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In top-down, hierarchical organizations that operate in departmental silos and are purely numbers and profit-driven, the development of talent is optional because you can always find more bodies to fill positions. After all, it’s the continuation of the organization that’s important, not individual development. Employees learn to check their best selves at the door, morphing themselves into whatever the job says they should be. Individual strengths? New ideas? Unique value? Don’t even try it.
Increasingly, these types of organizations are becoming less relevant and appealing, especially to young talent. This isn’t a new trend, of course. But, for those of us in the credit union industry who have been championing an inclusive, collaborative philosophy of how business should be done, it’s encouraging to see it take hold.
At the heart of the shift is a much greater emphasis on trust and transparency.
More and more, employees and consumers want to invest their time and money in organizations that put a premium on the truth. There is a greater expectation that leaders be forthright with sharing the truth about the organization’s current reality and where it’s heading. Even more than that, they want to be included in the discussion and know that they’ve had some influence over their organization’s success. They want to impact growth and believe that their own development is a key contributor to that growth.
The credit union movement is already deeply rooted in trust and transparency. It’s a part of our culture. Still, these are not qualities we should take lightly – or take for granted. The digital age, social media in particular, continues to influence our level of transparency in ways we are just beginning to understand. Managing a higher level of transparency requires leaders who can successfully balance knowledge (the head) and wisdom (the heart). Here are some ideas for how to do that effectively….
1. Become more personally engaged with employees via face-to-face and/or video interaction.
Creating and managing a transparent culture requires that staff at every level are able – even encouraged – to ask difficult questions to senior leaders. This is perhaps especially true of those who work directly with members. One way to help everyone feel comfortable sharing ideas or raising concerns, is to create a variety of opportunities in which important topics can be raised in different ways. For example, allow time for Q&A in every all-staff meeting, and schedule regular one-on-one meetings with staff so that they can talk about whatever is on their minds.
It’s also important to be conscious of how much face-to-face interaction we have with our staff. Even in small offices, it’s tempting to rely too heavily on email, when a face-to-face conversation might be better.
2. With greater access to information, context is even more important.
Transparency generally means that a lot of information is accessible to a lot of people. But, in many cases, context is vital to understanding information. In fact, sometimes offering information separate from context can actually be deceptive. It’s critical to provide commentary and clarity around what a particular piece of information actually means for different people.
3. Teach people how to give and receive honest feedback.
The entire point of transparency is a greater understanding of the truth. To that end, honest, constructive feedback is indispensable. Training is key if we want to avoid situations where the feedback given is ineffectual, or even counterproductive. Of course, it’s just as important to know how to give effective feedback as it is to know how to receive it constructively. As leaders, it’s important that we are intentional about creating an environment in which feedback is simply a normal part of communication rather than a dreaded task to be avoided at all cost.
4. Be proactive about sharing bad news.
Finding out that something important was hidden or covered up is a surefire way to create suspicion and distrust. Even worse, hidden information has a way of coming out in pieces that are separate from context, creating misunderstanding on top of that distrust. We all want to be kept informed about important issues, problems or changes, even if it’s not good news. If we are routinely proactive about openly addressing bad news, we can head off misunderstanding, manage reactions, and create a sense of comradery towards working together to overcome challenges. Teams that openly embrace mistakes as learning opportunities are less likely to be unsettled when inevitable problems and changes arise.
Being transparent is a powerful thing – if it’s backed by trust. Embracing transparency not only allows individual team members to make better choices, it also helps build trust that leaders are making good and balanced decisions.
How has your credit union embraced transparency and what has been the outcome?