Is Trust Always Transparent?

This post was written by Jay Prewitt, Director of Coaching and Facilitation at The Latimer Group.

My last two blogs have been about trust from the perspectives of hybrid teams and Belonging. Today I want to dig into another perspective of trust: transparency.

This is a topic that comes up a lot in my executive coaching. When trust erodes in an organization, leaders often look to greater transparency as a solution. When teams feel that their leaders are transparent about their goals and intentions, it builds faith and goodwill. It can also build accountability, which is a must-have especially within hybrid teams.

But using unlimited transparency as a solution to pre-existing trust issues can lead to a new set of problems. Some audiences have experienced past situations that have eroded the basic fabric that trust was built on, and no amount of transparency can build it back on its own. Those problems may have existed well before you arrived by other people or scenarios or historical trends have disproportionally affected certain groups. For example, a large public service utility sought to increase the retention of Black associates through transparency of managerial processes. But after interviews with employees, it was later found that the problem was bigger than transparency. There was a perceived history of discriminatory behavior within leadership that had eroded trust years ago. Transparency alone was not enough to correct the problem.

What’s the better path to take? It starts with awareness.

Awareness is one of the first concepts we teach in our Executive Communication Series and Powerful Presence workshops. An awareness journey always begins with self-awareness. What is your role in your team feeling left out of the picture? That’s the first step. After assessing your vantage point, examine how your awareness of your audience and the situation(s) they find themselves in create dissonance in feeling plugged into you and the organization. Awareness will help us connect to root causes, and those answers will help you create a transparency strategy that works instead of one that may overwhelm your team.

Remember to go broader with your perspective outside of the confines of your work environment when building awareness. Your audience does not exist just within your team or company’s vacuum. Everyone brings individual perspectives on the world before they ever set foot within your virtual or brick-and-mortar office.

When considering the role of transparency in your own organization, take a moment to ponder these questions:

  1. Do you know your audience as well as you think you do?
  2. Do you understand the context that informs their needs?
  3. Will your efforts at transparency accidentally overload the people you want to unburden?

This third point is critical in our current business world. Companies are attempting to reconcile an organization’s needs, their human capital’s expectations, and the logistics of work environments affected by the proliferation of remote work during the pandemic. There are a lot of moving pieces.

Do not let the siren song of simple transparency cause you to make leadership decisions that hurt more than help. Seek to find real solutions that heal people and grow organizations.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Jay Prewitt, EdD

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.