"What's your exit strategy?"
"What are your diversity initiatives?"
"What does career growth look like at the company?"
While these sound like questions I would receive from investors, these are actually questions I get from my employees on a weekly basis at our "Ask Me Anything" sessions.
When our company first started in 2015, I made sure that communication was vigorous between me and our initial team of ten. Email, Slack, text, video-conference-- we were in constant communication, despite being spread across three locations. But, like most fast-growth startups, as we added more people and continued to gain market traction, our communication changed. It was no longer possible (nor efficient) to be constantly in touch with everyone on the team, which has now grown to over a hundred people across twenty locations.
Still, I remain very committed to keeping my employees connected to the mission of our organization, which partners with national colleges and universities to prepare students for high demand careers in the digital economy. It's exciting to be a driving force of change in our economy, and I want to make sure that each and every employee feels excited about our purpose. With that in mind, about four months ago, I launched our weekly "Ask Me Anything" sessions, a company-wide forum where I listen and honestly answer any employee questions, fears or concerns. Since implementing these sessions, I've see an increased feeling of cohesiveness among the team, and have received multiple points of feedback on how important this time is to employees.
Thus, whether through a dedicated forum, like our AMA sessions, or in another fashion, I believe transparency is key, particularly in fast-growth startups. As a founder and a CEO, you are asking people to join you on a dynamic journey through entrepreneurship. You are asking them to believe in you and your vision. In return, you need to be open and honest with them, making transparency central to your company narrative.
It Builds Culture
When leadership takes the time to speak candidly and transparently with employees, it helps to build a culture of engagement. You are setting the tone that concerns and issues need to be addressed quickly, and head-on. In fact, Harvard Business Review's 2013 employee engagement survey found that 70 percent of those surveyed say they are most engaged when senior leadership continually updates and communicates company strategy. This doesn't mean that transparency is a magic bullet for making issues disappear, but it helps you tell your employees that you value them and that you want to help make them successful by working through any concerns that may arise.
It Keeps People Motivated
When I have multiple employees on the phone, I take every opportunity I have to connect their questions back to the greater mission of our work. By looking at our business holistically and sharing this perspective with our people, it helps to remind them why what they're doing matters, and how they fit into the bigger picture. Interestingly, one study found that transparency is the number one factor in employee happiness. And there's no denying that a happy employee tends to be a more motivated one.
It Keeps Leaders Accountable
Nothing keeps a leader more focused than having to answer direct questions from employees. I don't always look forward to the tough questions when I'm in the hot seat, but I know my answers give my employees the information that they need. When I give my team my word, there is no turning back. And with 50% of employees blaming lack of company-wide transparency for holding their company back, I am showing my people that I am holding myself accountable to what I've promised.
As a startup leader, it's never too early to start thinking about transparency. From building culture to motivation to accountability, transparency can be a defining factor for your company. The earlier you make it a priority, the more you are setting up your team for maximum impact and success.