Transparency: The Secret Weapon of Accountability in The Workplace

Sam Silverstein Blog

  • Transparency means involving everyone you can in the conversation, and giving people all the information they need. This is the secret to accountability in relationships with team members – and with customers.

Many organizations focus so much on how their employees are going to treat the customer that they make a classic mistake: They fail to address the equally important issue of how the organization’s people treat each other. Leaders in these companies often overlook one of the secret weapons of accountability in the workplace … namely, transparency.

By this I mean my commitment to you to be transparent with you, to tell you what’s really going on. Transparency, the habit of telling the truth even when there’s a sensitive issue or a problem that might make me look bad, is one of the things that makes an “It’s all of us” mindset possible. This “It’s all of us” mindset is one of the things that allows organizations to deliver great service to customers. And as leaders, we need to commit ourselves to supporting that mindset.

Hey: We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. Acknowledging that fact is healthy for both the organization and for the individual. You can’t have an “It’s all of us” mindset if the prevailing culture is one of never admitting that there has ever been a problem, or that you have ever made a mistake! Changing this pattern always starts with the person at the top. When you share your real experiences, which include mistakes and mess-ups, not just successes, people instantly know you are real — and they are both inspired to serve your cause and to trust you as their leader.

You cannot force employees or anyone else to be accountable to leadership or to customers. You cannot demand that any of your people be accountable and expect to get a positive result. You can only model accountability toward your employees, and in so doing, inspire them to be first accountable to you, then to their co-workers, and ultimately to your customers. One of the very best ways to do that is to be up-front about a specific mistake you’ve made, or an area where you know you have fallen short in the past and you need to make up some ground. That’s vulnerability. That’s transparency. And you can’t sustain a great service culture without it.

Remember that accountability is keeping your commitments to people! You are not accountable to things. You are accountable to people. Accountability is therefore a choice – a choice that each and every person must make for themselves … starting with the leader.

So: If you want your team members to acknowledge those times when they’ve made a mistake with their customers (and I hope you do!), then that means you must model exactly that kind of transparency in your interactions with the team! As in: “Here’s where I made a mistake, and here’s where I need your help.” Get it all out on the table!

How you communicate can either be inclusive or exclusive. When there’s a lack of transparency, when only certain individuals are privy to what really happened, other people feel excluded and left out. While there may well be some sensitive information that needs to be restricted, there is far less than many leaders think. The default setting in too many teams is “zero transparency” – which inevitably leads to “zero trust” – which inevitably leads to a poor customer experience!

The transparency you achieve by sharing all the relevant information, good or bad, enables you to build trust. It is through this trust that people come to believe that the company’s attitude is “It’s all of us.” When your people feel this way, you get greater loyalty from your employees, and they end up delivering a better experience for the customer.

Transparency means involving everyone you can in the conversation, and giving people all the information they need. This not only improves the quality of the various relationships and improves organizational morale … but it also provides better, faster, and more diverse ideas for resolving the various challenges you face. Leaders would be amazed at the solutions that their people could create if they only had access to the relevant information!

Transparency is an essential part of effective communication within any organization. The lack of transparency is culturally toxic. Whenever I see organizations where customers are not treated well, I know that the people inside the organization are not treated well, and I know there is likely to be a problem with transparency.  It is critical that we pay attention to the level of transparency we model, and to how people inside our organization relate, communicate, and build relationships with each other. Once we figure that part out, building strong relationships with customers becomes much easier. If our people know how to build better relationships internally, they will naturally build better relationships externally.

Companies that focus on customer service and are not first committed to modeling transparency with their own people, to treating their own people well, will forever come up short. They will always be looking for the next customer service consultant to come in to try (and eventually fail) to solve their problems! Create a positive culture that fosters accountability in the workplace by being and modeling transparency.