Everyone wants to be part of a workplace culture that puts a premium on delivering the real truth. Lies and secrets break trust, while honesty and transparency build trust. If trust somehow exists without transparency, this so-called trust is nothing more than an illusion because it is based on what is not real. Transparency is an essential ingredient for creating and maintaining trust. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, both personal and professional, and when it is broken, it is extremely hard to repair. When it comes to building solid workplace relationships, trust takes center stage. When trust is created, it leads to a heightened sense of security and better staff engagement and performance. Transparent leadership is the key to fostering a culture of trust between leaders and their workforce. Being transparent is a powerful thing, if you can trust yourself and be trusted by others.

Let’s take a quick look at some numbers first to get an overview of the status quo of trust in organizations in general, before we touch on the benefits of creating trust through transparency and honesty and suggested leadership actions.

The trust gap in numbers:

  • The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 37% of respondents find CEOs to be credible spokespeople (down 12% compared to 2016). Lack of trust in leadership is a red flag that your business may have a “toxic” culture. Trust in employees is also falling. Edelman found that 48% of respondents found employees trustworthy (down from 52% in 2016). And, for the first time, a majority of global respondents say that they no longer trust “the system” – government, media, business and institutions – to work for them.
  • According to Tolero Solutions, 45% of employeessay lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance. That is humongous. People will do the job requested of them, but without trust in leadership, they are not likely to go above and beyond to help create a high performance culture.
  • 25% of employees don’t trust their employer, according to a 2014 American Psychological Association survey of 1,562 U.S. workers. What’s more, the survey also found that only about 50% believe their employer is open and upfront with them. To achieve maximum performance, employees need to promptly and transparently communicate and escalate any potential problems or concerns. Without trust, this is not likely. Problems can go unaddressed and impact bottom line profits.
  • Employees don’t quit their jobs, they actually quit their bosses. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 37% of the 3,008 employees surveyed were likely to leave their jobs due to a poor opinion about their boss’s performance.
  • When people feel they cannot trust leadership, they feel unsafe, like no one has their back. Consequently, they spend more time and energy on self-preservation and job-hunting than performing at their job. Talent acquisition costs and employee turnover costs increase – which estimates put at 150% – 200% of the employee’s salary.
  • A culture that values transparency in the workplace breeds engaged employees. In fact, Harvard Business Review’s 2013 employee engagement survey revealed that 70% of those surveyed say they’re most engaged when senior leadership continually updates and communicates company strategy.

“We have to give up the notion that it’s okay for work to be unsatisfying; that it’s simply an obligation versus something we feel fulfilled and passionate about doing. We as individuals have to change our beliefs; that’s what really changes the organization.”

Dr. Annie McKee, author & leadership advisor

So what? Five powerful things that can happen in a culture of trust and transparency:

  1. Relationships grow authentically
    Transparency brings people together who have not yet discovered one another. Revealing what you really think and feel is necessary for building trust. Intention drives behavior. The intention behind your actions impacts your trust building ability. Positive intentions build trust; negative intentions do not. Clarifying your expectations, expressing your desires, providing and receiving feedback, and being vulnerable when the opportunity arises are all part of being transparent. Transparency allows relationships to mature faster, as openness can potentially avoid misunderstandings that can fuel unnecessary tension.
    When leaders are transparent, people can be much more objective in evaluating the pros and cons about their leader. If you are transparent, especially during the worst of times, you actually strengthen your leadership as people begin to trust you as person and thus will respect you more as a leader.
  2. Teams are built easier
    Transparency is a powerful unifier, it forces a team to collaborate smarter. Team building through transparency takes shape when the leader of a team can openly discuss what s/he believes the strengths and weaknesses of the team are.  It allows everyone to openly share their perspectives and opinions – creating a platform where the leaders and the team, for instance, can strategically match people to handle certain assignments based on specific performance requirements.
  3. People become aligned and engaged
    Within an organization, values, goals, and mission statements must be clearly communicated and defined. Transparent leadership results in employees who understand the company vision and how their efforts help achieve company-wide goals. Staff alignment means taking a look at the big picture and seeking to understand everyone’s role within it.
  4. Solutions are developed faster
    People learn more about one another and can grow to work toward solving problems faster when their leaders are transparent. By being open and honest about real company problems, people can help find solutions. And many heads are better than one. When leaders can be deliberate about their team profile, it allows the group to mature together and find creative ways to discover the best mix-match to solve problems and deliver on performance expectations. It cultivates an entrepreneurial spirit that allows for cross-functional responsibilities and opportunities.
  5. Performance levels increase
    Each of the preceding points is interdependent, builds upon one another and ultimately leads to higher levels of performance. Sadly, the lack of transparency that still exists among leaders in the workplace can potentially put one of these powerful factors at risk – leading to less optimal levels of performance.

Now what? How do you do you build and nurture a trust-based work environment?

We are all living at a time when people want and expect their leaders to be more human, less perfect and at times a bit vulnerable – regardless of their hierarchy or rank. The reason most leaders are not transparent though is because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard for will lose their power, leverage and gravitas. Most leaders are not completely aware of the reality that exists around them. People want to relate to their leaders. People want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems, and how they have overcome personal hardships and adversity. People want leaders who can deliver balance between knowledge (their heads) and wisdom (their hearts).

Reflecting is your most powerful tool to identify your starting point and become clearer on the situation in your organization as relates to trust and transparency:

  • Can you recall a time in your personal or professional life when you discovered crucial information that wasn’t disclosed to you when you feel it should have been? Was your trust and loyalty for the person or people jeopardized as a result?
  • What does really matter to you? What do you want to give your time, effort, and talent to?
  • Are you keeping your workforce in the loop in order for them to understand their role in the overarching purpose and strategic goals of your organization?
  • How transparent are you communicating your intentions and emotions as well as the financials of the firm to your people?
  • What is your strategy earning trust?

More ideas and considerations for leadership action:

  • Be transparent to inspire trust. Always. Be clear about your intentions, emotions and the financial data of the organization.
  • Take care of your people. Instead of spending time and money trying to repair broken trust, take the time upfront to develop trusted workplace relationships.
  • Recognition increases trust. Leadership needs to recognize people for a job well done. If you want your people to support business goals and support leadership in trying to achieve them, even in times of great demand or uncertainty, they need to know you are listening to them, valuing and appreciating their ideas and positions.
  • Boost leadership compassion. As a leader, compassion is imperative to gain trust and commitment. If you want high performance, then respect, recognize, and appreciate your people.
  • Listen, listen, listen. To build trust, leaders must listen to their people. Learn to listen deeply and seek to understand. Listen like there is going to be a pop quiz at the end, and this skill can make or break your grade.
  • Increasing profits requires being focused on people – increasing trust and performance. If your organization’s managers lead with an authentic, open and honest, compassionate and accountable style, you are more likely to inspire the best in your people and gain the support needed for success.

Trust is built one conversation at a time. Transparency is the most important ingredient in your communication, especially during times of change and transformation. Please check out our related articles:

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Lead courageously, Annette.