Candor and Transparency in Work Environments: The Pros and Cons
By Kinjal Pike
As many leaders can validate, there are many benefits to encouraging and creating a candid and transparent work environment. However, if managed incorrectly, issues from being sarcastically candid or borderline rude can be risky for business owners. This article discusses the pros and cons of each approach. As noted by an article by Harvard Business Review, the author notes “Companies can’t innovate, respond to changing stakeholder needs, or function efficiently unless people have access to relevant, timely, and valid information. It’s thus the leader’s job to create systems and norms that lead to a culture of candor (O’Toole & Bennis, 2009). Thereby, if applied correctly, companies will encourage greater productivity and a better work environment that allows for honesty, straightforward language, and improved leadership development as well.
A candid work environment saves time.
I am sure all of us can recall a time we had to dance around an issue so that we could ultimately get to the point we are trying to make. For example, many of us can remember a time when we had to share an idea but make it appear as if it was the ‘boss’s idea’ so that we can move forward. If a leader encourages, honest and constructive feedback, the team can save time and feel safe enough to openly share all ideas – even the ones that they are concerned with sharing. This type of environment can be a gift for younger employees that have many ideas but may not see the entire picture due to lack of experience. The beauty of a candid environment is that every idea that is shared is now a ‘learning opportunity’ for the team and the team members. There can be an open discussion because transparent sharing is encouraged. The best way to do this is to allow for sharing all ideas by not being critical or negative about the ideas the team may not think is great. It is similar to a family that does not punish mistakes but focuses on the lessons learned from those mistakes. If you are fortunate enough to work in this type of environment, consider yourself in a healthy work culture.
A transparent work culture can be a relief (for most).
Great leaders must recognize that there are many personality types that will or may not immediately embrace an environment of candor. Therefore, there must be a conscious effort to share the benefits of candor with the team. As noted by Vollmer (2005) posted on Insights by Stanford Business, “The former head of GE says, “people are afraid to speak out” in a bureaucracy, which creates an environment that slows you down.” Thereby it is important to recognize those team members that do not embrace this new communication style and do what can be done to make them feel inclusive. If the entire team begins to trust the process of transparency, then the team will benefit from the diversity of opinions and at the same time avoid a concept Malcolm Gladwell coined as “group think”. The team will not benefit if everyone agrees just to agree. Jeff Bezos of Amazon is famous for pushing diverse opinions while creating a safe environment for mistakes. Clearly, this is working as Amazon is a high-performance company that is taking over the retail world by storm.
Telling the raw truth is not the same as candor.
In my experience, if someone starts the sentence with “if I can be honest” or “to tell you the truth” they are about to speak their very untactful truth. In fact, if applied incorrectly, a candid work culture with no tact can create a hostile work environment. Therefore, be very aware of the type truth you speak. Will the information help the project? Is the feedback merely impulsive input or can you lead with the solution to the problem? For example, rather than saying ‘your work is sloppy’ it is much better to say ‘find the time to slow down and maybe have a few proofreaders look at it before it goes live’. The key is to set intention so the group benefits from the honest feedback.
A transparent work culture can create divisions between the less candid and the more candid.
I am sure all of us can identify with co-workers that do not say what they think because they are afraid they will ‘look bad’ or they are just simply not comfortable sharing information at the time the question is asked. There are many factors that leaders must consider when directing a team project team or team meeting. The leader must consider the team member strength and weaknesses, the timing of the questions and who was in the room.
Therefore, be aware of the process and truly invest in it. Believe and know that it will work! The true test is the level of positive candor and transparency will pay off exponentially! Please reach out to me with thoughts and questions about my insights. I would love to hear what you think. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.