Why Trust Requires Transparency (And How to Create Both)

Fierce Ideas (purple lightbulb)

“Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.” –Seth Godin

We often hear about the need for transparency in personal and business relationships via TED Talks, articles, and gurus. But what exactly makes it so important?

Can you recall a time in your personal or professional life when you discovered crucial information that wasn’t disclosed to you when you feel it should’ve been? Was your trust and loyalty for the person or people jeopardized as a result? Most of us have been there at some point.

According to Tolero Solutions, 45% of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance. That’s huge.

Lies and secrets break trust. On the contrary, honesty and transparency build trust. And when trust is created, it leads to a heightened sense of security and better employee performance.

Although timing can be an important factor in revealing truth (for example, during a monthly meeting), issues arise when the decisions we’re making in our daily lives are being made based on what we believe to be true, but then later find out what we’ve been believing all along is false. To put it simply, it leads to feelings of betrayal.

If trust somehow exists without transparency, this so-called trust is nothing more than an illusion because it’s based on what isn’t real. Transparency is a precursor, and it’s an essential ingredient for creating (and maintaining) trust.

When practiced regularly, certain types of transparency will inevitably build relationships and entire cultures of trust. So, what aspects of an organization or individual can lead to greater transparency?

1. Transparent Emotions

Revealing what you really think and feel is necessary for building trust. Clarifying your expectations, expressing your desires, providing and receiving feedback, and being vulnerable when the opportunity arises are all part of being transparent.

Bringing all of who you are to the conversation is at the heart of emotional transparency. At Fierce, we define a fierce conversation as one in which you come out from behind yourself, into the conversation, and make it real. Susan Scott, Fierce Founder and CEO, discussed trust and radical transparency in a podcast interview with TalentGrow: “Trust is built one conversation at a time–it’s also lost one conversation at a time. Trust requires persistent identity, [which] means me showing up as myself completely, consistently, all the time, every day so that I’m not different depending on who I’m with.” Listen to the full podcast here.

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2. Transparent Finances

For organizations and those in positions of leadership, financial transparency is essential for creating trust. There are of course legality issues regarding income and what can be shared, but there are other ways to incorporate this type of transparency. Monthly, quarterly, and yearly disclosure regarding spend, profit, and where money is allocated gives employees a clear picture of company financial goals and how their daily efforts are creating financial impact. We practice this here at Fierce with consistent company-wide meetings to review the state of our finances. Nothing is hidden and our financial goals are clear. In turn, we know exactly what we’re working towards and how our efforts are “paying off.”

It’s also important as a leader to be open to questions (and to answering them honestly) when it comes to pay rates, raises, bonuses, and profit sharing.

3. Transparent Intentions

Making intentions transparent involves revealing personal and organizational goals and objectives. Within an organization, values, goals, and mission statements must be clearly communicated and defined. Otherwise, individuals who are part of the larger entity won’t be able to clearly determine whether they are truthfully aligned with the organization’s intentions. On a personal level, it’s important to ask ourselves: what really matters to me? What do I want to give my time, effort, and talent to? We need as much information as we can get to both answer these questions and assure that our choices are aligned with our answers.

Being transparent with intentions also holds us accountable for making our intentions positive. An article from Psychology Today titled “Positive Intentions Build Workplace Trust” affirms this idea: “Intention drives behavior. The intention behind our actions impacts our trust building ability. Positive intentions build trust; negative intentions don't.”

Share with us: where do you see opportunity to incorporate more transparency in your life?