How to Do Radical Transparency Right as a Manager
Sales Management : 12 min read

How to Do Radical Transparency Right as a Manager

“Radical transparency” is one of many buzzwords in the world of tech and business that managers are throwing around these days—but what is it, really?

Radical transparency in business is the belief that everyone that works at a company should be completely honest about their work, the company data they have access to, and in the way they communicate with one other. In other words, no information is kept only to select employees—it’s shared with everyone. Same goes for thoughts and opinions.

We know what you’re thinking. No, radical transparency is not supposed to be an extremist or oppressive work culture in which everyone blatantly says rude things to their coworkers any time they don’t like something, and no one can breathe without Big Brother hearing them.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • How radical transparency started
  • The pros and cons of radical transparency
  • How to implement radical transparency in your workplace (and if you should)

Here’s how radical transparency in business started.

A man named Ray Dalio first came out with the idea in the early 1990s when he implemented the concept in the company he founded almost 20 years prior—you might have heard of this company: Bridgewater Associates (aka. the world’s largest hedge fund managing almost 160 million in assets).

Dalio implemented the practice of radical transparency at Bridgewater after a few of his closest associates told him his uncensored honesty was having a negative impact on the company.

radical transparency quote ray dahlio.

His solution? He began having one-on-one meetings with his employees to discuss how they should be treating each other when it came to the sharing of thoughts and information. His aim was to create a culture where peers could exchange ideas without necessarily having to label one person as right or wrong—“thoughtful disagreement” he called it.

It can be tricky to do but if done right, radical transparency in business can reinforce employees’ loyalty and trust in a company as well as give them a sense of authority for its success.

Shifting to a more transparent work culture can definitely reap a lot of benefits. Before taking the plunge though, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons to make sure it’s right for your business and team.

Radical transparency: the pros

In a radically transparent company culture, everyone can see everything (or almost everything) to do with the business. Here are some examples.

  • You get to see what work is actually being done. Have you ever had a coworker you sort of talk to… maybe with an ambiguous title, and just wondered, what do they even do? Well, with radical transparency, everyone’s work and what’s been completed is out in the open for all to see. Another pro? People know they have an audience which may push them to work harder.
  • Everyone knows what the company’s business problems are. And what’s being done to solve them.
  • Everyone knows where the company is headed. Everyone should have access to the company roadmap. Knowing what the company’s goals are and when they want to achieve them by will empower employees to recognize their role in helping the team get there.
  • The company’s finances aren’t kept like a big secret. So the whole team knows what the sales numbers really are… or projected to be. What the company’s earnings are. How much profits are really being made. Where the biggest expenses are going.
  • The company’s competitive threats are publicized to the team. That includes the plans and opportunities to address and tackle them.

To some managers, giving employees this much information can be terrifying. After all, a lot of this stuff is sensitive information, like the company’s roadmap, financial information, and their plans to beat competitors—things that would normally be reserved for stakeholders.

Newsflash: Your employees are stakeholders too.

When managers are transparent with their teams and tell them the full truth behind business decisions that are made, it gives employees a greater sense of inclusion. When managers take this a step further and include employees in the decision-making process, that can give employees the true stakeholder experience which in turn, will give them the drive needed to help the company succeed.

Plus, there’ll be a lot more brains collaborating to solve problems and contributing to company growth than just the management team.

Radical transparency: the cons.

On the flipside, radical transparency isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Here are some examples of when it might do more harm than good:

  • When not understood properly, “radical transparency” can hurt productivity. Having access to such a vast amount of company information can lead employees to strike a debate with everything leaderships says and justify it with radical transparency.
  • It can make people more self-conscious about their actions at work. For example, they might be more nervous about trying new and innovative ideas knowing that if it flops, the whole company—including top execs—will know about it.
  • There is such a thing as “too transparent” for some companies. For example, say you decide that moving forward, all employees’ salaries will be made transparent to everyone. This could be a recipe for disaster—especially if your salary structure is iffy (like there are large pay gaps between people in comparable roles, for example).

Plus, the thing is… not everyone wants transparency.

Sure, the people at Bridgewater like it. But when people join Bridgewater, they know what they’re getting themselves into. Bridgewater is known for its radically transparent culture, and anyone who applies and accepts a job there is willing and able to work—and thrive—in such an environment.

When you want to implement radical transparency into an existing company culture, however, things can get a bit tricky.

People who got a job at your company, frankly, didn’t know this was going to happen. Sure, some people might be all for it, but you’ll also have some employees who aren’t such big fans and might even choose to quit their jobs because of it.

So maybe don’t start with making salaries transparent right off the bat. There are steps you can take before this, which we’ll go into next.

So how do you implement radical transparency in business the right way?

1. First, determine if your company is ready for radical changes.

If your company culture has existing issues—like a lot of backbiting—implementing radical transparency might just turn this behind-the-scenes gossip into blatant hostility toward one another.

Your existing company culture should be fairly healthy before you implement such a, well, radical change.

In this case, your best bet is to focus on building trust and effective communication among teams—including between employees and managers.

A study by Edelman found that one in three employees don’t trust their employer. Trust is one of the most important things in the workplace and an essential prerequisite to successfully implementing more transparency.

radical transparency's impact on employee voices.

And the best way to build trust is by leading by example.

2. Lead by example.

Remember: radical transparency might be totally new to most if not all of your staff. This means they might not fully understand it at first or agree with it, or see its benefit. So show them.

For example, in your team meetings, make yourself vulnerable by asking for direct feedback on your own performance. When employees tell you something that you could’ve done differently, avoid reacting negatively. Thank them for their feedback and let them know it’s something you will look into or work on. And actually do so.

Seeing their manager react in such a positive way to a situation where most people would get defensive is a great way for your team to learn it’s safe for them to do the same.

Slowly, this open communication and feedback loop can be implemented team-wide so everyone’s able to voice their thoughts and opinions without hurting feelings or causing conflict.

Some other ways to lead by example are:

  • Be honest about how the company is doing
  • Admit when you make a mistake
  • Give credit where it’s due

3. Decide just how radically transparent you want to be.

Going back to our salary example above, maybe you don’t want to be that transparent—at least not at first. So, what do you want to be transparent about?

Here are some examples of things a lot of companies could benefit from being more transparent about:

General business information

This isn’t as simple as not hiding information either—information needs to be readily available.

For example, everyone at your company should have access to your CRM, where they can view your prospects, reasons for wins and losses, sales numbers, etc.

Ideally, the majority of your business information lives in your CRM and isn’t all over the place (you know, in shared drives, cloud storage, hidden behind various intranet privacy settings, and so on), so employees don’t need to go on a wild goose chase to look for data.

Instead, they’ll know exactly where to look.

Hiring

Often when it comes time to hire, the manager or head of the department that needs a new body will write up a case for why they need a new employee and submit it to HR. To make hiring more transparent, hiring managers can turn this process into a team decision versus one they make alone.

Does everyone agree a new employee is needed? Do they understand why?

We can probably all agree we’d prefer to know when someone new will be joining our team over coming into work one day and finding out we have a new deskmate named Dwight. “And… what does this person do?”

Next time you’re interviewing someone who seems like a good fit, don’t jump straight into sending them an offer letter just yet. Instead, schedule a follow-up interview where they can meet the team. Your team is, after all, the ones who will be working most closely with this new person, so it’s important they’re a good match as well.

Sales

Like we mentioned earlier, it’s important to treat employees like true company stakeholders. This means, everyone knows how sales are doing and therefore, how well the company is doing. This also means they can then contribute or make suggestions for improvement accordingly.

Many brains > one brain.

When your whole team is up to speed on your sales numbers and invested in driving them—as any stakeholder would be—you can’t go wrong. It’s quite morale-boosting as a sales rep to know you’re working directly with the top management to achieve mutual goals.

3. Ease into it.

Company culture can’t be changed overnight—nor should it be.

So, don’t try making everything suddenly transparent.

For starters, you can do this: Have an online open message board where employees can leave comments, questions, and concerns anonymously. You can then address these things in a weekly team meeting.

This works if you have a small team, but if you have a bigger one, the amount of feedback left on a weekly basis can quickly become too much to cover in a single meeting.

In that case, add a weighing system to your message board where team members can upvote the feedback they’re most passionate about, prioritizing the list. The items with the most votes can be what you discuss in your weekly meetings.

A tool you can use to do this is SpeakUp Live.

speak up live employee feedback tool.

This will help warm your team up to open feedback, putting their thoughts out there for all to hear. You can stick with anonymity at first, then make anonymity optional, then eventually require everyone adds their name to their message. By that point, they should know it’s okay to voice their opinion.

Once you’ve got this down, move on to the next factor you can make more transparent (for example, information, hiring, or sales like we went over above).

To be or not to be radically transparent?

That is the question, isn’t it?

We could definitely all benefit from a little transparency. Just how transparent you want to be and how to get to that level are the real questions.

Remember: radical transparency doesn’t just mean making everyone's salaries visible for all to see. It covers everything from employee performance, work being done, company goals, sales data, the way your employees speak with one another, and more.

Now that you’ve got a fairly good grasp on what radical transparency in business is, take this info and see where the opportunities for more transparency are in your workplace!