Why Transparency Matters: Your 3-Step Guide to a More Transparent Workplace

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

If you thought this quote came from a millennial start-up founder, you’d be wrong. None other than the Dalai Lama shared this belief on how transparency can yield success.

But transparency can be a scary concept for managers. After all, Gen Xers like me started our work lives when information was traditionally revealed on a “need to know” basis. And more often than not, it seemed there wasn’t much we needed to know, as our managers were prone to keeping their playbooks concealed.

From “Need to Know” To Knowing Everything

That dynamic has shifted, though, as millennials have entered the workplace. I frequently hear from focus groups of millennials that they want to know just about everything.

Specifically, millennials want to know how the company is doing and their leaders’ vision for their department and organization. In short, they want to feel like insiders and yearn to know the big picture, which demands an increase in transparency from employers that want to retain Gen Y talent.

[bctt tweet=”Millennials want to know how the company is doing and their leaders’ vision.” username=”lindseypollak”]

Workplace transparency is part of a larger trend, of course. We live in a world where almost nothing is secret. No longer content with edited glimpses into celebrities’ lives, we have reality TV, Snapchat, Instagram and Periscope to see every nuance of their days. Consider that even the President of the United States has opened up in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.

In our social, plugged-in world, millennials are used to the idea that almost all information should be readily available to almost anyone.

It’s critical that leaders acknowledge and meet that desire for information and transparency. But at the same time, I understand that radical transparency can make managers (particularly those of us from other generations) tremendously uncomfortable. Let’s explore how we can reveal more without feeling naked and afraid. Here are three transparency levels to consider at your organization.

Three Levels of Transparency for Baby Boomer and Gen X Managers

Transparency Level: Mild

If the word “transparency” makes your blood pressure spike, start here. This is the easy level, where you can let millennials in without too much fear.

Some “mild” tactics you might consider:

  • Invite young employees to sit in on meetings. Let them learn from veterans’ interactions with clients or colleagues and get that “behind-the-scenes” feeling they crave.
  • Hold a town hall to answer employees’ questions.
  • Include more staff and department members on email chains to keep them in the loop.

These practices will lead to a team that’s more engaged and invested in the company. Boosting transparency can also improve job performance. Employees might think, “Now that I know this new information about this client, I can serve them better.

Try it today: CC team members on one email you wouldn’t normally think to include them on, such as a debrief for a client after a meeting or notes on a new venture your company is launching.

Transparency Level: Medium

Ready to stretch yourself as a transparent manager?

You might try opening up to employees about career paths and how career decisions are made. How do people get those plum international assignments? What is the likely path to partner?

All employees want to know where they stand, and millennials want to feel as though they’re moving forward and that they’re on the fast track. When they don’t feel control over their progress, they’re more likely to leave. I often hear from managers who are dismayed that a star employee has decided to move on. The tragedy: they often had a plan for that employee (maybe even an impending promotion) but the employee had no idea.

Try it today: Plan individual meetings with your employees to sketch out potential career paths. One of my clients calls these meetings “stay conversations” (as opposed to exit interviews when it’s too late). Ask them where they want to end up, and tell them specifically what they should do to pursue their goals. Assure them you have their back – and then follow up through your actions.

Transparency Level: High

For most non-millennial managers I know, full transparency can be summed up in one word: Terrifying.

This is the level where you would open up your books and show employees your profit and loss numbers. Maybe line out exactly what’s going right and wrong, a la a recent open letter that the CEO of Buffer posted on the company website.

One of the hot practices at this level is salary transparency — something that seems pretty outrageous to a lot of us. I don’t see it catching on in a big way for a while, if ever, especially with larger companies, but there’s a reason companies do it: It assures your employees that compensation is fair and logically determined.

It seems counterintuitive, but a PayScale survey found that the more employees know about why they earn what they do, especially in relation to their peers, the less likely they are to quit. Our open kimono example Buffer even found that applications increased when it posted its employees’ salaries online.

So on the transparency continuum, compared to telling employees how much everyone makes, doesn’t CC’ing them on that email seem like nothing in comparison?

Happy CC’ing!

What have you or your organization done to promote transparency…and what would you never do? Please share in the comments below!  

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

Share this post

hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


Learn 25 Practical Ways to Manage Across Generations