Telling leaders that transparency leads to a more meaningful relationship with staff is all well and good. But persuading people to trust you is tricky when you hold all the power.
As a boss, you may have to give performance reviews and decide whether someone deserves a bonus. You may have responsibility for hiring and firing. But do members of your team really feel able to be open with you? Do they worry that saying or doing something you won’t like could affect their career?
Such fears can be allayed if you make employees feel comfortable enough to share what they really think, according to Michael Parke and Tammy Erickson of LBS. Here, they provide five tips on how you can establish a transparent relationship with your employees.
1. Focus on being supportive and motivational
People really value opportunities to develop personally and professionally. Helping staff achieve their objectives shows you care about their development, and that engenders mutual respect and trust.
“Many workers ask themselves how their job can help them achieve their personal development objectives. It’s important for leaders to be open and to encourage people to develop themselves and achieve their career goals,” says Parke.
A further crucial factor is providing staff with motivation. “Do people feel they have clear direction and purpose? And does their boss inspire them or leave them feeling drained? If you get these things right, you have a good starting point for a meaningful relationship,” he adds.
2. Be honest and keep your promises
Building trust starts from the moment an employee joins your organisation. Erickson says you’re already on the back foot if the reality of working at the company doesn’t match what someone was told in their interview.
“Some employees like to work in a structured environment with clear rules. These people will more likely trust you and feel motivated if the company they’ve joined meets their expectations. To create trust, you need to make promises and stick to them.”
But some companies aren’t explicit about their working environment and culture, which can cause problems. When given little information, people tend to make assumptions that can be wildly inaccurate.
“It’s easy to make assumptions about how a company works based on its brand or reputation,” Erickson says. “Most people would probably expect Tesla to be a state-of-the-art organisation run by intellectuals. So how would someone who believed that feel if they joined the company and realised it was bureaucratic and reliant on basic equipment? They would be stunned.”
3. Ask for feedback and always follow up
As a leader, making people feel comfortable enough to talk openly and honestly takes time. One way of doing it is to encourage people to give feedback – but asking for people’s opinions isn’t enough. You have to take action to win people’s trust and establish a transparent relationship.
Dr Parke says: “Staff may feel ignored if you don’t follow up on their comments and suggestions. It’s not that leaders don’t care; they’re just usually busy and struggle to find time to follow up or manage everyone’s ideas and concerns. Leaders need to be structured and systematic to give everyone a voice and make them feel their input was considered.
“If they mention a challenge, you should take action or explain why, for whatever reason, you’re unable to address the issue. But leaders should also be willing to change things if people question particular processes or the general approach to tackling tasks.
“If things aren’t going well, you need to find out why and do something about it,” Dr Parke says. “Also, being sincere when asking someone how they’re doing goes a long way. These actions will empower people and make them feel comfortable when talking to you.”
4. Put people at ease
Being outgoing and sociable is a good way to make people feel comfortable and trusting. One approach is to speak to staff regularly about how things are going. Another is to hold weekly one-to-one meetings to run through any issues or challenges.
Either option is fine - providing that’s how the employee likes to communicate. “Not everyone wants the same kind of interaction with their boss,” Erickson says. “Some people want to work autonomously with little involvement, while others prefer managers to check in with them four to five times a day. Understanding the needs of the individual is important.”
She adds: “The best managers think about how someone can learn while doing their job. I’ve heard managers say, “My team needs to accomplish this task this month and learn three things while doing it.” They see work as a continuous learning experience.”
5. Bring people together
Achieving this when managing people who work in different countries is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Parke says leaders who travel abroad regularly should spend time with their staff in other regions. If jetting off isn’t an option, they can always arrange video calls to develop relationships with employees.
“Traditionally, the best way to build an immediate rapport with someone new was to interact with them face-to-face. But we now have video conferencing and calls where we can see the person, which helps when it comes to developing trust. Getting an email or a phone call from someone and not knowing what they look like will solicit a different response to meeting them in person.”
Parke believes it’s tough to establish a transparent relationship with someone with whom a manager has had little direct contact. When managing people in different regions, a lack of daily interaction can make employees less trusting of you and affect their motivation because they don’t feel connected.
He says: “In this situation, leaders need to be more creative to overcome the distance or lack of interaction. It could be as simple as getting on the phone or holding a video call instead of relying on email or written communication. It’s a more personal interaction that will prove more effective when looking to establish transparency and trust.”