As many founders and team leaders would attest, clear communication––coupled with genuine transparency––is key to inspiring employees and, ultimately, growing as a company.
But in a truly collaborative environment that consists of powerful, capable hires, transparency is important for more than just inspiration. It’s critical for giving your people what they need to effectively do their job. If you don’t share data, plans, or concerns with your employees, you’ll hamstring them. Instead, you need to equip your people to make the best possible decisions for their area of responsibility.
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But this needs to work the other way around, too; employees themselves need to be transparent about where they’re at in terms of progress, what resources they need to get their job done, and the challenges they’re facing or foresee facing in completing new projects. When that happens, everyone in your company has a chance to thrive.
That said, fostering and sustaining a culture in which this kind of two-way verbal and nonverbal communication and trust exists is difficult, and it gets harder the bigger you grow. It requires you as a company leader to constantly prioritize and reinforce these values.
If this is something you’re struggling with right now, here are some steps we took to improve this at our company, Honey, that might be helpful for you:
1. Hire Someone Who Is Solely Focused on Internal Communication
This is what it looks like to truly prioritize strong internal communication: you have to invest in it.
That’s what we did at Honey, at least. We hired someone to set the cadence of internal discourse, fine-tune the messaging from leadership to ensure we’re conveying things the right way, and to facilitate back-and-forth between teams. Especially as we crossed the 100-employee threshold, we realized this was something we simply weren’t equipped to do on our own––not while also doing the work of COO, CEO, CTO, etc.
The truth is, you have to treat communication as its own department or vertical. That’s because it really is as crucial to your company’s success as your product, or your marketing, or your sales.
If people on your team lack essential understanding of the reasoning behind certain decisions or company direction, or if they don’t have the information they need to do their job––if you or your teammates ever enter meetings surprised by what’s being discussed––you won’t be as efficient as you could be.
Don’t let that happen. Approach communication with careful and purposeful orchestration.
2. Be Honest and Sincere with Your Employees
Of course, you can’t just outsource communication and transparency and hope it improves or sustains. You have to do your part as a company leader.
That means being honest and sincere with your people in your messaging and in your conversations with them.
As we all know, communication hinges upon trust. Your people will only be 100% honest with you regarding their needs and challenges if you are 100% honest with them. They will only care about your company and the integrity of your communicative philosophy if you genuinely seem to care.
That means you should share news and updates across departments. Share updates from the executive suite with your engineers. When you have a potentially exciting conversation with an investor or advisor, tell your people. Engage with them if it’s appropriate to do so.
Communication is very much a two-way street.
But it’s also true that sometimes it’s hard to be 100% transparent with employees. If you’re in the midst of an acquisition, for example, you may not be legally able to.
But employees will give you the benefit of the doubt in these situations if you’re sincere with them––if they know that honesty is a core value of the company.
3. Establish the Right Flow During All-Company Meetings
To get a bit more in-the-weeds, how you relay information and conduct conversation is very important. But you can’t just say that communication is important. You must also set out to communicate effectively.
The most likely way you’ll do that is during meetings.
It’s important, then, that you hold and conduct meetings the right way. Things like whether everyone in the room is comfortable, whether your delivery is engaging, the lengths of meetings––we find people can generally only focus for 90 minutes at a time––all matter.
In fact, your attention to detail as a leader will go a long way in determining how effective you are at facilitating internal communication. In our company, even small adjustments like asking presenters to abide by certain templates and formats in their presentation slides went a long way.
You can say communication is important all you want, but unless you’re communicating correctly, it won’t matter.
4. Allow Q&A Time with Your Employees
Aside from all-hands meetings, you also need to schedule time specifically for question-and-answer sessions.
These could look like one-on-one meetings (if you’re a smaller team) or forum-oriented meetups where you as a leader don’t have any specific agenda other than fielding and answering questions from your team.
If you’re not already doing this, try it. You’ll be surprised how much your employees want to utilize their voice––how many concerns or questions they want to be addressed.
5. Do 360-Degree Reviews
Finally, to truly encourage and sustain a culture of transparency, you must submit yourself to the same expectations of reflection and appraisal as your employees.
That means conducting 360-degree reviews.
Most people don’t enjoy receiving constructive feedback. That’s as true of executives as it is of managers and engineers.
We get defensive and fold inward because we feel like we’re being attacked. But designing feedback sessions as two-way conversations helps ensure the person sitting on the other side of the table understands that the purpose of providing feedback is to help the whole company improve and become more effective.
It also proves to your people that you really do value transparency and that your culture really does value equality.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, improving your internal communicative processes is something of an ongoing project which you can always work to improve. But prioritizing communication and transparency––and investing in it to prove it is important to you––is still crucial for inspiring your employees, helping them improve, and elevating your company’s overall effectiveness. It encourages growth and asks everyone to “level up” to be the best teammate they can be.
It’s a critical component, in other words, of your overall strategy. Don’t neglect it.
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