes feels like one of those buzzwords that people advocate but don’t always practice themselves.
Why is that?
Is it because it’s radical candor that could get you in trouble? Or maybe it could mean that your trade secrets are released into the wild for your competitors to exploit.
It could be these two things and more but transparency isn’t your enemy and it shouldn’t be scary.
There is no one size of transparency that fits all and you should choose what works for you. Not all businesses are the same and it would be foolish for me to suggest that everybody must have the exact same level of transparency.
While I share pricing on my website, many other agencies don’t follow suit. I guess whether it’s a good or bad idea would depend on who you talk with.
There are certain things that should be private. It’s probably not a good idea to share Pamela’s review with the entire organization. There are things such as intellectual property that you might not want to post on your website because it would be like giving away your secret sauce and destroy your competitive advantage.
When you consider transparency, you are likely considering what is best for you. However, I’m going to suggest that you should look at it in a different way. When you consider how transparent you should be look at it from the perspective of those who work for and with you.
What kind transparency do they need and why do they need it?
Transparency isn’t a foe to be vanquished. It’s an ally that can build trust and credibility if done right.
What is Transparency?
What exactly is meant when you hear the word transparency in a business sense?
Let’s take a quick step back. When I looked up the term transparency on the Merriam-Webster website I found the following definition: the quality or state of being transparent.
This isn’t very helpful so I looked up the definition of transparent: characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.
If I put these two definitions together we get: The quality or state of visibility or accessibility to information, especially concerning business practices.
Essentially, transparency is how much information you’re sharing. The more you share the more transparent you are with the people doing business with you which falls into two categories: Internal and external.
The type of information you share is going to depend on which two audiences you are communicating with. I’ll talk about this a little later but first lets talk about the importance of transparency.
Why Is Transparency Important?
Marketing and public relations (PR) are a part of business operations, or at least they should be. The culture you create will also impact any and all communication. This includes employee messaging and yes, your marketing and PR efforts.
So, why is transparency an important part of this?
It helps set expectations. Imagine if you went to the store and none of the products had prices on them. This seems rather ridiculous but it’s not uncommon if you have visited the website of a business that sells services.
What if you had an issue with something you bought and customer service would only tell you that you had to send it to them for possible repair but didn’t tell you anything else.
Again, this sounds dumb but I’ve experienced it. I’ve worked for companies that refused to give information to the customer service team that would allow them to set any sort of expectations with the customer.
Would you really do business with somebody who refused to give you the information you needed? Would you buy something without knowing the cost?
Being transparent builds trust. Imagine you were purchasing a service and you got the price but the salesperson evaded all of your other questions. Would you trust them or would you feel like you were being scammed?
People won’t do business with a company that they don’t trust if they can avoid it.
Trust needs to flow across all your marketing and sales efforts.
It’s your website. It’s your social media. It’s your advertising. It’s the interviews you do and press releases you send out. Finally, it’s the conversation people have with your sales team.
If at any point in this process, people decide they don’t trust you, they’ll take their business elsewhere.
Transparency also builds credibility.
I see trust and credibility as two different but similar things. Credibility is what you think about something. Trust is how you feel about it.
There are people that I’ve had issues trusting but I knew they had credibility on certain topics.
I give you information on this blog that I hope will help you in your marketing and PR efforts. Part of this is linking to other sources.
I’ve talked about the PESO model quite a bit in the past and probably will in the future as well but I didn’t create it. If I pretended that I did and somewhere down the line you discovered it was developed by Gini Dietrich at Spin Sucks, my credibility would take a big hit. You would probably come to the opinion that I was a little shyster.
This is why when I talk about an idea I got from somewhere else, I link to that entity.
It serves three purposes. One, it’s me giving proper credit to the source. Two, It’s me being transparent with you. Thee, hopefully, I’m building both trust and credibility as well.
Your internal audience is your employees. The people who you are paying to work for you.
Before I go any further, let’s make a clarification.
In addition to employees, you might also have contractors. Are they considered a part of your internal audience? No. Contractors are the people you bring in to help you.
Technically they work for themselves. You have come to an agreement with them to work with you for a temporary amount of time.
Your employees are those people you give a W-2 at the end of the year. They have a vested interest in your business because they work for you.
I understand not every employee is going to have the same interest. Some might just see working for you as a job. They are mainly there for the paycheck. Others see it as a career. They want to stay and grow with you over the long term.
It doesn’t matter, your transparency will be the same will all of them meaning you’re going to be sharing the same level of information with them.
This bring us to the question of how much information do you need to share?
There is no one answer to this. I would encourage you to share as much as you can but there are invariably going to be limits based on the situation and employee type.
If your the CEO of the company, you’re going to be sharing more information with those employees in the C-Suite versus those outside of it.
If you have a smaller company and you’re the owner, you’re also likely to share more information with your management team than your regular employees.
Let’s look at some examples of transparency, both good and bad based on my own experiences.
I am the person who asks questions. When I’ve worked for people/companies who value transparency I’ve had great experiences. When I’ve worked with those who are more opaque it’s been hard.
I worked for an insurance company that would not give me anything unless I asked for it. This included the metrics of how they were measuring my performance. I knew they had performance standards in which they judged me but I had to literally beg them to tell me what they were.
They finally relented but this isn’t the hallmark of transparency. As you might guess, this was a harbinger of things to come.
Seven months into my tenure there I discovered there were several tools that I had at my disposal to help me do my job which nobody told me about let alone trained me on how to use them. Those two instances were the tip of the iceberg and as you might imagine I left this job because I was sick of feeling like I’d been set up to fail. This and the feeling that they could care less whether I was actually working for them or not.
Why wouldn’t you tell your people what you expect of them? Isn’t this the most basic level of transparency?
My experience isn’t unique. I’ve talked with people who have been in similar situations. They were hired into a job and had no clue what was expected of them. None of them walked away saying, “What a great company to work for.”
I also worked for a company that was great about sharing information. It wasn’t just the basic, “This is how we measure you and determine if your successful” stuff either.
They shared information on company goals, earnings, and the state of the business. This included products coming to market and how leadership saw them impacting the company’s bottom line as well how they stacked up with the competition.
The C-Suite set up a program in which an employee could send any question they had about our business or the company and it would be answered by the appropriate person within a specific timeframe.
The CEO did town halls. The leadership at the top the company had blogs where they talked about their business units.
We had an internal website that shared 2-3 new stories every day around the company and its employees.
Within my business group, all the business metrics were shared including how we were doing against them. Every year we had a meeting in which our department manager would tell us what key initiatives and projects were in store for the next year. This was all in addition to the meetings we had on a weekly basis.
This company certainly wasn’t perfect. There were times where the ball was dropped but overall this company had a culture of being transparent with its employees and it a great place to work.
The most obvious external audience is your prospects and customers.
Let’s talk about your prospects first.
Are you sharing the information they need in order to move them down the marketing funnel and convert them?
Before you answer this question, I want you to consider something. In this day and age, most people won’t contact you until they are ready to buy. If you’re an ecommerce company, your first engagement with a prospect may be when they purchase something from you on your site.
If you don’t know already, you need to find out what information is most needed for people to make a purchasing decision. And, assuming you already know this doesn’t mean that it won’t change at some point in the future.
One of the most prominent issues is the lack of transparency when it comes to pricing. Instead of including pricing, there are companies who simply say, “contact us”.
The problem is when you call, it’s not simply to get the price. You are walking into a sales call that you may or may not be ready for yet. There may be a valid reason why there needs to be a sales call but I’ve yet to see it listed.
Don’t label sales calls as something else. Doing so is not only a failure of transparency but dishonest. It’s not a good look for somebody thinking about doing business with you. Yes, you might get the sale but you’ve also planted a seed that trusting you is a questionable endeavor.
Your customers are another important external audience. Make sure you know what they need. Talk with your sales and customer service teams to find out what they are being told and never hurts to survey them.
Are you setting expectations properly with them? Is there warranty information that needs to be communicated? What is it and what can void it?
How do they contact you if they have problems? Is there a specific contact or a general customer service phone number, email, or chat they need to use?
When your customer service team is working with them are they setting specific expectations?
I once worked for a company that set general expectations and you could hear the concern and frustration in the customer’s voice when they asked, “So you’re hopefully going to know something and contact me back in 2-3 weeks?”
Compare this to another company that I worked with that had specific guidelines set up for every type of call. Instead of saying, “I’ll contact you back sometime within the next couple of weeks,” I said, “I’ll be contacting you back in two business days.”
If your service-based, having an onboarding process can help immensely. You can set expectations on when you meet them, for how long, when expect results, when payment is due, who to contact if there are issues, etc.
Your vendors are a third external audience. These are the companies that provide services and/or products that help you run your business. How do you manage communication with them?
In many cases, vendors will set the terms but if your company is big enough, you might have the leverage to negotiate this.
I’ve heard stories of agencies who have experienced cash flow issues because they aren’t being paid in the proper timeframe. The timing of when you make payment may be heavily influenced by your own cash flow but don’t hurt those you are working with. Are you being open and honest on when you pay your vendors?
I mentioned contractors earlier and they also fall into an external audience. This is an especially interesting relationship because they can feel like an internal audience. In many situations you will treat them similar to how you treat employees.
You may need to train them how you do work. You will also need to set the same expectations with them as you do your employees. For instance, how you measure their work.
You need to be transparent with them on when you pay them, how long the contract will last, the reasons it can be broken, and the reasons it could be extended. Your policy on giving them referrals also needs to be communicated upfront.
A Final Word On Transparency
When it comes downs to it, you are making the choice to share information or not.
If you’re not sharing it you should explain why. This in itself is transparency.
When you walk away from a conversation where you don’t feel your questions were answered, how does it make you feel? How do you think it makes your employee, prospect, customer, vendor, or contractor feel? Do you think they will enjoy doing business with you if you’re not being transparent?
Maybe they will deal with it temporarily but they won’t over a long period of time.
I said it in the beginning but it’s worth saying again: Transparency isn’t your enemy, it’s your ally. Treat it as such.