Simon Hayward from Cirrus writes for The Guardian
Interested in what a company or its chief executive is really like behind the corporate PR machine? These days it’s easy to find out. The internet has enabled employees to share exactly what they think about working where they do, and websites such as Glassdoor give employees the opportunity leave anonymous reviews about their companies. Glassdoor’s most recent survey of the most popular CEOs attracted a lot of publicity.
So, should CEOs adapt their leadership style now they are open to public criticism? Yes – but not simply with a view to ratings-chasing. Adopting a more transparent leadership style can bring enormous benefits in terms of company culture, employee engagement and productivity. Increased transparency does also tend to have a very positive impact on a company’s reputation.
The benefits of this go way beyond inclusion on lists of top CEOs or best employers. A great reputation leads to increased loyalty from both employees and customers, which brings real bottom-line benefits.
Transparency International is a non-governmental organisation that monitors corporate and political corruption. In its latest annual report, the UK comes 14th out of 177 countries for transparency in business. We’re not doing badly, but there is room for improvement.
The organisations that score highly on surveys such as Glassdoor’s tend to be those that are already quite open about how they operate. Often the CEOs of these organisations champion a more connected style of leadership where authenticity is valued, collaboration is encouraged and there is a distinct lack of hierarchy.
Dave Dyson, chief executive of mobile phone operator Three UK, is ranked as the UK’s third most popular CEO by Glassdoor – he won a 97% approval rating from employees. For the company, engaging employees through open, two-way communication could be seen to have had benefits way beyond Dyson’s Glassdoor rating. Customer numbers and turnover have risen, and customer service and business performance have improved.
At TGI Fridays, voted Britain’s Best Big Company to Work For, 82% of employees feel there is a strong “sense of family” and 79% say they “love” working there. This engagement has helped ensure a low staff turnover (in an industry where this is typically very high) and consistent growth during the recession. CEO Karen Forrester puts this down to the connections staff can build with customers and the celebratory experience they create.
So, should business leaders become more transparent? In a world where both employees and customers are becoming more demanding, the answer is yes. The global financial crisis caused a breakdown of trust in corporations. When these big businesses become more open and honest, we begin to build trust in them again.
Another major factor is the digital age. Customer expectations of openness and transparency are high. Social media, in particular, enables customers to place their opinions very firmly in the public domain, and how a company responds to this feedback can make or break its reputation. Websites such as Glassdoor are just one way employees can make their views known about the organisations they work for.
To build a culture of transparency, leaders need to help employees understand the link between their jobs and the overall vision and aims of the business. This is widely considered to be a key driver of employee engagement. So why do businesses value employee engagement? Because engaged employees are happier, more loyal and more productive – all of which is great news for employers too.
Employees feel more engaged when they feel they are working towards a common goal. Three UK and TGI Fridays’ accolades demonstrate this. It shows up in business performance.
Open and transparent relationships are the foundation of trust and collaboration. Successful leaders today no longer tell others what to do. They act more as coordinators and facilitators, using influence and relationship building to ensure consistent, positive behaviour. In this environment, leaders can devolve decision-making authority to others to make things happen. This is particularly welcomed by the generation of millennials who seek and expect a level of influence that challenges traditional hierarchy.
How can a leader become increasingly authentic and transparent? A high degree of self-awareness is essential. Most of us have blind spots. These are the failings that other people see but of which we ourselves may not be aware. So leaders need to seek out and encourage feedback from others. Many also benefit from coaching to help recognise areas for development and to improve on these areas.
Strong leaders demonstrate a willingness to stand up, be bold and brave and take responsibility for both success and failure. Yet to be an authentic, transparent leader you also need to have the humility to listen to how others perceive you and appreciate how your behaviour affects them. This can be very tough. The prize, however, is worth the effort. And I don’t just mean getting to the top of a Glassdoor list.
Click here to read Simon’s article on The Guardian website.
© The Guardian 2015