I hear in the media and from companies I coach with, the demand for organisations, and in particular leaders, to be ‘transparent’. I don’t believe transparency is always the ideal or best thing in all situations. I maybe controversial here (not unlike Jack Nicholson’s famous line ‘you can’t handle the truth’ from A Few Good Men) because I also believe not all people in a business can comprehend a whole situation, the weight of the impact, the consequences of decisions required, or have the emotional resilience to take on board the impact of big change swiftly, appropriately and professionally.
This doesn’t mean keeping them in the dark.
With the pace of business ever increasing, the ability to make agile decisions, weigh up multiple inputs, and keep a team informed of progress through a difficult challenge or an exciting opportunity, can take a lot of time. And it’s often ‘the time’ that an organisation doesn’t have, or prioritise, when the demand for transparency is requested.
This is where expert skills in productive conversations are a feather in your cap.
The third reason why I believe transparency isn’t always the best solution is that not all leaders are equipped with the skills to relay information in the most empathetic way. It takes focused energy, effort and most often experience, to get your communication delicately landing right with the audience, especially for internal comms.
What your people appreciate knowing is that someone is steadying the ship, is capable of making decisions that have their best interests at heart, is able to disclose information that is relevant and necessary for them to take action in their roles, and is able to communicate with clarity so they too are able to understand the facts and relay information to their stakeholders.
I would like to share with you my 3Cs principle that I work with a lot of leaders and managers on becoming expert in. These principles can help set you up for more effective, genuine and valuable conversations, particularly when you’re in a challenging situation.
Use language people relate to, and openly share information that is useful for them to make decisions and deliver their role to the best of their ability. If you’re clear and open it stops gossip and speculation. Plan what you want to say, for instance it may be three clear messages for everyone to walk away with, provide them with the words and explanations. Plan how you want it interpreted, and use language that people understand and can use themselves. Consider being in their shoes, and what questions they may have, or what customers may also ask, make time for questions and answer as best you can – or set the deadline on when you or a member of the team will respond to it. This usually requires tiered levels of messages to different stakeholder groups, that is delivered multiple ways (i.e. face to face, email, messenger, phone calls, video messages etc).
Saying it once doesn’t mean others ‘get it’ is a mantra I use. Your announcements may be very clear in your mind as you’ve had the time to mull it over and make sense of it. I can count numerous staff meetings I have attended where a brash statement was made to an entire company about a purpose, vision, values, new direction or process and no one followed up on its delivery afterwards – it disappeared into the ether. Ensure your key messages, or what you desire to change in a circumstance or culture, become part of everyday conversation amongst the team. If you’re facing a crisis – have your people talk about it versus whispers and walks around the block in secrecy. Make your message stick by repeating key themes and outtakes regularly and through different channels.
Use phrases, quotes and memorable ways for the team to take in what you’re relaying, that is both relevant to them and the organisation culture. People take in information in many different ways so consider if telling a story, anecdote or providing facts and figures helps people’s comprehension of a situation or new news. Similar to how I am suggesting ‘the 3Cs trump transparency’ for effective communication, find inspired ways to make what you say remarkable.
Experiment a little…
The next time you need to make an announcement to your team or the organisation and you feel your level of transparency will be questioned, frame the way you communicate with clarity, consistency and creativity.
Awareness of, and using, these three principles will make your conversations valuable, relationships better, and way of doing business more effective.