Why CEO transparency isn’t a one-way street

In a time of change, there’s more to team communication than simply providing updates from company leaders

Why CEO transparency isn’t a one-way street

Transparency is key when a company is undergoing massive change – but it isn’t a one-way street.

While good leaders will remain visible and opt to overcommunicate their strategy during periods of disruption, great leaders will also take time to listen to their employees.

“Instilling transparency” among corporate leaders is crucial to “build alignment and provide the trust and camaraderie that everyone ‘is on the same team,’” said employee engagement specialist Rob Catalano in an exclusive interview with HRD.

Read more: How to maintain a good culture amid high growth

“When decisions are made in a private board room – or zoom call – it’s hard for employees to understand the reasons why decisions were made.”

“Transparency isn’t a one-way street,” he said. “When you’re going fast, processes are going to break, and unchartered waters will yield challenges.”

During such times, however, there’s more to team communication than simply releasing updates from top managers and cascading them to employees.

Workers require an exchange – “to offer feedback on what is working and what isn’t,” said Catalano, who co-founded WorkTango, a Toronto-based HR tech company that analyzes employee sentiments. 

“The main point is that, as a leadership team, you set the direction of the organization, but your employees execute against that every day,” he said.

“If you’re transparent about your company goals and offer employees the ability to offer valuable feedback and have the autonomy to speak up and challenge current approaches, they will take ownership on supporting the organization to surpass those goals.”

Read more: HR in the Hot Seat: Rob Catalano, WorkTango

As chief engagement officer, Catalano uses the concept of ‘brutal facts’ as popularized by management expert Jim Collins when it comes to building an environment “where we’re all vulnerable [and] we don’t have all the answers,” Catalano said.

The important thing: “We’re going to build a culture where we can identify issues, get to the bottom of it, and continually improve together,” he said.

An integral part of this open conversation is to prepare both leaders and employees to confront the realities and challenges head on.

“For 15 years, I’ve asked employees before giving them [a job] offer to really ask themselves if they like a ‘comfy chair’ or ‘rollercoaster’ work experience,” Catalano said.

“High-growth cultures aren’t ‘comfy chair’ environments where you are limited to your job description and you’re going to be told exactly what to do.”

Above all, he said, great companies attach a “higher purpose” to this openness to change.

Catalano calls this “passion statement” – which serves to remind people about what they value as a team even as changes are coming their way.

“If a candidate’s eyes do not light up when we talk about our passion statement, it’s an immediate indicator that the employee may not be willing to go through the challenges and work required in a high-growth environment to personally fulfill themselves and our corporate vision,” Catalano said.

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