Transparency: a popular word that companies, leaders and executives toss around so much that the word itself is at risk of becoming endangered and losing its real meaning. If a company says it’s transparent, that means the company is honest and trustworthy, right? Let’s hope so, but nowadays, transparent could just mean that I’m trying a tactic to get your buy-in or sell you something.
Plato said, “The worst of all deceptions is self-deception.” Could it be that our overuse of the word transparency in our marketing, CEO-speak and company hyperbole is causing us all to be a little self-deceptive? Transparency is a sacred word and by far one of the most valuable tools in your public-relations toolkit if used correctly. Tempering your use of the word transparency is vital to protecting its meaning, and using transparency correctly in your organization and with others is paramount to building trust and credibility.
What is Transparency?
The dictionary defines transparent as being open, frank and candid. The first thing we should recognize when talking about the importance of transparency with employees and customers is that people generally do not buy into companies, but rather they buy into people. Therefore, telling the truth is critical. You cannot build trust without honesty and at its core this is what transparency is all about. The goal with being transparent is to answer questions before they are asked. In many cases, this may mean you cannot wait for the marketing team to put together a slick presentation outlining the facts of a situation. If you do this, you could risk being too late and losing trust.
When you say the words, “I’m being transparent,” imagine what that word looks like, and that’s exactly how you have to be, so sheer as permitting light to pass through. This means that transparency can be a little raw, gritty and not so pretty, but that’s exactly what makes it honest and relatable, which is what you want. In a sense, you want others to see what you see, before they create their own assumptions about the situation, which could be the furthest from the truth.
When Should You Be Transparent?
There is a time and place for transparency, and there is a difference between honesty and oversharing. Not everyone needs to know everything all the time, and if you are in a leadership position it is important to understand the difference between truth telling and therapy sessions.
First and foremost, do not incite unnecessary panic or fear with transparency. For example, it’s not wise to schedule an emergency meeting about something that hasn’t happened yet. Doing this could result in poor decision making from team members.
Being transparent with employees is not a substitute for meeting with a therapist. It’s true that for most successful people it can be lonely at the top. If you find yourself unable to discuss how you feel with colleagues around the “water cooler” because you are the boss, perhaps booking a weekly therapy appointment to discuss feelings of uncertainty is a safer environment and will help you avoid turning team meetings into therapy sessions. How we feel about a situation does not always equal the truth of a situation. Don’t confuse sharing feelings with sharing truth when it comes to being transparent. You may feel your business is on the verge of ruin if the stock market has crashed, a key sales person has quit or an important meeting or conference has been canceled; however these events may not impact your business at all.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some executives actually shut down completely when they get scared or are going through difficult seasons. This is not good either. One of the most important times to be transparent is during a crisis. Mistrust and fear spread like wildfire when communication fades. During a crisis or bad season you want to communicate more frequently, but do so calmly. You want to be direct, informative and sincere. For example, if layoffs at your company are inevitable, start communicating that early and what the plan of action will be, even if you don’t have it fully sorted. This gives other people time to mentally and physically prepare for a change. Always keep in mind that the unknown is actually more difficult for people to deal with than the painful truth.
Questions to Ask Before You Share
How do you know if you should share information in the name of “transparency” or not? There are a few questions to ask yourself before you make the call, meet, tweet, share or send a communication:
Is it appropriate? Some information is just not appropriate or necessary to share with others. Social media can really get us in trouble in the oversharing department, like the tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk calling the coronavirus panic “dumb.” There are unfortunately tons of examples of this direct honesty that cause people to lose clients, jobs, customers and credibility. Social media, although it seems casual, is a public forum no matter how private you think your settings are, so it’s a good place to practice tempering your transparency.
Is it based on fear or fact? These words may look similar but do not confuse them when being transparent. Fear is not the same as fact. Do not share if you do not have the facts. Sharing speculation and fear will only create more confusion and upset. It will also make you seem conflicted as a leader. What’s worse is widely polling others about what you should do. Polling your team is appropriate for deciding a date for the holiday party, not to determine next year’s bonus structures or if everyone should work remotely or not. If you are not sure how to approach a problem, consult with a professional, come up with a plan and then communicate with clarity and authority.
Am I feeling upset, emotional, panicked or rushed? If your answer is yes to any of these feelings, step away from making any statements, writing emails or calling a meeting. Transparency does not mix well with these emotions. The best course of action to take, is to write down your thoughts to get it out of your head, walk away and come back later and see if you feel the same way. You may decide to trash the communication entirely, or you may decide you need to temper your transparency on how you feel so that your direction can be more clearly heard.
3 Ways to Communicate More Frequently
When communication is absent, trust quickly fades. We live in a highly connected world that is dependent on real-time information. If you do not have a consistent and regular communications strategy in place you will be in a bind when a crisis hits. Take inventory of your communication tools. Are they outdated? Are they effective? Are they being used frequently? Here are some newer technology tools that can help you proactively communicate more frequently with your customers and team members:
1. Create a LinkedIn or Facebook Group: You know what they say, if you can’t beat them join them. Go to where your audience is already spending the majority of their time. That might be on Facebook or perhaps on LinkedIn. Both of these social media platforms allow you to create private groups where you can invite certain people to receive instant updates as needed. The great benefit of setting up a group, versus a page, is that anytime you have an update, everyone in your group will get privately pinged to go check out what you have to say, whereas a company page is dependent on the algorithms in the social media platform to be seen and pages are also open to anyone.
2. Vlog it Out: Who has time to read blogs anymore? If you want to virtually connect with others without taking time for editing and spell check, hit the record button and start a vlog (or video log). You can create your own channel on YouTube or share on any social media platform. It’s easy to do from anywhere as long as you have your smart phone, tablet or computer. Purchase a tripod for your device, flip the screen and simply hit record. As a busy executive, your team and customers may not always get to see you, but through vlogging they can. Plus, when you deliver your communication, different from the written word, you can really get your points across through your voice inflection and body language. It’s almost as good as having you there in person, so your chance of bonding and believability is higher.
3. Launch a Flash Briefing: One of the unexpected benefits of starting my flash briefing, “The Pitch with Amy Summers,” on Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker platform, is that it has become a consistent way for me to mentor my team. The purpose of my under-three-minute daily microcast is to give communication tips, but many times I’m sharing real-life examples from my career and from Pitch Publicity. The advice I give on the microcast is often the same guidance I would give to encourage, motivate or problem solve with my team members, which is why I ask them to tune in every day. Not only do they get a communication tip to start their day, they often get to hear some behind-the-scenes stories on daily challenges I face in my CEO role and how I handle these issues, which helps to create more connection and perspective with my team. Flash briefings are also a great tool to stay connected and at the forefront of your customers’ minds on a regular basis. They don’t even have to search for the information, all they have to do is ask Alexa, “What’s my flash briefing?” or “What’s my news?”
Transparency is sacred to your organization because it equals trust, especially if it is used correctly and consistently. Transparency should never be positioned as a feature of your business. You shouldn’t have to say you are transparent in an advertisement. Transparency should be practiced by all leaders and organizations at all times. Transparency is the reality of the situation; it is who you really are at your core and reflects truth. How and when you share this truth is critical to the believability and credibility of you and your organization. NIE
Amy Summers launched Pitch Publicity in 2003 in the face of a rapidly changing climate for communication and media relations. She has 20 years of experience working with major clients in the natural products industry to increase visibility and exposure to targeted audiences through national publicity exposure across all mass media outlets, high-level fundraising campaigns and developing key strategic communication strategies. She serves on the board of directors of the University of Florida Alumni Association and the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Public Relations Advisory Council. Pitch Publicity is based in New York, NY. Receive free daily pitch tips from “The Pitch with Amy Summers” flash briefing on Amazon’s Alexa, Google Play, iTunes, Spotify and Podbean: www.PitchPublicityNYC.com/ThePitch. For more information, visit www.pitchpublicitynyc.com.