Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast

How Transparency Makes a Difference in Leadership - with Adam Horne

September 22, 2023 Adam Horne, Gerrit Pelzer, Martin Aldergard Episode 26
Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast
How Transparency Makes a Difference in Leadership - with Adam Horne
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we keep exploring the topic of trust in leadership, today from the perspective of openness and transparency. We are joined by Adam Horne, the co-founder of OpenOrg, a company on a mission to rebuild trust by bringing transparency to the world of work.

We know that being open and transparent as a leader is key to build trust. An article in Harvard Business Review reports 76% higher employee engagement, and Gallup statistics shows 21% higher profit margin, compared to the average transparent company. So what can you do as a leader and what are the dilemmas or questions you are going to face?

Key moments

04:33 Transparency, what does it actually mean? Obviously, different things to different people and organisations. Adam shares his take on what it means and we discuss different areas that could be considered.

10:55 The benefits of openness and transparency is explored, and the link between transparency and performance.

15:51 The dilemmas of transparency and what might block leaders from being more open and transparent, both from the perspective of an individual leader, and from the organisation perspective.

17:28 We discuss where to start when building a more transparent leadership style

24:55 Exploring the balance between ‘being strictly professional’ at work, and ‘being human and personal’ as a leader 

31:26 Potential ethical dilemmas around transparency - Adam retells his experience of sharing tough information with his team

39:04 Reflection questions

Reflection Questions

  • As a leader, what don't I share with my team at the moment that I potentially could, and what are the consequences of that? Look not only at “what could go wrong” but also at “what could go right” by sharing.
  • As an organisation and leadership team, ask where do we want to be more transparent, and where not? And make this a conscious decision. Also think of how this can help bring clarity, establish trust, and drive motivation in the organisation.
  • Go back and look at some of the employee feedback that you are receiving. Think of how might this be related to how I/we build trust? And how might being more transparent and open, help address this feedback? What is it then specifically that I/we can work on as leaders?

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Information about Adam Horne and OpenOrg

Adam is the co-founder of OpenOrg and on a mission to help organisations rebuild trust by bringing transparency to the world of work. Find out more at OpenOrg.fyi and connect on LinkedIn Adam Horne
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More info about us and our work is on our website secondcrackleadership.com
Do you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions for us?  Would you like to explore how we can help you to drive results in your organisations through a company-wide initiative or individual executive coaching? Then email us at  hello@secondcrackleadership.com

To connect on LinkedIn:
Gerrit Pelzer
Martin Aldergård

Second Crack – The Leadership Podcast
with guest Adam Horne  (Episode 26)

This transcript is AI-generated and may contain typos and errors.

[00:00:58] Gerrit: A warm welcome to Second Crack, the Leadership Podcast. If you are new to the show, this is where we explore everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes, and where we invite you as our listener to self reflect. I am Gerrit Pelzer, I work as an executive coach, and I bring to my coaching a combination of Western science and Asian wisdom. I'm joined today, as usual, by my dear friend and business partner, Martin Aldergard. Martin is a leadership consultant who focuses on change and transformation in organizations, and what we both have in common is that we always put people at the center of our work. So hi Martin, it's good to be recording with you again today. How are you? 

[00:01:46] Martin: Hi, Gerrit. I'm fine, as always. It's really cool to get together with you again today. And today is a beautiful, sunny day in Sweden. And you know, Gerrit, like we always speak about trust on our podcast, right. And it's a, it's such a common topic coming up in coaching and leadership development, how to, how to build relationships, how to build trust, right. And, and today we really want to keep on exploring trust, but from a different perspective, from the perspective, the lens of transparency and openness. What role does openness and transparency from a leader really play in building trust, engagement, performance.

[00:02:30] Gerrit: Yeah, and it helps because we've been speaking about trust a lot of times, and I think nobody doubts the importance anymore. But then leaders often ask, well, how do I actually build trust? And apart from that it just takes time to build trust, this aspect of transparency and openness that can help. And we will offer today some specific steps how you can be more transparent.

[00:02:58] Martin: Yeah. And to spice things up and help us with this, we have a great new friend on the podcast, Adam Horne, joining us from the UK. Hi, Adam. Good morning, nice to have you here. 

[00:03:12] Adam: Hi both, thank you so much for having me on. 

[00:03:15] Martin: Yeah, and you're the founder of a really interesting company called OpenOrg, and you have this exciting mission statement. You're all about helping leaders rebuild trust by bringing transparency to the world of work. I mean, that's a great mission, Adam. 

[00:03:36] Adam: Thank you, yeah, it's one that's been long in the making through some personal, uh, uh, experience for myself as a founder, co founder over the last 12 years, but also through working very closely in the people and talent space for 12, 12 or so years, uh, with various different companies as well.

[00:03:54] Martin: Yeah. And, and, and just a quick synopsis of what OpenOrg does, what, what do you do, Adam? 

[00:04:00] Adam: Sure, I'll try and keep it brief. Um, so we, we do two things, uh, ultimately. So we, we run people leader cohorts to help companies understand more about how they can utilize and use transparency to improve trust, performance and culture at work. And we also act as an official verifier of transparency in these workplaces, so we provide an open org accreditation to help employers showcase and celebrate transparency, but also build trust with talent when they hire. So this is something for us that's weakened a lot in recent years that we're trying to fix. 

[00:04:33] Martin: And obviously transparency is such a huge topic. I mean, it might mean almost anything. So Adam, from your perspective, how would you say, what, what, what would you say, what does transparency mean to you?

[00:04:46] Adam: Yeah, great question. Uh, and it will mean different things to different people, and different things to different companies, uh, which is something we can maybe touch on later. But to me personally, I suppose it's, and I hate to use that word trust again, but I know I'm sure we'll keep using it a lot throughout the podcast, but, um, it's being able to trust that, uh, what you're hearing from someone else is true. Um, and not probably have to question that either, um, in the back of your mind. So for me as an individual, it's, it's trying to make sure I can default to, uh, sharing information, that in my gut I know should be shared. And I think everyone's, everyone has that feeling in their, deep in their gut. When they know a piece of information should be shared with someone, because it possibly impacts them, it's the right thing to do. And also committing to, uh, even if you're not proactively sharing information, committing to being very open and honest with someone, should they approach you for an answer on something or for a piece of information. So there's two things there, I think with proactive and reactive transparency for me personally.

[00:05:48] Martin: What, what can transparency then really include for a leader or as an organization, what areas of transparency openness could we include here? 

[00:05:59] Adam: Good question again. So I think it can cover so many different aspects of your business, um, so many different areas, uh, and that's something that a company ultimately has to decide for themselves. And that comes back to my earlier point that transparency will mean different things to different people. Um, as an example, there's again, a couple of different areas that I would break it down into and that for us in particular, OpenOrg is about what you share when you hire. So that's thinking about future talent, talent coming into your business. Being more open about the information that you share when you're, when you're communicating with those, those people. So that looks at things like job adverts, career sites, interviews, and this is the very first touch point that you've got with future employees. So it's that first opportunity to start building trust with them. Uh, and this, this is a huge opportunity for companies to show some more transparency to, to, to, to start that relationship in the right way. So being very specific, there's, there's certain things that companies can share more information around things like hiring process, salary and pay obviously is a huge conversation globally at the moment in a lot of different regions.

[00:07:07] Culture, values and behaviors, this is crucial and this leads to a lot of people leaving their jobs within the first 12 months of joining a new business because there's misalignment there. So there's work to be done and being more open about what that actually means to a business. And also things like finances, people are becoming a lot more scrutinizing and inquisitive around how financially stable businesses are before they join them. So there's a lot that you can share with people pre starting, but of course let's not forget about current employees as well. What we share at work with our current employees, things like meetings, documentation, feedback. There's a lot that could be shared around things like company performance, metrics, uh, again, internal salary transparency and things like career development that is often uh, very vague in a lot of companies as well. 

[00:07:58] Martin: And uh, especially the, the, the newer generation is always said to want to understand why decisions are made, why are you asking me to do this, what is the purpose, how do, how, how do I fit into the bigger picture, is my work meaningful, and in what way is my work meaningful, right? 

[00:08:22] Adam: Absolutely. I think that, that, uh, purpose is, is, is the thing that drives so many people. Um, and actually, if you, if you, if you lose that communication, that link to leadership teams, to missions, to goals, you start to lose purpose as well. So how companies can, can close that feedback loop around things like company performance and goals and objectives. If you, if you don't get that communication that you need as an employee, in particular from leadership, you start to lose that purpose and that feeling of, of being impactful. 

[00:08:54] Martin: I'm thinking about transparency and openness a lot from an individual leader perspective as well, right. How do I come across as open, approachable, transparent, coherent, involving, all these very positive aspects of leadership that, that we want to see today from our corporate leaders. And, of course, there are dilemmas, then, that we can discuss further, like what, what are the, what are the borders between what I'm transparent about my personal, my emotions, and where I'm kind of strictly professional, right.

[00:09:34] Gerrit, sometimes we had, we, in the past, we had this episode in "Emotions @ Work", and, and you're using these quotes that typically we need to be professional at work, we leave our emotions at the door, etc. But there is a really interesting question there as well, in terms of individual leadership, how transparent, how open am I, and what trust or mistrust does that lead to?

[00:09:58] Gerrit: Yeah, the funny thing, the funny thing about being professional, you know, sometimes we see, as you just said, personal or professional, it's almost like one excludes the other. And so I had this in the coaching situation just this week and I thought like, wow, you know, actually often what we mean when we say professional is not human. And so on the other side, however, if a leader also appears human at work, uh, that is also an aspect of building trust. Yeah. So I think, uh, that's, that's also when I, when I, when I just listened to the two of you talking, I think transparency opens such a huge field. And, uh, also in terms of what, what do I share, what don't I share. So there's a, there's a bunch of dilemmas that we can explore today, I think. 

[00:10:54] Martin: Adam, what do you think, we have, we touched upon it already, but what are the real benefits, why does this matter so much now, tangibly? Why should companies and leaders really, truly care of making this happen?

[00:11:11] Adam: Yeah, sure. So there's, there's a host of benefits that through research have been, been proven. Uh, so the whole list there. And it depends on what your, uh, priorities are as a, as a, as a business or as a leader. Um, lots of people in leadership positions, uh, in most companies will have some eye on profitability, um, transparency and transparent companies have been linked to much higher profit, uh, which is amazing. Uh, and it's not as an indirect link there, of course, but when you break it down, I think it's quite interesting to see. It creates, transparency creates more engagement from employees that in turn creates more productive employees by about 20, 21%, 22%, um, from a study that I saw recently. That creates more profitability within a business as well. And, and there's this, this waterfall effect that you get if you can be consistently transparent with how you communicate and the information that you share as a business.

[00:12:07] And another thing that impacts that, of course, is brainpower. Leaders often fall into this, uh, uh, uh, dangerous cycle of thinking that they have to be the ones that solve every single, uh, problem and find the solutions. It's the people within your business ultimately that will often find those solutions for you, if you include them and if you ask for their opinions and their help. 

[00:12:30] Gerrit: So Adam, if I can jump in here. So you make this correlation between transparency and performance, but what, what do you then measure in terms of performance? Is this the transparency, as you mentioned earlier, starting from salaries over financial data or anything else that you can sort of objectively measure? 

[00:12:49] Adam: And it comes down to you deciding as a business what you're comfortable with as well. So as an example, at OpenOrg, we've, we've got 30 different areas so far that we work with companies on across, things like hiring, and culture, and retention of talent. You don't need to show transparency in every single area. It's a buffet, it's an optional choice and different companies will lean on different areas to get the results that they, that they need. You've got examples of companies out there, there's a company called Buffer who famously, uh, shared individual salaries of everyone in the business, including the CEO years ago, and that's on a transparency dashboard on their website that anyone can go and look at now. That's led to some amazing results for them as a business, that they were very skeptical about at first, but over time they've proven, for example, to have one of the lowest, um, attrition rates in, in, in their industry, uh, when it comes to staff turnover. So they link that heavily to their openness, their transparency, for example.

[00:13:49] There's different things that you can lean on, of course, salary is a big, a big, topic here, but things like value, uh, alignment, uh, when it comes to cultural, um, uh, focus for a business can be very key to driving performance. And if you can show more transparency when it comes to your values, your behaviors, and what it's actually like to work for your business, that can be very powerful at impacting performance because for me personally, one of the biggest errors that companies make when hiring, is not hiring the people that are right for them culturally and also not allowing applicants and candidates to make the right informed decisions about whether the company is right for them too. Companies have fallen into this trap over the years of displaying a shiny artificial version of themselves to try and attract as many people in as possible. And they don't share the, the harsh realities, the imperfections, the flaws. And those flaws are powerful, they're really exciting to the right candidates. And if you give people the opportunity to understand, what the whole business looks like and we talk about bringing our whole selves to work, you know, rather than, you know, our professional selves sometimes, it gives people an opportunity to make a more informed decision. So being more transparent about things like values, behaviors. What it's like to work here mean that you will hire much more aligned people to your business who are much more likely to perform, to stay, to be retained, and to be satisfied with their role. 

[00:15:14] Gerrit: Yeah, I like this a lot because this recruitment process or the interviews is often as you say, actually both sides want to shine and it's from the applicant side often getting the job no matter what and the, the, um, company often not really checking things like the personality match or the value match, let's put it this way. But at the end of the day, what we should be, both sides should be looking at, is this really a good match? And I think that's, that's really helpful. Wonderful. 

[00:15:51] Martin: You know, Gerrit, we always talk about in, on our podcast about closing the knowing doing gap, right. We, we know this is common sense or almost like, like Adam saying, a lot of this is gut feeling. We know when it works right. But the difficulty is to do it. What, what might be blocking, what's the challenge, what are the dilemmas that leaders are dealing with here? 

[00:16:14] Gerrit: So from my own experience, I come from a manufacturing background. And let's say there can be a dilemma or you'll say you have concerns about what information can I share, what do we better keep confidential? So very practically, manufacturing costs, right. So only if the operators know the manufacturing costs, the costs of raw material, the processing costs, etc., only then will they be really able to understand what to prioritize in their work. And Martin, you gave this wonderful example, um, the more we share, the more also the people can help solving problems, right. So they will, will be able to, um, optimize processes when they have the knowledge, they focus on the right things. At the same time, these are data you don't want to share with the competition. And so the more people know these details, the higher the risk is of, of a, of a potential leak. Uh, so that is, that is one thing that comes to mind from my, uh, own past experience. Mm-hmm. Mm. Adam, what's your experience? 

[00:17:28] Adam: Yeah, it's the, you're always going to have these dilemmas as a leader, particularly if you're crossing that bridge of transparency and starting that journey of, you know, let's become more transparent. It's deciding what we do and don't share. I think the really important thing to remember is, you don't have to be radical. You don't suddenly have to share everything. Uh, and one thing that can really help guide you here, uh, is first of all, accepting and understanding that there will be information that you can't share, that that's, that's absolutely fine. Your employees and your wider business will fully expect that, they don't expect every piece of information to be passed to them, uh, all of a sudden. And that's actually information overload and, and, and, and not, not very fun. 

[00:18:13] So, one thing that I talk to leaders about quite often, if they're starting out here is, is trying to help yourself by creating a transparency philosophy or a statement for your business. Sit down as a team, think about what transparency as a word means to you, link it to your culture, your values, your behaviors, how you work as a business already and define that and, and, and, and own that. And over time, when you come across new, new things that you could potentially share, you can pass this through your, your transparency, uh, philosophy as a team and say, do we share this? Is this something that based on how we think of transparency, should we be sharing this, should we not? Um, It really helps to guide you as leaders, but it also helps to manage and set expectations for your employees. So, at times, they will not expect to be passed certain information, and they understand ultimately why. So, the important thing here is that word, why, it's giving people context for why you are sharing information, and why you're not sharing information. And even the most transparent company in the world, uh, GitLab, which is, is undisputed, uh, for sure. Even they on their, um, you know, uh, transparency page, they, they've got as, as one of their values are very clear in saying we've got certain information we don't share and, and, and that's fine.

[00:19:31] So it's good to accept that, and there will be these dilemmas, but if you've got something to pull you back to review this information, like a transparency statement, it can really help to be that guide. 

[00:19:41] Gerrit: Yeah, it actually comes back to the transparency, what data do we share and what don't we share. Wonderful. Yeah. And while I was still processing my last answer, after I have answered, Martin, your previous question, I was still, my thinking went on. I think the real reason why people have this dilemma or why they are concerned to share certain information is fear. Now they're afraid something will go wrong if we share this, but I think in most cases, um, this fear is really not justified, in most cases it is help, and Adam, I'm glad that you can confirm with, with data, with the research, um, that it really helps performance and engagement. So maybe this episode can inspire people to rethink their transparency policy. 

[00:20:35] Adam: Yeah, I've listened to your previous podcast with Jim Massey, and the language used there around trust is, when you, when you put it all back to human level interactions, trust and transparency is something that everyone expects at a human level, whether you're in work or out of work. And that ultimately is one of the most powerful ways that you can perform and motivate and get something else of people, um, not, not tools and platforms and, and other, other things that people put, put in place to try and keep people happy. 

[00:21:06] Martin: And can I share a very simple little example from, from an old boss that I had in Swedish telecom many years ago, it builds both on what Gerrit is mentioning and what you mentioned, Adam. Um, my boss in Swedish Telecom, he usually shared a lot of his thinking process. He wasn't, he, he, he was not scared of, of openly sharing with the team how he was thinking and where he was stuck in his thinking process. And I think this was something really powerful. I have seen leaders that are much more square headed, they want to have the answers, they want to sort out all the blanks, the question marks, and they want to show full confidence to the teams. And actually, they delay the whole thing, they don't involve the team, they, they open up to a lot of second guessing, etc. But my boss, he was very careful of showing, guys, this is how I'm thinking, I was in this board meeting last week, or I'm having a board meeting in the next two weeks, etc., and this is what I need to present, this is how I'm thinking about it, um, these are the questions I still have, and I'm unsure of this and that. And this was a beautiful way of being open and transparent, because I think it had three benefits. I mean, First of all, he invited a certain level of co creation from the team, because we were open to suggest, or sometimes he even asked us, you know. Uh, why don't you, Martin, start to help me to figure this out and prepare something. Or he just said, you know, guys, I just want to share with you, this is where I am, I will solve this, don't worry about it, kind of. The second benefit was he communicated the bigger picture. When he, when he shared his thinking process, we understood what's happening beyond our small part of it, from our boss and upwards. That is when I learned what is a board, what questions do they ask, what do they require from my boss. And I never understood that before. And so this was a communication about the bigger picture. And of course it was development. It was, it was leadership development. And we started to emulate that. So of course in our team meetings, in our projects, we start almost to use the same language saying, you know, let me share some of my thinking process. So we brought this open thinking, thinking out loud, became like a habit in the team. And I think this was based on what Gerrit said about the fear of not wanting to be open. This is an opposite example of this.

[00:23:47] Gerrit: And Martin, actually you bring this up quite often, the transparency around thinking processes. And I suddenly feel reminded of my very first job interview a long time ago. And, uh, if Dirk Buengel is listening, at the end of the interview, as I just came fresh from university, I asked him if he has any recommendation for me. And I said, well, you know, um, if you are there in a leadership role, you also need to make your peace with the fact that you can't please everybody. And now, when I bring this back to the context of motivation, we can't always please people with our decisions, and we can't have people always agree with the decisions, but when we make clear why we are taking a certain decision, it can still have a positive impact on motivation. So, people may not like the decision, but if they can understand why the decision was taken, they are more likely to accept it. So that, that reminded me of that Martin, thanks. 

[00:24:55] Martin: And can I throw this question about that, that we had initially this dilemma about how to balance, you know, sharing a personal, emotional, being authentic as a person, as a human versus kind of being, so to say, strictly professional. What are your thoughts there? It's a very open question. Adam, any thoughts there? 

[00:25:18] Adam: Yeah, I, I think, um, one of the things that you're, uh, encouraged to do quite often when you become a manager or a leader, uh, is get to know your team, uh, you know, understand them, not, not just at a professional level, but know, know, know, know them at a personal level, connect with them, build that relationship. You can't do that if it's a one way street, uh, if you just probe them about what's going on in their personal lives, what's happening, you, you won't get the answers back. They need to see something from you first. So trust is a two way street and then sharing information is absolutely a two way street. So you can't achieve this unless you share on a personal level with people to open up, be vulnerable, and that's not just sharing vulnerabilities at a professional level, it really helps nowadays, and I don't think it's necessarily always been the case in maybe more traditional workplaces, but bring your whole self to work is that phrase that lots of people are starting to encourage and use now. And it's about sharing what's happening at home, share not necessarily to the depth that, that, that maybe, uh, some friends would want to hear it, but judge that as best as you can. Um, talk to people and over time, they will keep asking you, how's, how's this going? How's that going? You talked about that before and you start creating a dialogue and you start having conversations. And before you know it, there's this, this comfort that there's this loyalty there and there's this shared, um, uh, bond there between you and this other individual in your team. It's basic human interaction, ultimately, and you don't, and I think it also circles back to this point that Gerrit made earlier about, um, can you, can you be professional and human at the same time? Uh, because this word professional starts making you feel like you have to have this sort of, uh, facade on, uh, and, and almost be someone that you're not, um, and you do have to be professional at work, of course, but if you take that too seriously, I think you end up, uh, being someone at work that you're not outside of work, and that can be dangerous, uh, as well.

[00:27:22] Gerrit: And these are aspects that come up very often in my coaching and there are situations where people think, oh, you know, that is too personal, I should not share it. But then either people, um, don't talk about it at all or they make up some story. And the risk with this is then people are misguided. So if you make up a different story, like almost like a white lie, then people are misguided and they may go in the wrong direction. If you don't say anything at all, we talk often about the brain as the organ of making meaning and making sense of what's going on, then automatically the brains of these other people will make up their own stories why this is so. And, um, Adam, you mentioned being vulnerable, I often just call it again just being human. And I remember a friend who is a woman, who is sort of on a career track, and she was giving a speech on women in leadership, and then she shared with me that at some point in time she went off script and shared openly that she has no children and many people thought she was just prioritizing her career over having children. And then she openly shared with, with these women that she can't have children and that the career is not necessarily the priority. It's just something that happened. Uh, and later on, she got so much positive feedback. And, um, I have this so often when clients share personal stories with me where they were initially reluctant, maybe to talk about a health issue they have, uh, with their team, how positively people responded to that. 

[00:29:14] Martin: Uh, I'm thinking, uh, uh, uh, based on this also another thing like the, we spoke about, uh, managing, thinking about how you're perceived by others, like managing those perceptions in a good way, right. Hmm. And about, uh, you have a lot of pressure as an executive, you're moving fast from meeting to meeting, you're meeting different teams, you might have had seven meetings already, but this is the first time now in the day that this particular team meets you. They don't know what you have been going through previously in the day. And there it is so important then to land and to ground yourself in your emotions, in what has been going on, so that you can come into the meeting authentic.

[00:30:07] Adam: Yeah, I think it's, again, circles back to what we talked about with context and the word why. There's business decisions that are made and it's great to give people context and the why behind those, but on a personal level at work, the same applies. If you're not in a great place or something's distracting you, you're a human being at the end of the day. It doesn't matter if you're a leader or, um, following a leader, everyone has things going on outside of work. And that can impact your working day. Give your team some context, give them the why behind, uh, that and some meaning and people will understand it. And that suddenly flips the, the, the perception on its head completely.

[00:30:47] And, and, and like you said, Gerrit, if people don't have that information, they create their own stories and they make it up themselves. And you know what, that's completely fair that they do that. So you have this opportunity to wear that to, to own it, to, to control that narrative. Um, whether you take it or not is, is, is completely up to you. But from a perception perspective, absolutely, I think you have that opportunity to, to drive that and, and to own that. 

[00:31:12] Gerrit: And I heard two keywords that lead my thinking in a different direction. The first one was the keyword of our podcast, Martin, you mentioned the dilemmas that leaders have. And Adam, you talked about the personal things. And uh, what came up for me were potentially ethical dilemmas that people have around transparency. So if you are a senior leader, you may have access to information that you are legally not allowed to share. But you know that the people you're working with may be impacted or some are impacted, right, so what do you do? Do you put your moral obligation that you have towards the people you've been working with for maybe a decade, do you put this over the law? And actually, you know, I don't want to want to go down this alley, otherwise I might get sued. But I had another thought here and that that is a real life situation I had also with a client who was about to resign and wanted to hand in his resignation at last minute, but then also was concerned about his staff. And Adam, in preparation for our call today, you shared with us that you were in a similar situation. I wonder if you would be okay, uh, sharing this with our listeners as well. 

[00:32:31] Adam: Yeah, of course. Um, it, and it's a really tough, tough, uh, place to be. Um, so I guess really quick backstory. Um, in August, 2020, I, I pivoted our then business with my co founder, um, and relaunched a new company, um, coming out of the pandemic. And we grew that business very quickly. We went from just two of us to 72 people in about 18 months. Um, and my role for most of that time was the internal facing co founder, uh, focused on how we hire, retain, develop, look after people, uh, and also the operational piece behind it as well. So as part of that, I interacted daily with, with most of the team. I got very, very close to, to everyone in the team on a human level, uh, felt like I knew everyone inside out and had some real bonds with, with the entire business. I did, however, make a decision mid point of last year that something wasn't quite right for me as a co founder. Something, something, I lost that, that fire in my belly a little bit with regards to what we were doing. And, and, and I, I felt like I needed to change and I wrestled with that quite, quite a lot because I loved the team and the people that I worked with so much. But I knew that it was unfair of me as a co founder of a business, if that passion's not there, if that desire's not there, then you've, you've got to, um, step back and, and, and let the business, uh, carry on and, and, and succeed.

[00:33:59] I knew that it would cause some, some problems with certain people in the team, not, not, not everyone necessarily, but, um, I probably downplayed that a little bit in my head. But for obvious reasons, I, I, I had to keep that quiet. Um, certainly whilst I was chatting to my co founder first, that was the right thing to do whilst we worked out what that plan would be and how it would happen. Um, but what I will say is, the moment that we did decide that this is, this is happening and this is how it's going to happen. My first move was to, to, to prioritize speaking to people in the team first. Um, and, and the way I personally decided to do it, um, as quickly as possible was to try and speak to every single person individually, one on one. I think at that time, there was probably about 50, 50, 55 people in the business. So lots of calls in a very short space of time, um, to try and speak to everyone as closely as possible. So there wasn't rumors and conversations happening in the background. Um, but it's really tough. There was probably a period of two or three months there in all honesty, where we were having these conversations in the background. And I knew that, come, come 2023, I probably wouldn't be in the business, but I couldn't say anything to the team. Um, and it's unfair to do that if you don't have the information or the clarity behind what the plan is going to be. And I think that's an important thing to remember as well, is it, it, it can feel, uh, unnerving, that feeling of wanting to share information, but if you don't have some context, some why, some meaning or some action plan to follow that, then it can be dangerous. So try and balance when you share that information and make sure that, when you do share that information, it's not just information, but there's also something behind that to try and give people an idea as to, okay, what happens after this, what happens next? And what does that mean to me? And if you can't do that, then, then it's dangerous sharing it too early. 

[00:35:50] Martin: I really like when, when you really took the time then to, to really call to more than 50 people and, and I assume also then really listening to them as well to give them a chance to understand you.

[00:36:04] Adam: You know, everyone's going to react in a different way, um, respond in a different way, uh, and you want to give people the opportunity to hear it properly from you as well. Again, we were a small enough business in some senses to be able to do that. It's hard to do that if you're in a, in a 10,000 person business, but equally, if you're a leader within a 10,000 person business, you've probably still got a sizable team, that's a good enough size to be able to speak to everyone individually about that decision and why you've made that. So I still think in some respects, there's no excuse for not delivering that news on a personal level. 

[00:36:37] Martin: I think in that sense, a 40,000 people company still needs to operate like a 100 person company in terms of just the scaling up of building transparency and openness needs to be on a much bigger scale, right. This means obviously leaders, middle management playing then a more direct role and and providing the right context to their teams, right. And of course, then the whole scale, the difficulty of managing this becomes even grander.

[00:37:12] I'm, I'm looking a little bit at the time. I think we have spoken now about the link from trust to transparency and openness. What I'm been hearing is, I mean, there's more, there's one side is is this more organizational aspect. Like you said from the beginning, Adam, starting all the way from what you communicate to potential employees, your employer branding, and we have to the other side of the spectrum, like as an individual leader, how do I come across as authentic? So it's, it's a wide spectrum. 

[00:37:44] My takeaway on this is that, that openness and transparency is something that we need to really think deeply about as leaders, and as a team of leaders. It becomes a part of our strategy of leading the company. And as, as a wrap up point here, any, any thoughts from you, Adam?

[00:38:06] Adam: I think on your, on your point that you just made, I think there are two sides to this. There's that professional, uh, transparency, and there's that personal. And honestly, I don't think you can make this work unless you combine both. Um, if you start, um, sharing personally, that becomes this expectation that maybe the business, you're part of a business that should be doing this and sharing certain business information with you as well. But I would say, and I know you've talked about chicken and egg a little bit before with Jim Massey as well. Um, for me, start at a personal level, start, start to do this on a smaller scale with your teams, start sharing information, start talking to people a lot more about what's going on in their personal lives and create that bond. And once you've got that, it will start becoming a much more natural thing to share information with each other. The business still in tandem to that has to commit to and agree on what is right to share, uh, with your team and, and, and so forth. But the two have to work together. 

[00:39:04] Gerrit: I was already thinking about, um, my reflection questions. So I have actually no other summary. And if you don't mind, I jump to my reflection questions. I would like to make the distinction still between, let's say the leadership team and the individual. And what resonated strongly with me, Adam, was this idea of having almost like a transparency policy. And since I tend to work with larger organizations, established organizations, I would then give the question to the leadership team or each individual of the leadership team, um, what are really the, the information, or let's say anything also besides information, where do we want to be transparent and where not? Let's make this a conscious decision. And be then also transparent with our policy, this is what we share, this is what we don't share. And I think this is a wonderful opportunity to bring clarity, to establish trust, and thereby engage people more and drive motivation. 

[00:40:13] For the individual perspective, then there is often, like we spoke about, these various dilemmas and really then taking some time and thinking about, okay, what may be the consequences of sharing this versus not sharing this? And I want to be very careful here, but I would encourage leaders to, if in doubt, maybe lean more towards the transparency and sharing, as I have seen so many times the unexpected positive effects from that.

[00:40:48] So this would be my kind of two reflection questions. Who goes next? Martin or Adam? 

[00:40:56] Adam: I'm happy to jump in. Mine's similar to yours actually as well, Gerrit. I think for me it would be a case of maybe going away and trying to think about what don't I share with my team, at the moment that I potentially could? And you could write in this, you could, you know, note it all down, it could be business or personal. It doesn't matter, it starts somewhere. But what could I potentially share with the team that I'm not sharing now? And again, what are the consequences of that? But also, importantly, don't always just look at the consequences of things going wrong, look at what could go right. What, what, what, what could be the benefits of me doing this as well and try and weigh up those pros and cons. And even if you can start sharing one very minor, very small, non scary piece of information with, with your team as a starting point to start on that journey, I think that's the key thing. And so my self reflection would be what is that very small piece of information I could start sharing, um, that works, that is going to be non scary, that makes sense for the business as well?

[00:41:58] Gerrit: Which leads me to another one, like exploring, uh, if I feel like I don't want to share, what fear is underlying here, and is that a fear that is kind of reasonable to have? Or is it more like, uh, something fuzzy, you know, just worried about something, but there's actually no, no real reason for that.

[00:42:22] Martin: I really like the combination here of what you said, Gerrit, and Adam, and Adam said like what could actually go wrong. There's probably more things that can go right, than go wrong, and bring this to the surface and make conscious decisions. It's really hard now. I'm struggling to come up with some reflection question because you covered excellent aspects.

[00:42:45] As a leader, uh, go back and look at the, the information I have about employee engagement from my team, some of the feedback I'm getting, and then trying to think back, how is this related back to how I build trust and, and by being more transparent, by being more open, what is it then specifically in terms of engagement that I want to improve? And of course, this becomes very content, context specific in term, if I'm the executive leader, I would think in the context of my leadership team. Um, or I could think in the context about what is my perception for being the top representative of the whole organization to the rest of the company. If I'm, if I'm, uh, if I'm a division head, it might be in the context of my sales team, for instance, in terms of their engagement. But linking what, what are the outcomes, what is the results that I want to see? 

[00:43:58] Adam, I think it has been a really interesting topic to start to delve into, and I'm feeling that I had reflected and thought about this topic too little the first time I met you. And the more now we have been preparing and thinking and talking about this, and today's episode, I have also more questions that I need to start to think with and bring to my, to my clients. So for me, it has been really, really useful time spending with you and Gerrit.

[00:44:30] Gerrit: And Adam, a big thank you for being a wonderful guest today. And I can imagine people are getting curious, like Martin, and they have more questions, and how can people reach out to you, who should reach out to you, how can you help them? 

[00:44:50] Adam: Sure. So, um, I live my entire life almost on LinkedIn. Uh, so I'm probably most, most responsive there, to be honest with you. Um, uh, if you can handle my, my ramblings about, about transparency all day. Um, so come and find me there if you need to, uh. Obviously check out OpenOrg as OpenOrg. FYI, uh, and you'll, you'll, you'll see a little bit more about what we do, how we work and the cohorts that we run to, um, and yeah, always, always available for a conversation with anyone about OpenOrg or about transparency and communication in general. Always happy to have that coffee. 

[00:45:25] Gerrit: Wonderful. We'll make sure we put links to your LinkedIn profile and to your website in our show notes. And that's it then for today.

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