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7 ways to practise transparent leadership in the new era of work

9 Sep 2020

David Brown, CEO of Hays US, shares his tips for being honest and open with your employees during and after Covid-19.

The world of work as we know it has changed forever and the impact of Covid-19 has meant that we as business leaders have had to adapt the way in which we manage our employees.

As leaders, we sometimes forget that we don’t know everything. We get wrapped up in feeling that we’re expected to know all the answers and that we must, at all times, be able to instil confidence in our people through the words we speak.

But no matter how hard we try, that can’t always be the case. So, rather than avoiding responding to questions or offering a vague answer, we owe it to our employees to tell them how it is and explain our thinking – even if that truth might be uncomfortable at the time.

Here are some of the lessons we learnt as a team when adapting our approach to communicating with staff during these turbulent times.

1. Communicate more often

From the outset of the pandemic, we went from communicating to the wider business on a monthly basis to weekly. Use this as an opportunity to let everyone know what the latest developments are in relation to the new way of working, reassure them that you’re watching the situation very carefully and that their health and safety always comes first. Be as transparent and honest with them as possible, every step of the way.

Speaking from my own experience, this approach has not only meant that as a management team we are being more transparent with staff, but the effect has trickled down; my people are being much more open with one another and with me.

2. Check your messaging

In fast-moving situations, it can understandably be difficult to keep track of things and confusing communications do not help the situation at all. This becomes increasingly important when your teams are divided by location. You must ensure everyone is receiving the same message.

Don’t provide an update to the team in the office and forget to update those working remotely. Doing so will only create a divide between your workforce and has the potential to generate distrust in the management team as they feel they are not privy to the information that other colleagues are.

Also, be sure to provide reasons to any decisions you make. This will help your employees understand how and why you have come to that conclusion and will ensure they don’t have to connect the dots themselves. It’s also important to remember to communicate in a human and authentic way. If you don’t have all the answers, be vulnerable and admit that – it will help to build trust.

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3. Share good and bad news

Sharing positive news from across the business lifts spirits and promotes a sense of togetherness during a time when it is needed. It also keeps people connected and ensures everybody can still celebrate one another’s success.

As colleagues continue to physically see one another less frequently than before, it’s important that they still catch sight of each other’s activities and understand the difference each of them is making. When sharing good news, use this as an opportunity to thank people, give them recognition and make sure there is a healthy balance between praise for those in the office and those working remotely.

It is also important that you don’t just focus solely on good news. There will undoubtedly, from time to time, be bad news; that is unavoidable. But deciding to not even acknowledge it could be damaging. If the news has the potential to be in the press, it’s also important your employees hear it from you first, otherwise it will likely destroy any trust between you and your employees.

4. Draw on your personable skills

Take the time to speak with your people on a human level. Join team calls, ask people how they are and don’t be afraid to share aspects of your own life, your experiences and how you’re feeling. Are there any concerns that you have about operating in a new hybrid model? Is there anything you’re struggling to get to grips with? Let people know and connect with them.

I join a couple of team meetings every day, often with just a handful of people, and we talk about how everybody is doing, how their families are doing, how they are holding up, what’s happening where they are and what are they seeing in the market. I also make myself available to answer any questions they have.

It’s important to remember that sometimes all people want to do is talk. So, speaking to them directly, in an authentic and real way, will encourage them to do so.

5. Ensure the door is open

When people are struggling or if they have concerns, it’s best that they don’t try to deal with them on their own. By making yourself available to talk, even if you are unable to answer all their questions, you’ll build trust and create loyalty among your workforce. Of course, if I am unable to answer all their questions and I tell them as much, that honesty and transparency is appreciated. That goes a long way.

To create an effective open-door policy, we make it clear to my people that as a leadership team we are here to support them and that they are the most important part of our business. We reassure them that their mental and physical wellbeing is not only critical to their own happiness, but also to our success as a business. I not only encourage people to contact me if they want to talk, but to reach out to their line managers and their regional leaders too, and I think the measure of success from that is that they do.

6. Remember to listen

Transparency in the employer-employee relationship shouldn’t be one-sided, so if you are being open with your staff, encourage them to share honest feedback with you. Listening to people is invaluable; it allows you to know what’s working and what isn’t. It’s increasingly important as we step into the hybrid model, which is unfamiliar to most of us.

It’s important that you take the feedback you receive on board and not only that, but action it if necessary. Show your workforce that it pays to be honest and that together you can create a better workplace. Show them that you value their input, share good ideas with the wider team and open up discussions.

7. Grow your reach

I use my weekly newsletter to communicate to everyone at the same time. This allows me to communicate directly to our company on my latest thoughts about the business, what’s on my mind and the things that we’re considering. I also use it is an opportunity to encourage and thank people. Our entire business is thanked every week, for their hard work and their dedication, and their focus.

I’ll talk about the challenges of maintaining good mental health and of us working remotely. I’ll also share my own struggles, like those days when I feel like I can’t stare at the same four walls anymore. This is important as it lets employees know the value in being open, especially about how we’re feeling and our concerns. I find it cathartic.

By David Brown

David Brown is CEO of Hays US. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Viewpoint Blog.

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