People are terrified of being honest. Why? Because honesty means ownership. When you’re really guts-to-glory transparent about a situation, you can’t play pretend anymore. Instead of dusting something under the proverbial rug, it’s out there in the open wagging its tail. You have to own it.When you look around the business landscape these days, you see a lot of finger pointing and blame passing. There’s a plethora of deals under the table and slimy, underhanded accountants. Not to mention that slew of leaders trying to make their companies seem like something they’re not.
What a waste of time. I wish someone would pull them up by their pinstripes and tell them the truth: the only foundation for a truly healthy, successful business is honesty.
So if transparency is so awesome, why are most companies so, ummm, murky?
Transparency is great, glorious, and oh-so-redeeming, but it’s also pretty petrifying. When you’re transparent, your employees, your clients, heck—anyone, can see you exactly for who you are. You expose your morals, methods, secrets, and scars.
If you’re the kind of company that’s hard working, fair-minded, and industrious, this kind of exposure is a huge win. It builds loyalty on all sides. But if you’re the kind of company that doesn’t have your ducks in a row, that kind of exposure can be ruinous. Remember the American Apparel sex scandal anyone? Exactly.
Time to get your Groove on
There are a few companies that are wearing their transparency spectacularly well. One of those is Groove, a startup that handles SaaS and eCommerce customer support.
On Groove’s blog, the company’s founder, Alex Turnbull, is whip smart and crazy honest. Clients, industry folk, and curious minds can follow the growing pains of the start-up as it journeyed to reach their ‘damn dangling carrot’ of $100k a month in revenue. Turnbull talks about how Groove wasted $50,000 designing the wrong website (ouch!) and why they passed on $5 million from VC’s (I mean, really!?).
Does all that information feel a bit too intimate? Something that should only be disclosed behind closed doors?
Maybe. But more importantly it feels like you know them better, like you understand them. Their honesty makes you trust them. For me, the candid nature of Groove’s business dealings endears me to them. I’m invested in their success because I know their story—their whole story, not just the airbrushed one.
Setting your default to “Tell All”
Buffer is another business that’s totally game for full exposure. The social media startup is so gung-ho on transparency that it’s the bread and butter of their 8 key company values:
1. Always choose positivity and happiness
2. Default to transparency
3. Have a focus on self improvement
4. Be a “no ego” doer
5. Be open to having your mind changed
6. Have a bias towards clarity
7. Make time to reflect
8. Live smarter, not harder
What do all these values have in common? You got it—a big whopping dose of honesty. Think about it: You can’t be a better person if you’re not honest about who you are. You can’t have a bias toward clarity if you’re not willing to be real about the situation you’re in.
Buffer’s honesty isn’t just externally with its clients, but also internally with its team. For one, every team member gets a free Jawbone UP, a wristband that tracks an individual’s sleep, nutrition, and more. It’s a way to make sure everyone is accountable of taking care of him or herself.
For two, Buffer makes all salaries public. Everyone knows what everyone else makes. While this might seem like a nerve-wracking, borderline crazy move, in the end it’s cut out the haggling and backdoor disgruntled exchanges between employees. Can we say ‘win-win?’
And the truth will set you free
Our client,15Five, is also bravely and wisely diving headfirst into truth talking. Their product is brilliant in its simplicity: get employees to spend 15 minutes a week writing a report that takes their manager 5 minutes to read. What’s the value add, you ask. Tons.
1. Leadership knows the pulse of their team and can adapt accordingly;
2. Employees are actually heard and don’t have to result to resentful gossip;
3. Problems are brought to the surface sooner rather than later, avoiding an infection that could paralyze company growth and profit;
4. Brand new, valuable ideas have a place to be seen and heard.
While 15Five‘s product is all about transparency, it’s a business model they carry everywhere—from the case studies they write, to the reports they run. Recently they wrote a blog post called “What You Don’t know Will Hurt You (and Your Culture).” What a game changing idea! Honesty isn’t just telling the truth (conveniently leaving out tidbits here and there); it’s telling the whole truth, the whole time.
I know this concept might be a tough pill to swallow. Not many people are comfortable baring it all. But for a company that wants to be healthy, successful, and thriving, keeping your startup in its birthday suit just might be your most effective weapon yet. Welcome to the big, wide world of full exposure.
photo credit: ericmay via photopin cc