The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What are some tips for maintaining a successful startup?” is written by Aaron Bell, founder and CEO of AdRoll.
Increasing transparency at a startup or within a company culture is easier said than done. While many leaders espouse being open, most don’t actually understand how to put it into practice. This type of communication can come naturally with small companies. It’s easy to meet with everyone—both one-on-one and as an entire team—every day. However, when companies grow and the going gets tough, management too frequently turns their backs.
Transparency is like glue. It holds a company together through inevitable peaks and troughs. Transparent communication involves inviting and even pushing people to ask tough questions and deliver honest answers. It gets more difficult as you grow, but it remains valuable for a number of reasons:
- It gives employees context that helps them make better decisions, and perpetuates straight talk and honest discourse.
- Eliminating gossip and correcting any misinformation builds trust, loyalty, and morale in the organization.
- It empowers employees to participate in conversation and decision-making, which forces leadership to address issues, frustrations, and hard questions.
Here’s my advice for scaling transparency as part of your culture:
Embrace and evangelize transparency
Holding weekly all-hands meetings is one of the best ways to stay transparent, and it’s helped us tremendously. We treat these meetings as more than forums for celebration—though that’s important, too. We talk about frustrations and uncertainties just as often as success.
The day before your meetings, encourage your employees to post anonymous questions to a message board, and have others up-vote the most compelling questions. We do this at AdRoll, and I’ll address the most popular questions/issues in front of the entire company. It’s a company-wide detox that clears up concerns and helps team members call out issues that haven’t been discussed yet.
See also: 4 Ways to Save a Failing Startup
A culture of transparency is most crucial when you have difficult news. In these cases, be prompt and honest. Share with those who are most affected first. Give them an opportunity to understand why things occurred as they did. Then move on.
Model transparency in all of management
Train your managers to be radically candid with their teams. New managers have the most difficulty with this, as it’s a natural human instinct to avoid hurting someone’s feelings rather than being truthful. You don’t, after all, tell your grandma that the socks she got you for your birthday were ugly. The managers who both tell the truth and can get in the corner with their employees develop the tightest, healthiest relationships with them. They can expertly use feedback as a tool to accelerate their employees’ growth.
Most managers have a good idea of the feedback their employees need, but have a hard time saying it directly. Tap into those gut feelings and find the confidence to say what you think. It sometimes helps to begin, “Here’s some tough love, but I think you need to…” or, “My job is to help you grow, so in that spirit…” It’s good to have a frequent venue, like a weekly one-on-one meeting, to make feedback regular.
Managers must also welcome candid feedback. They should frequently ask how they can make their employees’ work lives easier and more productive. The aim should be to create a true, bidirectional relationship between both management and employees, which over time will make transparency a habit.
Tools can help create transparency
As our company grew, we expanded the Q-and-A foundation of our all-hands meetings. We use Slack—an AdRoll customer—for internal communication and now have a Slack channel where employees can ask me questions and read my responses. The questions run the gamut: Why have we chosen a particular strategy? How are we positioning ourselves against our competitors? What’s our current valuation? Using Slack as opposed to email, which can feel too formal, allows for more personal relationships, and people can reach out to me in a more personal way.
Close the feedback loop
It doesn’t matter how much you tout transparency if people can’t feel it. Executives should ask for input on how they’re doing. Use an anonymous survey to gauge employee happiness, then share the results—even if there are areas that need improvement.
Annual employee surveys provide us year-over-year trend data that helps us gauge how we’re doing and provides some context. After each survey, we look at the results and have frank discussions about the challenges and how we can do better. After those discussions, we agree to a plan that specifies how we will improve. This shows that we value everyone’s input, hear their feedback, and are taking real steps toward making AdRoll a better place to work.
By increasing transparency in your organization, you’re essentially building “trust capital,” a valuable resource that can be called upon when the growing pains of scaling the business set in. The larger the company gets, the more valuable your reserves of “trust capital” become for maintaining a winning culture.