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Transparency at Work

After experiencing how many companies try and keep certain employees and members of management in the dark about certain areas of business, Hubspot decided to take the opposite approach. To that end, all people there enjoy total transparency from strategic decisions to the smallest nitty-gritty.
2021.07.16.

The CRM maker Hubspot (https://www.hubspot.com) have been embracing the idea of total transparency for some time now. Talk to anyone there, and they're all firm believers in this as a given. As their Chief People Officer (yes, there's such a title!) Katie Burke says, “We fundamentally believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” 

They use Confluence (https://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence), a remote-friendly team workspace as a place where everyone can post at any time, and about anything. Around 95% of all workers post there o a regular basis. Being totally open, every member of the company can see what's going on and what the employees are concerned about. As Burke says, “As we post all these things for people to see, they actually start to think like an owner of the business,” says Burke. “You create more ownership of your own decisions and of the future of the company. Transparency makes your employees better entrepreneurs, which we think is a huge win.”

After experiencing how many companies try and keep certain employees and members of management in the dark about certain areas of business, Hubspot decided to take the opposite approach. To that end, all people there enjoy total transparency from strategic decisions to the smallest nitty-gritty. This way it's so much easier for employees to get to know the companies priorities as well as the things the company has decided to leave alone, thus allowing employees to see more clearly both what needs prioritising as well as the reasons why.

If any organization wants to breed trust, then transparency is the way to go. This will create an atmosphere of personal connections as well as increase engagement. This will not only encourage creative thinking but also allow everyone to share their ideas. In turn, this will give everyone the chance to drive those ideas forwards for the benefit of the business as a whole. The reason that Hubspot has embraced transparency is that they see it as another tool that can help them scale the business by creating an atmosphere where workers feel empowered because their contributions are both recognised and acted on. Even in matters beyond their job description.

Be Transparent Whenever Possible

In today's age of "cancel culture", more and more companies are playing it safe and trying their hardest not to offend anyone. But you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. As Katie Burke points out, “They try not to offend anyone,” she says. “They don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” Though this approach looks perfectly reasonable on paper, in practice it makes for a work culture where employees feel the need to play it safe as well. In other words, it stifles open conversation and in turn, new ideas. 

Of course, transparency is easy when everything is going well. but as Burke goes on to explain, transparency is even more important when there are real problems that need hard solutions. “The reason for that is very simple,” Burke explains. “Employees don’t expect perfection. They expect humility. They expect trust, and they expect transparency.” By using Confluence, they ensure an open platform for communication from everyone. When problems occur, then the company makes sure to broadcast all the details. They then encourage everyone to share their thoughts on the issue, even if it's not your department. This way, Hubspot is able to see genuine feedback given in real-time.

A problem that most companies suffer from is that information is disseminated in such a way that only the upper echelons of management know the real or underlying issues and their causes. This information is kept from everyone and only given out on aneed to know basis. But a business isn't the same as running the CIA! From the first ay, all information is available to all the workers at Huspot. Every strategic plan is shared on Confluence, meaning that anyone within the organizarion can see, read and leave comments and input. 

“The impact of doing this is that, from their first day, everyone knows what our strategy is,” Burke says. They also see what isn’t a priority. “As a result,” she continues, “they can focus on core priorities. The very act of posting more [information] allows us to align at scale and not waste time retracting work that is out of line with where we want to go as a company.” 

In essence, transparentcy unlocks innovation. When employees can see and comment on the decision making process, then they feel as the actual owners of the business do, a sense of ownership as their input is actually helping steer the company. In some ways, transparency makes everyone a stakeholder in the business and gets them to think like entrepreneurs.

Dealing With Respectful Dissent

Alowing total transparency also means allowing truthfulness in the comments. To that end you're going to have some constructive disagreements. “One of the best-kept secrets of [our Confluence instance] is that it’s a place where constructive conflict happens at scale almost daily,” she beams. “Many of our most popular posts come from new employees with new perspectives to share. Maybe they don’t get to see our cofounders every day, but they do get an opportunity to engage them in thoughtful debate or discussion early on in their HubSpot career. We want individual contributors and new employees engaging early – getting off the sidelines and into the game.”

Transparency Exists on a Spectrum

Many reading this will be thinking that total transparency might well work in a tech company, but there's no way it can be used in another type of organization, like a bank for example.If your business is cybersecurity, transparency may well end in tears. But as Burke has pointed out, you don't have to start big, just take baby steps and see where the limits are. “You don’t need to make everything radically transparent to reach the level of transparency that builds trust with your employees,” she says. “For example, we share compensation bands, but we don’t share individuals’ personal compensation.”

It must be stated that being transparent does involve some risks. But you might well find that the rewatds are much bigger. Wen ubspot was prteparing fir their public offering, the directors wanted to continue tis total transparency to include the financials as well as the monthly sales numbers. Of course, the lawyers and ankers won't so keen, to put it mildly. “Five years later, as a public company, we’ve certainly had instances where employees didn’t exercise the best judgment,” she admits. “But we also certainly have instances where the upside of sharing all that information has made our employees, our company, our customers, and our partners better.” 

Katie Burke has a message for business leaders, “Think about three things you don’t currently share with all employees, then think about all the wonderful things that could happen if people had just a bit more information and context for their day-to-day job.” She pointed out thatboth MIT and Harvard share all their course materials online and for free.“If they can do that, you can nudge yourself a little bit on the transparency spectrum.”
 

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