You’ve probably heard the phrase “transparency is key” more than you can bear at this point—so let’s get this out of the way.
Transparency is key.
The phrase suddenly became that much more unbearable. But before you drop off, let me also communicate something else: transparency is often not enough. Often, companies make the mistake of leaning on transparency as a catchall solution to many of their internal comms issues. Sure, peeling back the curtain and giving everyone a peek into things can be helpful. But before you run to transform a culture of silos into a culture of openness, there’s something critical that you first have to consider.
Transparency into comms, planning, board meeting discussions, and more will mean nothing without first answering why.
Transparency, for the sake of it, achieves nothing and will alienate folks faster than you can imagine. But the reality is that to scale, prioritizing transparency into every aspect of your company’s day-to-day will put you in the best position to succeed. But don’t think this only applies to internal comms—transparency can and should be built into your products. Let’s break all of these down, from the comms to the product side.
In hyper-growth environments, it can be very easy to slip into the trap of silos. We’re all racing to develop the best, most elegant solutions to issues we know exist—but because of this, the “heads down” mentality often plagues companies, especially in an era of increasingly remote workforces. And while this may be necessary during crunch time, leaning on this as the default is a big mistake. It goes without saying that where there are silos, there is no transparency. The only people that know what’s going on are the folks in that silo.
But this lack of transparency ends up trickling into everything and setting everyone back—it’s never isolated to a single department or team.
Think about it: your product team is scoping out a feature that they think has product market fit; they set a roadmap and sign off on it. But they never give your sales team a heads-up in a planning meeting or even an informal Slack message. Now it’s the responsibility of your sales team to come together and figure out how to outbound in a way that captures this new product, resulting in a mad dash and “heads down” time—rinse and repeat.
But it doesn’t even have to be this extreme. Something as simple as a lack of transparency into timing or expectations can create frustration around your organization. And ultimately, this doesn’t only affect employee productivity and output; it also affects retention and, eventually, your customers.
Having said that, it’s still important to stress that leaning into transparency requires first answering a why (or several why’s) for the most ideal outcome. Here are a few answers to get you thinking:
No one likes being caught off guard at work. We all have deadlines, some more flexible than others, and we all want to plan our workloads around those deadlines. But if someone suddenly comes rushing to you with a request due the next day, you might be left wondering, “why didn’t I know about this sooner?” It’s avoiding situations like these that make evangelizing transparency so important. As a manager, VP, CEO, or Head of a department, you’re deeply investing in ensuring everyone is in a position to do their best work.
Folks can’t do their best work when they don’t know what they’re about to get thrown into. Ensuring that teams are accustomed to setting up planning meetings with appropriate stakeholders ahead of time ensures that people can plan accordingly and deliver meaningful results.
This ties into the silos we touched on at the beginning. When projects, ideas, and plans are highly visible, folks can chime in and collaborate on the most ideal outcome. Sure, some projects won’t require deep collaboration, and you honestly may not want feedback on some early ideas, but when things are highly visible, folks will feel empowered to share more often and openly.
As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work. Yes, it may be an old mantra, but it still holds true even in 2023.
Early on, we touched on the idea of transparency within your product, and this is where it comes up again. And arguably, it’s one of the most important. Transparency shouldn’t be limited to internal comms; it should also be a staple of your product and planning processes. When customers are keen about what’s going on at your company, they feel more connected, valued, and heard as opposed to feeling like just another logo on the road to 500 million in ARR.
Think of something like a status page.
We never want things to go haywire, but the reality is that it happens. In situations like these, it does no one any good to keep things a secret. Inevitably two groups are most negatively affected in this situation: your customers and your CS team, who now have to field dozens if not hundreds of tickets related to an outage you should’ve been transparent about. This is where the transparency that status pages allow comes in—you can be transparent and open about issues and create better rapport with customers.
An outage is still a major inconvenience, but at least folks know what’s happening and aren’t in the dark.
Like most other things, implementing a new way of working and communicating takes time and cannot be done overnight. Whether you’re trying to set up more transparency internally amongst teams or adopting a more external tool like a status page, it’s important to iterate on it and deeply engrain it into your culture. Transparency that works with teams of 10 won’t necessarily work when that same team grows to 100. In the same vein, what works for 10 customers, won’t work for 10,000.
If you don’t have them already, adopt tools such as Notion that allow folks to build and plan a bit more openly and encourage teams to err on the side of over-communication—this holds especially true if you have widespread teams. And don’t forget to factor in usability when adopting a new tool or solution. Something cumbersome to use won’t be as easy to integrate as something elegant, simple, yet effective.
A tool is only helpful if you actually use it. But it doesn’t hurt if it’s nice to look at.
Another thing: when you implement a more visible way of working, ensure that you’re getting buy-in from everyone and be ready to make some concessions. Transparency for engineering may look a bit different from data, product, and marketing—but that doesn’t make it less than. But no matter where you land, remember that practicing transparency is worthwhile regardless of what form it takes. Why? Because you and your customers will be better, and happier, for it.
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