A few years ago I had a discussion with a friend regarding personal transparency and the impact it has on your professional appearance. The specific item in question was, what I considered to be, a less-than-classy keg stand photo.
“What if customers saw that picture? What if your employees saw it?” I asked, exasperatedly. “That’s me,” he said. “If people don’t like it, so be it.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
At the time, I wholeheartedly disagreed with his perspective. I felt that my presence, both in-person and online, needed to be in pristine condition. I needed to remove all traces of that one night out on the town or a silly comment made by a friend.
Since then, I’ve started to consider the shift in how we build an authentic culture within an organization. Based on a survey done in 2014 by the American Psychological Association, 1 in 3 employees feel their employer is not always honest and truthful with them, let alone feel they have an authentic relationship. How can we expect to create a successful, transparent and thriving culture if we don’t encourage leadership and team members alike to bring their true, authentic selves?
I’ll be the first to say this is especially applicable in the tech and startup world. If you want to create something truly revolutionary, it requires more than just a transactional workplace. It requires building relationships; real, genuine relationships, with your co-founders, team members, community and customers. This isn’t a presence you can fake. It needs to be real in order for it to truly grow.
The trend towards personal transparency and acceptance is something we’ve seen in more than just the workplace. There’s a societal trend towards eliminating judgement and unequivocal love and acceptance. So how can we continue this movement in the workplace? Here are some first steps to consider:
- Lead by example. Any enduring change or movement within an organization requires leaders within the company champion the cause. That means CEOs, Directors and VPs need to take the time to show their authentic, real selves to their team and customers.
- Show compassion. When you spend 8+ hours a day with someone, you can usually pick up on a shift in mood or demeanor. It’s not a faux pas to ask a team member if they’re doing okay. Frankly, they probably just need someone to lend an ear or be a sounding board. We’ve all been there, so don’t turn your back on a team member in a time of need.
- Encourage social interactions. It’s important that team members get to know each other outside of the office environment. Even just a weekly lunch (outside of the office) allows people to let down their guards, have fun and start bonding.
- Hold the judgement, please. No one is perfect, and we need to learn to embrace people for their wonderful, unique qualities that make them such an asset to an organization or a community. Each person brings something to the table, and once we learn to embrace those differences, we’ll be able to see the alignment between them that much more easily.
- Keep lines of communication open. This encourages team members to feel more empowered, speak their mind and share honest opinions. What good is having a huge team of talented people if you don’t source the solutions to problems and encourage continual innovation, anyways?
- Be your wonderful self. Don’t censor who you are in order to appease a certain audience. I don’t suggest you should drop a long series of F-bombs in front of your brand new boss, but that also doesn’t mean you should say ‘yes’ if your gut is telling you, ‘no’. Stand up for your thoughts, opinions and perspectives.
While making a conscious change towards transparency isn’t easy. The long-term benefits far outweigh any initial obstacles an organization may face. “Either proactive or reactive can be a short term solution, but only bold, intentional transparency will succeed over the long term,” Andrea Learned said in a recent Huffington Post Business article.
As a friend of mine, Jonathan Cottrell, recently said, “If you want to change your life, you have to have your whole life in mind.” This embodies the idea that in order to truly make a change, it needs to be a wholistic change. By empowering employee authenticity, you lay the groundwork for a successful company culture, which ultimately will help create sustained greatness for the organization as a whole.