The business buzzword ‘transparency’ is achievable. But, it’s a team effort, and you’ll have to get rid of closed-door meetings and upgrade your culture first.
Today’s post is by Guy Pierce Bell.
We’ve all heard “transparency” thrown around as one of the hot business buzzwords of the day. But its prevalence hasn’t created anything close to true transparency.
I was recently in an executive meeting that was ominously held behind closed doors. One of the first comments made by the CEO was, “This conversation can’t leave the room.”
I watched as a room full of smart people aggressively defended their beliefs around a range of topics that didn’t need the closed-door approach. Most of the conversation had no real tangible business value, with one exception, and that exception was positive news.
Since that was the only positive takeaway, I decided to share it with my team when I got back to the office. The next morning, I attended an emergency call with the cadre of executives, which started with a thinly veiled threat about sharing the content of our closed-door meeting.
I immediately said that they didn’t need to conduct an investigation—I had shared the inspiring news with my team. I didn’t realize that the positive news had been the reason for closing the door.
In this case, everyone supported my decision, but in far too many cases, no good deed goes unpunished.
Either be transparent and then invite others to practice the same, or don’t; Everyone or no one. And when you have to keep secrets, keep the secrets, but know the difference.
Designing Culture and Playing Buzzword Bingo
I co-wrote a book in early 2000 that mocked the management catchphrases of the day. In the process of talking about our own experiences, I learned about “buzzword bingo.”
The list of buzzword bingo words and phrases—as in the meaningless phrases people said in corporate America—went something like this:
Think outside the box
And on the list went. My all-time favorites are “We need to get buy-in on this,” “You have to drive the results,” and “What is the ROI?” But the number one overall winner for buzzword bingo is:
“I want our employees to feel like we care about them.”
When I heard this statement for the first time, I was shocked. In a state of wonder, I asked, “Why not just actually care about them?” Over my years of asking this question to underscore the contrast between caring and the idea of caring, many leaders were puzzled.
After their initial answer, I would probe more deeply, and though it was as clear as day to me and most employees, it remained a useless exercise to the top leaders—they didn’t actually care about people, they just wanted to appear that they cared.
As I wrote the book, I started to pay more attention to my language and realized I’d become one of those buzzword bingo players. The book suddenly felt disingenuous.
Over the next seventeen years I expanded my buzzword vocabulary by sitting on boards, working with publicly traded businesses and equity-backed investments. My favorite experiences were closed-door conversations that “never left the room”: rooms full of people playing buzzword bingo.
There’s no transparency in closed rooms, and there’s no real culture, either.
This friction between trying to drive results and not being transparent enough to do so, drives people away. They are being sold crap rather than being engaged in the experience of running the business.
They start to check out, get sick more frequently, do just enough, and do just enough to play along for now (or, worse, for a lifetime). All this is due to a lack of trust—a lack of being connected to something greater than a job.
Build a Culture
In order to get your employees to drive results, they have to be happy at work. In order to be happy at work, you have to have a great company culture.
Whether you’re an employee or an executive, consider the following ideas as a path forward to building culture.
Start by Thinking About What You’d Like as an Employee
How do you wake up in the morning and choose to do the hard work of “showing up”? You choose to act in alignment with your full potential by holding yourself accountable. You check your ego at the door and become an owner of your business.
You invest in making the business better day in and day out, regardless of whether the company, culturally, is a freaking mess or not. You have a choice today. You accept what is, you stay curious and seek to understand and actively engage, or you depart.
Departing is fine when the culture or job doesn’t work for you. Choose to show up no matter what, or choose to go. Don’t wait for someone else to choose for you.
Do whatever you have to do in order to show up fully committed to the job, and you will be an integral part of the company culture
Think Like an Executive
If you’re an executive, this all starts with you! If you really want to attract and keep outstanding people, do it. Run the business with every person fully involved.
When the business requires that people tell each other what to do, you have to figure out how to avoid constant ass-covering in the place of honesty. Not easy to do from a list of buzzwords and abstract conversations, but it’s achievable when you embody honesty and extend the invitation for others to embody it too.
Accept the fact that you, my friend, are not that important. And yet, you are vitally important.
The slowest path to building a transformative culture is to rely on every individual person choosing to act as the owner, regardless of any cultural mess.
Your company’s culture is a team effort, and no team can grow without full transparency between all members.
You don’t have full transparency if you’re swamped with closed-door meetings, buzzword bingo conversations, and a lack of company culture.
Guy Pierce Bell shares his passion for humanizing business by writing, speaking, and connecting with businesses willing to re-imagine what is possible.
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