Are You a Victim of Your Organization?
In 1968 when I was in the fourth grade, girls were not permitted to wear pants to school. In years prior it never really meant anything to me but as I, and my friends, got older and pulled farther and farther away from our mothers having to pick our clothes for us, what we chose to wear made a difference.
There was something about having to wear a dress every day that made me angry. It was like a uniform. Restrictive and uncomfortable. I grew up in Denver and it was cold in the wintertime. Why did I have to walk to school with my legs freezing? Even with tights on it was awfully cold.
I rallied my friends and found everyone felt the same. We didn’t understand how what we wore had any effect whatsoever on our ability to learn. So, I gathered my girlfriends and we petitioned the principal’s office, asking for a face to face meeting. We argued in not-so-sophisticated 8 and 9 year old’s language how discriminatory we felt that was.
You know what? We won our argument! The dress code at my elementary school was changed. For the rest of my school years I never wore a dress again! Oh, except for my senior prom!
We didn’t sit around like victims, forever ticked off that we had to wear dresses when the boys could wear pants. We were so over having the guys flip up our skirts to expose our underwear, yelling “Dress up day!” and we decided to do something about it.
What our small, but mighty group accomplished was that we affected a change in the culture of our elementary school.
There’s no reason employees of a company can’t rally in the same manner. There have been countless times in my career, when I worked internally for one organization or another, where the employees sat around and lamented about how screwed-up they thought things were. But rarely did they ever actually do anything about it.
Some of them felt defeated because they’d put a suggestion in the suggestion box and nothing ever came of it, and so in my work as a company culture consultant one thing that I always impress upon organizations is that if you’re going to have a suggestion box you better check it. You find real useable gems in there. If you can’t actually implement the suggestion, management needs to at least get back to the employee and thank them for their contribution.
But back to affecting change. If you work for an organization and you’re not happy with the culture then do something about it. Offer some solutions. Maybe your organization could use training. Is there something specific that you’re not happy with it your organization? What is it? Is it that they don’t offer opportunities for learning? Is it that you feel there isn’t enough diversity and inclusion.? Is your company rigid and lacking in the ability to offer flexible schedules? Has your company failed in addressing the pandemic and making remote working as seamless as they could?
I was once with an organization where the top executive told everybody in his direct staff that when they walked down the hallway and saw an employee, they did not yet know, they needed to do more than just nod hello. They needed to stop, greet the employee, shake their hand, and spend just a few minutes getting to know them.
The atmosphere in the organization was one of the most upbeat and positive environments I’d ever had the pleasure of being in. The sense of community could not be matched because everybody felt welcomed and they felt like they were seen and their presence was valued. The sense of community was extraordinary.
There are solutions to bad cultures out there. Even bureaucratic ones. Doing something about it really doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. If fourth graders can make a red-tape change so can you.
Why Transitions in Business Often Fail
Businesses with a strong focus on company culture are much better positioned to succeed than businesses without an organizational culture.
It’s a common theory that gets bandied around at HR meetings from time to time but a little digging should assure you of the accuracy of this statement.
It’s true; studies clearly indicate how and why a positive work culture will increase motivation, productivity and general happiness amongst employees. But as with the sun rising every morning, we also know that change is inevitable for every business and a strong company culture is needed to navigate such times.
Let’s take a look at why transitions in business often fail…
Why Transitions Happen (All the Time)
Transitions within a business take place for many reasons. If one company is acquiring another, this is also the coming together of two different cultures. Retirements, resignations or deaths are other examples of a transition, while even a change of leadership can significantly impact the company culture.
Transitions can appear rather straightforward when everything goes to plan and when a company culture is strong. However, it takes a concerted effort to ensure any transition looks seamless or “straightforward”. In fact, most businesses suffer immensely in the months and years that follow a transition. In case you might be asking yourself, a Canadian friend just told me about a recent BDC study of more than 200 mid-sized businesses in Canada in which just 20% of these companies met their financial targets after a transition.
But why do transitions in business fail so often?
Why Transitions in Business Often Fail (and Why this Shouldn’t Happen)
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of variables that can cause a transition to fail but here are a few common instances in which it might happen:
Businesses Take the Wrong Approach to Leadership
It should go without saying that not every leader is created equal. For instance, there’s a common misconception in some businesses that pressure and stress is the best way to produce better and faster results. This is simply not true and an approach which often results in a slow and lifeless workforce.
Two Merging Companies Count on Synergies
Companies will sometimes hope for a powerful synergy when two companies merge. In reality, there is rarely a guarantee in this regard and synergies are often not as powerful as expected, even when they work.
The Business is Without a Healthy Company Culture
Employees understand what’s expected of them from companies with a strong organizational culture. They know what behaviors, or outcomes, are necessary and act accordingly. For this reason, a strong company culture will ensure a cohesive effort when it comes to a transition. Further, a strong culture will often allow for grace and patience when faced with any setbacks.
My Final Thoughts
The truth is, almost any business is certain to suffer in the wake of a transition when company culture is weak and employees are demotivated. For these organizations, production is slow, quality is low and poor decisions are commonplace at the very least.
And you know what’s the worst part?
It doesn’t have to be this way and a company that applies the right approach and focus to company culture shouldn’t have to really worry about any of the above.
Empathy - A Little Goes a Long Way
If you’ve never done a Clifton (formerly Gallop) Strengths Finder self-assessment (https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/home.aspx ), I strongly recommend it. It’s fascinating to find out which of your strengths rank the highest, and how you can utilize those strengths to the benefit of yourself and others.
My number one strength is empathy. In my business relationships it’s surprising how often this strength, which seems so “un” businesslike, is actually my best asset. Empathy has helped me to build wonderful, enduring relationships with my clients and colleagues.
Right now, empathy is in short supply in the workplace. For many of us that means a remote work-place. The people that you lead maybe trying to do their work while their spouse, or significant other, is also working across the room. Children are trying to get class work done online and are frustrated with lack of interaction with classmates who they cannot see, play with, or do sports with right now.
Maybe your employees and coworkers are “sandwich generation” and trying to care for elderly parents in this particularly scary time.
There’s a missing element of empathy in the workplace as noted in this 2018 article “Perceptions of empathy are gendered. “Men are 15 percent more likely than women to agree that their organization is empathetic,” according to the report. Moreover, while 71 percent of men view organizations in general as empathetic, only 33 percent of women say so.” (source: https://associationsnow.com/2018/07/leaders-empathy-problem/ ). Not much had changed – even in these 2020 circumstances according to the client network I speak with regularly.
Whatever the circumstances may be being empathetic – even if it’s not your #1 strength, as it is mine, can still be fostered. Do whatever you need to do to make sure that your coworkers, supervisors and staff know that you understand that they are going through difficult times and that you will be there to assist them in any way you can. Use regular touch points with Zoom or text messages, even good old phone calls. You’ll never really know what they need most until you ask and have an open honest conversation with them. Empathy feels good as a strength – try it on.
Sometimes you just gotta spread a little publicity!
I’m pretty excited about this press release – why not share it?
Virtual Company Culture Board Game
Chandler, Arizona – Stephanie Angelo, SPHR, SHRM-SCP a speaker, trainer and consultant specializing in company culture and leadership has re-invented Company Culture – a Game of Workplace Traction not Transaction™.
Not to be hampered by COVID19 the recently released board game was immediately re-created into a virtual option. Using Zoom and on-line game hosting technology, Stephanie can accommodate groups in a single location or spread out globally.
“This is a hands-on interactive session with the first-ever board game designed to illustrate what is and is not a great company culture to help attendees compare and contrast important benefits, features and attributes to discover how they can apply it to their own organizations”, says Angelo. “This game is about getting people within companies to talk to each other. It’s about what we, as human beings, value and what people find important at the workplace. It covers some items from policies and procedures and U.S. Federal laws, and most of all what makes a company really great – its culture. Culture can be described as the personality of the company. While pay and benefits are very, very important, people want to be valued, to feel they are contributing, that their voices are heard, and their presence is appreciated. Create that, and you’ve created a great company culture!
Now more than ever, businesses need to think about how they will re-engage employees. Some will have suffered financial, and even family losses, some will be excited to return to work, and some may be brand new to the organization that’s regaining its footing. This workshop and game is an idea way to create fresh and innovative ideas for your organization.
Company Culture is a game for team building, department meetings and company events. It’s about what makes a great company culture and what helps your people thrive. This game will get everyone talking about ideas and creating positive programs that make companies a great place to work. Players have positive, productive fun and create a company culture of Traction not Transaction™.
“Traction not Transaction™ is the company’s mission to help employees gain emotional traction to grow within the organization well beyond transactional fulfilling of job duties.” says game inventor Stephanie Angelo. The description and a quick view of the game can be found at: https://stephanieangelo.com/company-culture-game-workshop/
For more information and to schedule a virtual workshop for your organization visit www.StephanieAngelo.com
Stronger than a Post-it®
I wrote myself a reminder to write a blog on a sticky note and stuck it to my desk. I wanted to write next about the importance of always having fresh ideas at your organization.
Looking at that Post-it® note got me thinking how post-it notes in-and-of-themselves were a fresh and innovative idea developed by a 3M scientist named Dr. Spencer Silver.
According to the story, Dr. Silver was working on an adhesive and the one he created was so light it was considered a failure. It took several years to realize how useful it could be to have an adhesive that was so light that it could be easily removed from a surface without causing damage. Now Post-it® notes are so popular worldwide that even if the paper itself is not the Post-it® brand people call it a “post-it” no matter who made it.
While that might be a story of a new and innovative product, your workplace culture is no different. Fresh new ideas are what keeps a company thriving. Without that it’s like the slow uphill grind of a roller coaster. Just as it gets to the crest it drops speeding backwards instead of swooshing forward over hills and curves.
Sometimes we’re so comfortable in the way we do things we need an external perspective to help us see what’s right in front of us. Having said that, it’s equally an excellent way to reveal what is otherwise hidden. Doing a company culture workshop with your employees, is a fresh, fun way to get employees at all levels of the organization to talk about what‘s going on, and what they’d like to see implemented at the organization. As Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur and Kavi Guppta write in their article Don’t Let Your Company Culture Just Happen “Companies try to motivate their people with incentives and unique perks like ping-pong rooms and free meals, but none of those approaches address the deeper issue of why employees are so disengaged.”
One of our favorite workshops to facilitate to address employee culture and engagement, features the Company Culture board game. Company Culture is a game for team building, department meetings and company events. It’s about what makes a great company culture and what helps your people thrive. This game will get everyone talking about ideas and creating positive programs that make your company a great place to work.
Players also get to see what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes. It’s positive, productive fun that results in group creation of new and innovative practices at the workplace.
Make no mistake; we are not just “playing games” this highly interactive element to our training has very targeted outcomes. If you are wondering about the investment of your training dollars – understand that this has “long term” written all over it. We care as much as you do that the training “sticks” stronger than a Post-it® and you have a strong, prosperous, highly motivated loyal and happy workforce.
A Commonly Asked Question - Or Two
Posted July 8, 2020
I’m always asked by people, “Hey Stephanie if we already have a great company culture why would we want this workshop?” Or, “What if we don’t have a great culture then what?” Both of those are great questions. There’s a third element that I’ll talk about too.
Culture is defined as a set of values that are shared by the organization. Values aren’t necessarily good. I once worked for a man who valued charging more money to hourly employees on their insurance premiums than was required so that we could put it in a shared pool that was to be divided by the executives at the end of the year. I refused to participate and lost my job as a result. At least I knew I could look myself in the mirror after that. I did not share the same sense of values.
First: If you have a great company culture, I am happy for you! It takes special people at the top to make a company culture great. It doesn’t “just happen” by itself and if your employees aren’t supported by the folks at the top great culture doesn’t last for long. The support for having the workshop is if you already have a great company culture it will stay great if you do something new and innovative to keep it fresh,
Everyone gets to be involved in the conversation, not just those on the executive board throwing ideas out based on what they think will make the organization great. Employees are motivated by being heard, valued, feeling connected and being able to contribute.
Second: For organizations that don’t have a good company culture, and are smart enough to recognize they need help, this safe and fun workshop allows people to talk freely and openly. What happens to players during the game isn’t something that the players do to each other like a mean move in the game “Sorry” where you bump somebody from their spot and put them back to start. In the Company Culture game, it’s all randomly driven by the cards. The cards are only based on a hypothetical company.
Every comment, suggestion, occurrence, or event on the playing cards comes from things that I have encountered in my professional life as a Human Resources professional, coach and representative to companies working closely with employees.
Third: The third scenario is that of the organization has a terrible company culture and they either don’t know it, or they don’t know it they still don’t care. Not that I want to point any fingers at anyone in particular, but I’ve come across my share of these kinds of companies. The fact that they flat don’t care it’s amazing to me. They typically have extremely high turnover and simply shrug it off as, “Oh well, we’ll just hire somebody else.” It’s a constant revolving door of employees – exhausting their human resources professionals. According to this 2019 article by Sheila McClear, Toxic workplaces have costs businesses $223 billion over the last 5 years
I’m sure reading that you say to yourself, “Well I don’t want to be one of those companies.”
Then don’t be. Be either one of the first two I discussed. Be a company with a great culture that always wants to improve, or one that knows that they can have a great culture and is willing to improve.
The Company Culture workshop, with its exclusive board game, can be played in-person and virtually, sparks genuine conversation between all of the players. This game is excellent for employee events, team meetings, department meetings, monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, employee events, – you name it! Any time you want to re-engage your employees.
It gets everybody involved. Employees sometimes play the roles of executives and executive sometimes play the role of hourly employees – it’s completely randomly selection. It’s one of the safest ways I know to get people talking. New ideas are generated and programs are launched.
The result is creation of in-house programs that elevate your employee morale. It keeps your company fresh and relevant, always improving its culture.
A Prime Opportunity to Engage Our Ingenuity
June 17, 2020
During a recent Company Culture workshop, I ran into a curious set of circumstances because all of the people present were owners of their own companies. Typically, this workshop’s participants are members of a single company at all levels. That’s important because leaders want to learn what their employees value and this gives their workforce a voice.
While the game is designed to elicit discussion and spark ideas about culture initiatives within the organization all of the people present were basing the outcomes on their own opinions. In and of itself that isn’t bad. I reinforced with these owners, that they need to go back to their organization, gather their employees (even if it has to be done virtually) and share the ideas with them to get their input.
The best ideas about culture initiatives come from the people that are truly in the “thick of it” not the people that are on top of the hierarchy. However, defining your culture definitely needs support and input from the people at the top.
Right now, during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, or recent orders, depending where you live, many employees are feeling disengaged and distant from the organization. Sometimes the managers know that their employees are feeling isolated. One owner told me that his solution was that he told his employee to stop watching the news. While that can be helpful, it isn’t enough. It reminded me of the character of Michael Scott played by Steve Carell on The Office. I could see this man’s employee looking at the camera with that befuddled “huh?”
What if we took action differently in a way that engaged our employees beyond just getting their jobs done? You can do something inventive, creative and fun. Initially it may sound funny, even ”lame” however, a poetry contest, recipe sharing page, and a suggestion box of ideas both virtual and in-person work well to get your folks communicating and watching what’s going on. What if they could be sent a .pdf business book? Enrolled in an online language course? Something that improves their minds and benefits them while they’re home?
We are only limited by our imaginations and this is a prime opportunity to engage our ingenuity beyond what we normally do in our day-to-day jobs.
7 Ideas to Increase Employee Engagement During COVID-19 Dr. Leonie H Mattison, Ed.D, MBA reminds us that “The COVID-19 pandemic is a temporary bend and not the permanent end to talent development.”
The Company Culture Game workshop is designed to engage everyone in conversation. You’d be amazed at what you learn from the people playing the game and then having creative conversation. Throwing ideas on the wall, so to speak, like al dente spaghetti and seeing what sticks.
I can’t wait to see what those business owners come up with after they’ve taken the discussion from the workshop back to their employees. It was especially interesting when we talked about measurements – which ones to use and how to implement them. That seemed like something they could really wrap their heads around.
The impressive thing about this group was how willing they were to try something new. Those lucky employees – I’m excited to see what happens next!
If You’re Judging a Game by its Cover
I was four years old when my family moved from the Midwest to Denver for my father’s job. My mother told the Realtor she did not want a house in the “lily white high-wealth” area. She specifically wanted to be in a highly integrated neighborhood.
I grew up going to schools that were almost equal thirds: 1/3 White, 1/3 Black, 1/3 and Hispanic. At that time, in the early sixties (yes, I’m THAT old) there were not yet many people of Asian or Middle Eastern decent.
Back then, the common term was Black and not yet the term African American. African American was not coined until somewhere in the late eighties perhaps 1988 or 1989. And popularized by Rev. Jesse Jackson.
When I was growing up equality and respect among races, religions, ethnicities was not just a theme in my household. It was in THE theme. It’s all I ever knew.
I now work in Company Culture initiatives for organizations, and when I designed the Company Culture game and workshop I gave every aspect quite a bit of thought. How was I going to design it? What would it do? How would people play? What would the cards say? What is the strategy? What should it look like from the outside?
Having a clean, perhaps blue and black logo-ish corporate look to the box design had crossed my mind but I opted for something a little bit more whimsical and inviting. The artwork, by Taryl Hansen, was conceptualized while she observed a group playing the game and drawn, literally and figuratively from what she heard us saying.
Make no mistake, purpose of the game and the workshop are to address the roots of problems within an organization. The goal is to weed out issues at the roots and resolve them. Then keep those solutions maintained for years to come, always addressing them, refreshing them. Then looking for new initiatives and solving any problems early – should they come up at all.
If you’re judging the game by it’s cover, then please stop. That would be no different than judging a book by its cover or a person by their appearance.
This workshop is designed to address real issues and achieve real goals. Right now is the perfect time to talk about painful issues across America that affect every organization. If you have questions about how to address these issue causing tensions then let’s talk. It’s time to have honest conversations and for both sides to do a lot of listening.
When Your Employees Put the Customer First
Picture this, a client comes into your store and the employee who assists the customer is doing whatever they can to make sure that that customer’s needs are met before anything else.
Businesses are beginning to reopen, many with safety guidelines, and the employee interacts with your customer with an attitude of pride and enthusiasm. The customer and the employee engage in everyday light banter and at some point, the customer says to the employee, “You seem to really like working here”. The employee responds, “Yeah, I really do. I love this job”.
“Why is that?”, the customer asks. “Well, they always make me feel like they value my opinion and appreciate what I do. I’ve made suggestions that they’ve listened to and sometimes they’ve even used them. Last year I had some unexpected things happen in my family and I really needed to take time off, and they were so willing to work with me and be flexible. It was such a stressful time and I’ll never forget how much I appreciate that they made it a little bit easier for me”. “So, do you think you’ll stay here for a while”, the customer asks. “Yeah, I really do”, says your employee. “They have a couple programs here, that I’d really like to take advantage of, that I think will make my career better. And I know that even if I don’t promote here, which I probably will, I’ll still be able to take those skills somewhere else. And they know that, and it doesn’t bother them at all”.
Fantasy? Not at all. This kind of work environment can, and does, exist. When you create a great company culture for your employees, and you put them first a natural segue of that is that your employees will put your customers first. Happy customers are your best advertisers.
You’ve probably seen the flip side. It really doesn’t take a lot for negative messages to get spread. You do have to work that much harder for positive ones. People ask each other for recommendations every single day. There are web sites devoted to referrals. The goal is for your company to be the one that’s top of mind – because its good.
All of the things the employee told the customer they love about their job, and many more are elements weaved within our Company Culture Workshop. This engaging workshop helps you, and your employees, reveal what is, and what is not, happening at your organization. There’s never any pressure, or embarrassment, because what happens in the game is purely hypothetical. It’s about an imaginary company. The workshop opens up dialogue and conversation. This helps you hear from your employees what they really feel and what they want from your organization.
The single goal of the workshop is to help you create, or improve, a great company culture. The outcomes are ready-to-go initiatives created collaboratively by all the members of your organization.
A survey done by Columbia University shows that organizations with great cultures have turnover of only 13.9%. That’s excellent news and something to strive for or beat.
“Company Culture” is sometimes tossed around casually in conversation, taking away the depth and importance of the words. Company Culture is a widely shared set of values and beliefs that are shared within an organization. Like a singular “personality”.
Any forward-thinking leader will know that company culture is not only the backbone of a business that inspires putting the customer first, but also the key source of empowerment that will help their people grow and thrive. That’s what we call having Traction not Transaction™.
We Are Nothing if We Don't Learn to Adjust
We are nothing if we don’t learn to adjust. And the time to do it is now.
In January 2020 I booked a leadership speaking engagement with an organization to be facilitated this late spring. Then the world found itself in COVID19 lockdown and we are stuck in its grips for an undetermined length of time.
I offered to provide the same presentation only it would be virtually instead of in-person. “No”, they said in an email. “We only have in-person presentations.”
I responded that if they are going to train leaders to lead in tough times, whatever they may be, we have to be the ones to set the example ourselves. If they plan to have presentations by people who can only do them in-person, and expect them to do them well, they may be surprised.
I’ve been doing presentations virtually and for on-demand recordings for years. This isn’t new to me and I’m happy to adjust to my client’s needs. The particular presentation we were discussing was to be my Company Culture workshop – with a board game no less!
Shortly after COVID19 was a reality here in the United States I knew I needed to go virtual with my board game to have a second option for my clients. At this writing the virtual version is in development, and would not be ready in time for this particular group.
I was not about to let that deter me. I set up a two-camera Zoom. One camera, my desktop’s web cam, focusing down on the game board and the other, via my laptop on me.
I played the game as if I was all six players and my attendees followed along with 8 x 11 printouts of the board, so they could have some semblance of the hands-on activity and still interact with me.
You know what happened? The leaders in the group understood I was pinch-hitting the best I could under the circumstances and they still had a full workshop and the game playing experience. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same. It still worked. They were evolved enough to adapt. Which is exactly what successful business leaders do.
I’m honored to have had a front row seat to them standing up, brushing the dust off and saying, “Bring on the next challenge!” The time is now to re-engage with your employees.
We’re here to help you make that adjustment. Need to brainstorm how?
What is Your Company Culture Going to be After COVID19?
Apr. 20, 2020 by Stephanie Angelo, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
It’s not easy to imagine what the world might look like after COVID19. While the virus will pass, unemployment is rising, and questions remain about the economy. And then there’s the inevitable strain and stress that will come with returning to the workplace.
Sure, some employees will return with a renewed sense of drive and purpose. However, not everyone will be happy, and some workers might even feel resentful that you let them go. Maybe you have similar concerns about the future of your business?
The truth is, nobody knows how this situation will play out, and this is exactly why forward-thinking leaders are using this time to plan ahead and rebuild their company culture.
Why Company Culture is the Key Enabler Post COVID19
In a recent survey, the National Small Business Association stated that more than 35% of small business owners are worried about the financial security of their business. It’s true, many business owners are likely stressed about letting staff go these past couple of months. Most businesses are also struggling to pay wages, while uninspiring forecasts bring little more than anxiety and pain to an already troubled balance sheet.
But what’s this got to do with company culture?
Well, employees tend to work better when their values and needs are aligned with those in the workplace. Establishing a great company culture helps create an environment in which employees can feel this way about their work. Company culture is also the birthplace of productivity and the source of “belonging” that coworkers feel between one another. And when employees are tasked with keeping things fresh or coming up with innovative ideas, it’s the company culture that brings and holds everything together.
Moral of the story: Company culture is the key enabler for a greater sense of togetherness and an increase in productivity and profit in the workplace.
About Using Company Culture to Thrive Post-COVID19
Employers need to think about what they are going to do when they bring people back to the workplace. Whether this refers to existing staff or new employees, it’s important to realize that things have changed, and it will never be “business as usual” again. In many ways, we might even compare this situation to 9/11 and how those attacks not only heightened the need for surveillance but also changed airport security forever. For this reason, a progressive mindset will be needed in the wake of COVID19 and creating a good company culture can help employees navigate and thrive during the uncertain times ahead.
Creating a company culture is also not as formal as it may sound and something that can inject enthusiasm into the workplace. For instance, I recently developed a board game that is part of a company culture workshop I run. You can participate in these workshops in person or online, and the board game is all about creating a company culture that helps your people thrive. This game is friendly, fun competition that prompts safe conversation. It gets everyone talking about new ideas in a positive environment and creating programs that will make your company a great place to work.
“Company Culture” is sometimes bandied about and used as a buzzword which can detract somewhat from the meaning. However, any forward-thinking leader will know that company culture is not only the backbone of a business but also the key enabler that will help their people grow and thrive long after COVID19.
Transparency: Active Awareness
“Can I share something with you?”
“I need to get this off my chest.”
“I need to tell you something I can’t tell anyone else.”
Depending on the context of the situation, and your personality, these questions can be either innocuous or terrifying. Let’s say it’s your closest friend and it’s just the two of you sitting in a private corner of your favorite bistro. In this case, you may think the questions are on the harmless side.
Now imagine that the person asking the question is a co-worker and it’s just the two of you on your way to a meeting. Re-read the questions in this context and note how you react, paying attention to your feelings. Startling? Awkward? Uncomfortable?
The concept of transparency is at the heart of each of the questions. We face conversations and situations involving some degree of transparency every day. The issue is, then, what level of transparency is appropriate, and when?
We find at the two ends of the transparency spectrum complete closure and total openness. Some people are open books, while others remain complete mysteries. And everything in between. Therefore, transparency may be straightforward on the one hand and more demanding on the other.
Which leads us to time and place; when and where transparency is appropriate. Let’s focus on the scenario that involves work and co-workers.
The Nature of Work and Transparency
Much writing exists about transparency character traits and leadership, particularly at work. Research tells us that “…trust must be mutual and reciprocal” (Bandsuch, Pate, Thies – 2008). Where does that leave us in today’s workplace? First, communication is critical. Although we seemingly drown in an ever-flowing river of words and information, words matter. How we use them matters more.
But where do we draw the line when it comes to being transparent in the workplace? There is an appropriate amount of information which is necessary for us to do our work as well as build trust with colleagues.
What happens when we cross the line? Many of us are familiar with the acronym TMI – too much information. You likely have experienced someone holding up their hand to stifle the conversation when they have heard more than they are comfortable hearing.
What’s Considered Inappropriate
There is such a thing as too much transparency. We tend to think of this as over-sharing. Co-author Roger worked with a colleague, Sandy, who had issues with boundaries, especially with what information was appropriate to share. Sandy shared heart-wrenching personal stories in work meetings and hallway conversations. They were stories best saved for a close friend, or in some cases, a counselor’s office.
One-on-one conversations with Sandy not to share her personal stories in open work forums were not successful. She insisted that she was being transparent. She believed it was in the scope of acceptable behavior to tell what she felt where transparency stories, even though she received explicit requests not to. She thought she was connecting and “letting others in.”
Instead of building bridges, Sandy burned them. She misunderstood the concept of transparency and failed to consider personal boundaries. She did more harm than good. Her actions came at a cost to her health and work relationships.
What’s Considered Appropriate
Consider this situation and the role transparency plays. Let’s say that you and others belong to a group and that group has a facilitator. There is an expectation that you and your fellow participants foster a culture of trust and transparency over time. It is the facilitator’s purpose to guide the group’s conversation and control the flow of ideas.
One more caveat: the facilitator is not obligated to share information about himself or herself. The facilitator administers the rules and guidelines of how the group operates. And it’s not necessarily their role to agree or disagree with a participant’s opinion.
There are two strong dynamics at play in this situation: boundaries and context. It’s natural in many cases for a facilitator to have personal role-based rules within the group. When you have a group that agrees to be transparent (like a Mastermind) and a facilitator whose role it is to abide by a different type of transparency, the participants and facilitator must agree to group boundaries and expectations.
Calls to Action
- One takeaway is to be self-aware about whom you share with and what you share with them. Be selective about what you share, and with whom you are transparent. We don’t advocate non-transparency, rather we encourage selective transparency.
- Another lesson is to be socially aware. Consider your audience. Whether it’s solely with another person or group of people. Look for signs or cues as you’re talking. Think about the effect what you’re saying has on the person or people in front of you. Also, think about occasionally asking the person or group if they’re comfortable with what you’re sharing. We all have different tolerances for what we consider appropriate and inappropriate information.
- And lastly, consider time and space. The age-old advice that “there’s a time and a place for everything” holds when it comes to being transparent. Set boundaries. When you find that you’re at a loss for reading a situation, find a trusted friend or adviser to help you navigate these situations.
The Dalai Lama says, “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” How true. The key to transparency is awareness.
Stephanie Angelo helps companies attract, train and retain employees with keynotes and training focused on company culture of Traction not Transaction. She facilitates Mastermind Groups for business owners who hunger for collaboration with other business owners to scale their businesses. For company culture improvement visit www.StephanieAngelo.com Business owners learn more at www.HighStakesMastermindGroups.com
Roger Wolkoff will help you discover how emotional intelligence paired with authenticity improves communication, ups productivity, and positively influences culture. Visit https://www.rogerwolkoff.com/ to connect with Roger and work with him to help you deliver results and grow your bottom line. Roger is a keynote motivational speaker and author from Madison, Wisconsin.