I Can See Right Through You: Why Transparency is a Must in Business

Written by Paul Marchildon, on January 27, 2015.


Ok, before we start, let’s make this clear: transparency, good. Oversharing, bad. Transparency may make for happier, more productive employees, but no one needs to know that the tacos from dinner are coming back with a vengeance or that you finally know what that rash was all about. Save it for Facebook, people. This is work! (Fun work, but still…boundaries!) All in all, though, companies need to make a concerted effort to communicate more openly and honestly with employees and other stakeholders. Transparency breeds trust, and trust breeds results.


Just one in ten people trust businesses a “great deal,” according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. A bit more gloom for companies: a lot of their employees don’t trust them either. Twenty-five percent report that they don’t trust their employers, and half say that their employers are neither open nor honest.

In Likeonomics, Rohit Bhargava, writes, “The first and most basic reason for distrust is because there are so many companies and people who choose to lie to us either by making misleading claims or simply by hiding the truth.”

Whether that, in itself, is completely true or not (and it is certainly not the case in many organizations), the point remains: people – employees and consumers both – lose trust when they feel companies are hiding information.

Fries with That?

That’s exactly where once-mighty McDonalds finds itself. Just where do those Nuggets come from? How are the beef and produce sourced? How exactly do they make McRibs? Now, I don’t like McDonald’s; I don’t go there. Even my kids snubbed the Happy Meal at an early age. But I do admire, and salute, the chain’s effort to become more transparent in recent years.

Their “Your Questions, Our Food” feature allows consumers to ask about their food. While some are a bit on the self-serving side (e.g. “How do you make the Coca-Cola taste so darn good?”), others are much uglier: “Do you use pink slime in Nuggets?” Yes, that’s the same ingredient that goes into those tasty yoga mats.

Turns out McDonald’s was as unhappy with some of the answers as their customers were, and they’ve made changes and improvements in their food quality. At least they’re going in the right direction. That’s the value of transparency: stakeholders’ concerns are heard and they have access to information to help them make better choices. This, in turn, encourages – or forces – companies to shape up.

Transparency: Regaining Employee Trust

Employers would do well to start their own “Your Questions, Our Company” campaign. GlaxoSmithKline did this beautifully. They held town halls three times a year, and the CEO and executives shared what was going on in the organization. They also took turns on the “Hot Seat.” Anyone could ask a question, whether they were right in the live audience or across the country calling in. The leadership answered every question, tough as they might be. This level of transparency builds tremendous employee trust.

And this has tremendous benefits for the company. A recent study found that transparency is the number one factorin employee happiness. And a happy employee is a productive, engaged, motivated employee – who sticks around. Good ethics are good for the bottom line.

Don’t Go Too Far!

There is a line, of course. There is only so much information that leadership can share with employees or with stakeholders. To do so could violate confidentiality or put their “secret sauce” into the hands of the competition. This is the real oversharing you have to worry about!

Total transparency isn’t feasible. Being as transparent as you can be – that’s the ideal. That’s what will help you build, or rebuild, trust with the people who power your organization.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.