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!”

SIDEBAR: How to Become More Transparent

Jeff Gardner, CEO of Zen Planner, offers the following tips for creating a more transparent environment:

Speak from your heart. Be human. Put away the scripts and anything that sounds insincere. This is how you will truly connect with people. Share your own health and fitness struggles when a client is experiencing the same.

Seek feedback. Create a feedback mechanism that allows people to answer authentically. But be prepared: Some feedback may be tough to hear, but you need to hear it. If you want to be great, you have to have thick skin.

Use tools like TINYpulse and SurveyMonkey® to send simple surveys that can be easily managed. Your people will appreciate having an anonymous platform to voice their feelings. If you ask for feedback, make sure you are prepared to do something about the responses. Nothing deflates people more than putting themselves out there and seeing no action being taken.

Set clear goals and expectations. Whether you have staff or are a lone entrepreneur, setting clear goals and expectations keeps you on track. At our location, at the start of each quarter all the leaders create commitments and share them with our colleagues. At the end of the quarter, each of us shares an objective assessment of how we performed on those commitments. This transparency flows all the way through our organization. All team members know the goals of the company and how as individuals they impact those goals on a daily basis.

The same should go for working with your clients. For example, when I was training with my cycling coach, I put in the effort on the bike, but my diet was not optimal. As a result, I struggled to reach my performance goals. My coach had a very transparent conversation with me, including this advice: “It doesn’t matter how much work we do on the bike. If your nutrition does not support our efforts, you will not reach your goals.” This level of transparency is exactly what I needed to get me to take action.


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

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

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

Carrie Myers Smith

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