Small Business and Startups: Why Transparency Matters

What we got here, is a failure. To communicate. Profound words from a film, that in retrospect, feels a bit dated and quaint. In the Paul Newman classic, “Coolhand Luke,” the antagonist uses those words to control the prisoners who are his charges, and those words usually communicate the punishment that is to follow.

In business, failure to communicate comes with its own form of punishment: poor performance, confusion, degraded teamwork, and reduced productivity. Strong communication, driven by transparency, can help to improve all of the above

Transparent. The word is variously defined as clear, see-through, or glassy. But it can also be used to mean obvious, self-evident, unconcealed, or simply, plain as the nose on your face. When a leader is transparent in her or his attitude and actions the results are palpable and unequivocal.

The last couple of weeks, with the brouhaha over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while she was Secretary of State, the media has been focused on this very issue. When is it appropriate for a leader to be transparent? What rights do the press and the public have to see our leader’s communications? Where is the line between what is shared and what is kept confidential? Of course, there is a vast difference between communications that relate to the security of a nation and those that relate to a small business, but the metaphor is a good one: by choosing to avoid the scrutiny that could come with transparency, Secretary Clinton has created an environment of mistrust, suspicion, and doubt. A little sunshine, where appropriate, would have gone a very long way to build credence, reach consensus, improve moral, and create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

So how can a strong manager increase transparency and improve overall communication? There are numerous ways, but the low-hanging fruit is pretty simple: be inclusive in meetings, brief people with periodic written updates, enjoy lunch together and let the conversation flow openly and honestly and, finally, ask.

In meetings with your team, share your thoughts, share your data, and share your strategy. Don’t keep your ideas hidden, but rather air them out; take them for a metaphorical walk and let your team walk with you. Your ideas will be strengthened by their feedback and they will have the opportunity to share their own ideas, many of which will be excellent and worth implementing.

Take time to create and distribute a quarterly or monthly email with business intelligence data, notes on strategy, financial figures, and other relevant information. Investors, employees, and partners can benefit greatly from this shared material and the very act of sharing will generate feedback which you can incorporate as you see fit.

Spend relaxed time together with your team and other important stakeholders. You’d be surprised how a simple lunch with a client or an investor or a vendor or your team can generate meaningful ideas and input. Create an environment where the sharing of opinions and theories is encouraged and celebrated.

Photo, Wikipedia: Movie still from Cool Hand Luke, 1967