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Radical Transparency: How to Build Trust and Boost Performance

September 18, 2014

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“NEARLY one in four U.S. workers say they don’t trust their employer, and only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them,” according to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey.

Lack of trust between employees and employers is a growing problem in the workplace. This impacts not only the holistic well-being of employees, it also has adverse effects on engagement which results in decreased productivity and, in turn, poorer business outcomes. But trust is a blind spot for many employers. In fact, research shows that employees rate trust as a far more important company value than do their higher-ups.

To establish and build trust with our employees, it’s up to leaders to take the necessary steps to create procedures of trust inside of our organizations.

Trust starts with what we call radical transparency. The concept has become as deeply ingrained in our culture as our focus on customer-obsession and morals such as integrity and trustworthiness.

Here are a few key steps I recommend for companies that would like to establish this as part of their own culture:

1. Openly share goals and objectives

The first step to building trust with your workers is to be radically transparent about the company’s goals and objectives. This will not only provide your employees with a unified sense of direction, but it also establishes within your workforce the feeling that their contributions matter and that we’re all working towards the same targets. You should also regularly share the goals, performance, and growth trajectory of your company with your workers.

An additional benefit of sharing company information with employees is that this practice establishes trust in their leaders, as well as trust in the trajectory of your company. If workers know the intimate details of what is going on inside of your organization, they’ll feel that their personal investment matters and is also contributing to the company’s overall success.

2. Discuss expectations

Having clear, measurable expectations upfront is the easiest way to assess performance. The strategy we find the most successful at Qualtrics is to have an official quarterly check-in with each of our employees. We use this time to set OKRs, our term for “objectives and key results.” This is much like a personalized roadmap for our employees, where we clearly analyze progress from previous quarters, as well as priorities for upcoming quarters. In addition to creating transparency between workers and their managers regarding what is expected of their performance, we noticed that such a system lessens the likelihood of employees feeling overwhelmed or, even worse, burning out. When they know exactly what is coming up, it is easier for employees to eliminate distractions, seek out help when needed, build continued trust with management, and avoid surprises when performance assessments roll around.

3. Take responsibility

As a manager, it is your job to lead by example at all times. Recent studies show that one of the main things managers do to compromise trust between themselves and employees is not “walking the talk,” meaning that managers will ask employees to follow practices that they themselves do not adhere to. Trust is a two way street, so you must exemplify all measures of trust that you ask your employees to portray.

If you don’t demonstrate a customer-obsessed attitude, for example, it is likely that your employees won’t either. Show your workers how far you go for your customers, and they’ll be more likely to do the same. Building trust by example flows down from you to your employees, and ultimately to your customer base.

4. Institutionalize accountability

An effective way to grow trust between employees and managers is to institutionalize accountability. This transparent system of accountability should include all team members – from interns to CEO.

One way to build out this kind of system is to implement the practice of publicly sharing employee performance information. While this may sound like a counterintuitive practice that would make employees feel vulnerable, the goal is to create a meritocracy where employees know their work is truly valued. Share workers’ performance reviews, weekly goals, successes, and failures. What we’ve seen is that employees trust their managers as well as their team members, because they each have a full overview of not only company, but individual progress.

A secondary goal of an accountability system is to highlight your “A players,” which are your top performers. When your workers know that both their failures and their successes will be known by their teammates, they’ll naturally strive to have more successes.

5. Trust your team

You hired them. If you can’t trust your team, then you probably didn’t do your due diligence when you offered them a job in the first place. If you are finding it difficult to trust your workers, take a step back and ask yourself what specific issues or skills you find lacking within your teams. What is causing this erosion of trust? Then, incorporate this into the interview process for new hires. When you make a point to show your workers that you have trust in their abilities, you are giving them all the more reason to step up and prove you right.

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