How To Avoid Keeping Secrets From Your Employees

The concept of complete transparency at work is a relatively new phenomenon across U.S. offices. Younger generations of workers grew up with all the information in the world at their fingertips, and they expect their organizations to be open and honest. But is a lack of transparency to blame when employees aren’t productive?

I recently spoke with Kris Duggan, whose company BetterWorks commissioned a survey on this issue. The results revealed a strong link between transparency and worker productivity: 64 percent of employees believe their company’s leadership team isn’t completely transparent when communicating top goals. However, 37 percent of respondents said an increase in corporate visibility and transparency would spur their performance. But perhaps most surprisingly, 92 percent of employees surveyed said they would work harder if their co-workers could see their goals.

“This data tells us that the large majority of organizations are failing to make even their quarterly or annual goals public,” Duggan said. “When goal-setting becomes open and collaborative, managers can better recognize employees for their work, and employees are motivated to work harder.”

Duggan said keeping secrets at work is hurting employee productivity—and he noted that high-performing organizations need their employees to operate at the top of their game, especially given today’s economic climate. According to Duggan, there are three ways transparency can help companies win at work and transform company culture into one that thrives on openness and visibility.

Work Toward the Same Goal

Duggan said that successful business founders get started by establishing their company vision or mission. But somewhere along the way, that mission tends to get lost or replaced. Even if a business’ focus changes, employees should never feel lost when it comes to why it exists, or what short and long term goals they’re working to hit. Duggan told me many of BetterWorks’ customers begin using goal setting software to eliminate duplicate work; if a workforce spends time on the wrong things, or duplicates efforts, it’s not productive.

Transparency helps employees understand why their work matters. As it stands, only 32 percent of women and 25 percent of men completely understand how their work contributes to company goals. A recent Gallup study found that 71 percent of millennials who say they “strongly agree that they know what their organization stands for and what makes it different from competitors,” plan to be with their company for at least one year. “When you’re working to build something great, you need employees to stay committed,” says Duggan. “Keeping goals visible allows all employees—from entry level workers to C-level executives—to unite around a common mission and purpose.”

Give Feedback on Employee Performance

BetterWorks’ survey found that workers are dissatisfied with their managers’ feedback on their performance, with 62 percent responding that feedback isn’t useful or frequent enough. Duggan said that since feedback is the backbone of high-performing organizations, if employees fail to receive it in real-time, it’s impossible for them to improve and produce better results.

The concept of the “death of the performance review” has received a lot of attention over the past year, but BetterWorks is still talking about killing it not because it’s inherently bad, but because employees need more frequent and relevant feedback to remain agile and improve. While new questions are emerging, like how to handle compensation and performance, one thing remains clear: employees crave consistent feedback.

Foster Trust Among Colleagues

EY surveyed nearly 10,000 full-time employees from March to May of 2016, and the results begin to unravel the connection between trust—or lack thereof—across workplaces around the world, and the impact trust has on employee retention and satisfaction. Turns out less than half of global professionals trust their employer, boss, or colleagues. When asked which factors promote trust, 59 percent chose “communicating openly/transparently.” A lack of transparency among departments and between managers, employees, and executives is the quickest way to diminish trust at work.

Creating an environment of trust can impact not only daily interactions among employees—it determines whether or not your employees will want to continue to work for you. Positive teams that trust each other are more likely to be productive, according to a research article published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. EY found that when professionals reported a high level of trust in their employer, they were happier at their job, more likely to stay committed to the company, and more engaged and productive.

In the year ahead, organizations should focus on creating a company culture where transparency and visibility are the norms. It seems that keeping secrets from employees does more than prohibit the flow of communication. As recent research has shown, employees learn to trust the organization and their colleagues when they see how and why their work matters. In turn, employees stay productive and committed to the organization.


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