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“Transparency” is a relatively new term that is gaining momentum in today’s business vocabulary. Like most new terms, it is rooted in and sometimes substituted for an old concept. This particular concept is one that will never be out of date: trust.

Transparency and trust are related, but an important distinction should be made. The purpose of transparency is to increase trust. Transparency is a means to an end, a method and a guiding principle. Trust is the objective.

We all know that trust is the bedrock of any good relationship. It is as essential for the health of an organization as good nutrition is for a human being. You can live without good nutrition, but you cannot thrive. Similarly, an organization can function without trust, but it will not thrive. In organizations, trust is the glue of goodwill, the salve that heals mistakes and misunderstandings and the invaluable ingredient that can make joy out of hard work.

There are some great organizations where the trust level is very high. Employees respect and have faith in their leaders, and leaders consciously act in ways that build trust with their employees. In contrast, there are many organizations where trust is scarce, where fear or even suspicion prevail. Motives are suspect, decisions are questioned and cooperation is limited to a bare minimum.

In my experience, most organizations are likely to be found somewhere in the middle. Trust is like any precious resource, sustaining it takes conscious attention, nurturance and care. If you would like to enhance the trust level of your organization, here are some suggestions.

Although these ideas are primarily directed to leaders, don’t underestimate the influence that any one individual can have, regardless of his or her formal role in the organization. Just as the proverbial “one bad apple” can sour a work environment, so can “one shining star” set an example and bring inspiration to all.

Transparency means bringing out into the open as much of the organizational information, operational processes and decision-making as possible. Most of the functional aspects of an organization need not be secret or mysterious. One of the ways to accomplish transparency is to involve staff/employees in decision-making at appropriate times and levels. Employees can play a valuable role in most of the business processes of the organization, from budgeting to strategic planning.

Some may object that employee involvement takes longer or is less efficient than top management decision-making. In my experience, in the long run it is actually much more efficient to engage people at all levels as appropriate, as early as possible, rather than to have to spend time later cajoling, convincing or remedying communication problems. Many times what are identified as communication problems are actually trust issues. Just as with any type of work, it takes much less time to do it right the first time than to fix it later.

Companies with high levels of trust usually have excellent internal communications systems and practices. Perhaps even more importantly, they have congenial and open leaders who make themselves accessible. An authentic and trustworthy leader generates an atmosphere of candor and integrity.

A good example in my experience is a very successful regional food processing company. Here are just two of their trust-building activities: Company meetings are held monthly. In the interim, department managers keep their staff informed and up to date on a weekly basis, and informal gatherings take place frequently. In addition, top management subscribes to the practice of MBWA (Management By Walking Around), which offers employees the opportunity to informally and directly interact, ask questions and make suggestions.

Consider what methods would fit your organization and especially include asking employees directly for their ideas on ways to increase trust.

By practicing these principles, cooperation can be increased and stress decreased, productivity increased and conflicts decreased, morale increased and dissatisfaction decreased. This list of contrasts could go on, but it serves to illustrate just a few of the positive benefits of building trust in an organization. Use the principle of transparency to increase trust within your workplace, and good things will come of it. I can think of no contraindications to this prescription.

•••

Mary Luttrell helps leaders of successful organizations improve their clarity and focus, make better decisions and achieve their goals. She simplifies complexity and assists leaders in directing their energies, resulting in companies that thrive. Industry analyst James Kennedy named her firm one of the “100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America.” She specializes in strategic planning, marketing, organizational performance, leadership and coaching. Contact Mary at 707-887-2256 or thecoach@sonic.net.

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