Transparency: The New Standard for Business Success

by Carrie Myers Smith on Feb 04, 2015

Leadership

Business transparency inspires trust and a stronger connection among employees and customers.

Transparency. It’s probably not a word that conjures up visions of doing business, but it should! A recent TINYpulse employee engagement survey (TINYpulse 2013) showed that management transparency is the top factor in determining employee happiness. So what exactly is transparency?

According to Jeff Gardner, CEO of Zen Planner, practicing transparency is one of the easiest ways to improve employee and client satisfaction. “I define transparency as open and honest communication with all of your stakeholders: your employees, your clients and your partners. The definition makes it sound easy, but true transparency may be uncomfortable at times. It’s important to know that the benefits will be well worth a few rough moments.”

As a real-life example, in a blog post (Gascoigne 2013) the social media–sharing company Buffer revealed its pay structure—all the way up to its CEO. The result? Buffer was inundated with resumés. The reason? In one word: trust.

“The biggest benefit of transparency is that it reduces fear and increases trust,” explains Gardner. “In the absence of information, each person will interpret a situation differently. And we know that interpretation will include worst-case scenarios. Why create that unnecessary instability?”

A good example of this has circulated on the Internet: a photo of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets being made with the now-famous “pink slime.”* Corporate-level personnel gave statements to counter this claim. But McDonald’s Canada took it one step further: They made their own video that documented the supply chain and the entire production process. The video has been applauded for its transparency.

Transparency is the new buzzword for what businesses used to call ‘open-book policies,’” observes Alwyn Cosgrove, owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California.

But calling transparency a buzzword does not indicate a short-term trend. “I feel strongly that transparency is here to stay, and that it is one of the most important parts of building a business for the long term,” says Gardner.

“If we think of the actual word transparent,” observes Cosgrove, “some of its antonyms are unintelligible, unclear, questionable and vague. I don’t see any reason not to be transparent.”

Joanne Blackerby, ACE-certified personal trainer and author of Training Effects: Reflections on the Art of Personhood Training, (CreateSpace 2014), agrees. She counsels, “Transparency should be considered an absolute for fitness professionals. Appropriate transparency requires practical skill development to build trustful and respectful relationships. We are engaged in a business based on personal relationships.”

* In no way is this statement offered in judgment of McDonald’s or Chicken McNuggets. It is purely an example of how transparency can make a difference in a company’s reputation and gain its customers’ trust.

Does Transparency Equate to Being Authentic?

“Regarding health and fitness professionals, it’s important to be truthful with customers and clients—to help them reach their personal fitness and health goals,” declares Warren Matthews, cofounder and chairman of Xtend-Life Natural Products, based in Christchurch, New Zealand. “By being transparent and brutally honest when necessary, you establish trust, and this makes it possible to create long-term relationships. When your clients trust you, they tell their friends about you and create positive word-of-mouth for your business. This is valuable marketing that you can’t buy.”

But is being transparent the same as being authentic? In an article titled “Trust Begins with Transparency,” Scott Monty wrote, “As we know, transparency is the quality of making something easily accessible. But once you're transparent, are you authentic? Authenticity is the quality of being genuine, and ultimately of being trusted. Transparency gets your brand attention; authenticity allows your message to be heard and believed. But being authentic requires a little extra effort. More than just ensuring that access and message are on point, that the video or image or story is crafted just so, brands must ask: Who are our messengers?” (Monty 2014). Matthews shares a related thought: “It should be kept in mind that the promotion of transparency with some people may be a part of a marketing strategy and not necessarily genuine. Nevertheless, transparency is important so long as it is combined with honesty. Professionals who genuinely care about the well-being of their clients and customers and provide honest services, products and advice will be more likely to succeed.”

As the saying goes, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” If you don’t, clients will eventually see right through you (no pun intended!).

Should Transparency Have Boundaries?

Have you ever been judged based on your social status, appearance, income, body type, etc.? I learned many years ago that the more open I am with people, the more they accept me. Why? I think it’s because it makes me real—someone they can relate to. And I hold to the same policy with my clients. I’ve been told I’m successful at what I do because I connect with my clients. This connection is transparency.

But can we be too transparent?

“Professional relationships should remain professional and should not include sharing of personal information that is not important to the client’s goals,” comments Blackerby. “For instance, let’s not share our sex lives, party habits, personal media accounts or inappropriate language and humor.”

Then again, some sharing of personal information can help you make that connection with your clients and members. When other mothers find out that I have four sons, it instantly creates a connection because they know I understand their struggles.

Cosgrove doesn’t believe there is such a thing as being too transparent. “However,” he adds, “it’s also important not to overwhelm staff or clients with unnecessary information in an attempt to be transparent. And don’t confuse transparency with being unprofessional. It’s still about the members and their goals. Transparency is not a reason to make the training session all about you and not about the customer. There should be a divide between professional and personal when you’re coaching clients.”

“Transparency in fitness means being committed enough to educate clients toward self-efficacy,” notes Blackerby. “It means putting down the clipboard filled with ‘training secrets’ and taking a genuine interest in every body and person put before you. It means taking personal training and personhood training personally.”

And it costs nothing. “Investing in greater transparency does not require money—or even more time,” concludes Gardner. “It simply requires a commitment to openness. Try it. You will love the results!”

References

References

Gascoigne, J. 2013. Introducing open salaries at buffer including our transparent formula and all individual salaries. Dec. 19. Accessed Dec. 12, 2014. https://open.bufferapp.com/.

Monty, S. 2014. Trust begins with transparency. The Guardian.com. Feb. 18.

TINYpulse. 2013. 7 vital trends disrupting today’s workplace. Employee Engagement Survey 2013. Accessed Dec. 12, 2014. www.tinypulse.com.

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About the Author

Carrie Myers Smith

Carrie Myers Smith IDEA Author/Presenter

As the former fitness and wellness coordinator at the Omni Mt. Washington Resort in the beautiful White Mountains of NH, Carrie has had the privilege of training and teaching people from all over the world. As a motivational speaker and author of the award-winning book, Squeezing Your Size 14 Self into a Size 6 World: A Real Woman’s Guide to Food, Fitness, and Self-Acceptance, Carrie touches people’s lives, encouraging real, lasting change, and offering a chance for them to find the courage within themselves to take the first step. Carrie also has experience speaking and presenting over various media, including radio and television and has presented to various sized groups--from small and intimate to over 500. Her signature yoga class, Yo-Fit™, continues to grow in popularity. With a foundation of vinyasa-style yoga, it is sprinkled with elements of fitness, and appeals to many who are intimated by traditional yoga classes. Carrie has a BS in exercise science and health education and is a certified Transformational Coaching Method Master Coach, and a therapeutic exercise physiologist with experience in disease prevention and treatment, as well as pre- and post-orthopedic surgery and rehab. She writes frequently as an expert for industry publications, including ACE and IDEA, and has also written for many national consumer magazines, including Shape, Fitness, Cooking Light and Health. She was also the head writer for IBM's online employee wellness program for eight years. Other writers frequently turn to Carrie as a fitness expert for their own articles, which has resulted in her being quoted in several magazines, including Self, Cooking Light, Better Homes and Gardens, Successful Living, and Family Fun. Her companies, CarrieMichele Fitness and Authentically You with CarrieMichele Coaching, strive to enrich women’s lives through wellness-related education, empowering each woman she touches to make their mark. Her goal: to not just survive, but to thrive, to live up to her potential, not just the status quo, and to find something to celebrate each day…and to teach others to do the same. Connect with Carrie on FB at https://www.facebook.com/carrie.m.myers.7 or https://www.facebook.com/CarrieMichele-Fitness-109747279045029/?ref=hl or https://www.facebook.com/carriemichelecoaching/ Or on Twitter @CarrieMicheleM Or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/carrie-myers-946254/