Silicon Valley is obsessed with financial metrics. We hang on every piece of news regarding valuations, and both the Wall Street Journal and Fortune keep a running list of the private companies worth $1 billion or more. In the Bay Area, employees often bet their careers on the belief they will earn a return on their hard work in the long run, so they want as much internal data as possible to make important and well-informed career decisions. That's why I'm often asked, "How much do your employees know about your books?" The truth is the answer should change over the lifetime of a company.
Transparency is one of the core values at my company, Okta. At our weekly all-hands meetings, my co-founder (and CEO) Todd McKinnon candidly answers anonymous employee questions, and every quarter we share Okta's sales and revenue with our entire team. But I also know that we're getting to the point -- we have about 600 employees and 2,500-plus customers around the world -- when sharing every detail of our books isn't an option.
Everything's fair game in the early days.
Todd and I founded Okta in 2009, and back then we were incredibly open with our numbers. We discussed share count with prospective employees to get them invested (pun intended) and we sent emails with specifics every time a sale closed. Sharing our numbers was an easy way to bring our early hires into the inner circle and help them feel confident about our direction. Being transparent about our finances built trust among our small team; it gave employees a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Getting bigger (and quieter).
As you grow and make moves toward becoming a public company, you should slowly but surely disclose less financial information. When you go public, you don't have a choice -- you can't share your finances (that "material, nonpublic information") with your employees before your earnings calls, so as to ensure insider trading doesn't occur.
You can't flip the switch overnight. You need to gradually change the process for sharing information so that your executive team -- the people who have always gotten up in front of the company to give sales numbers or talk share count -- can adapt to sharing less, and your employees can adjust to knowing less. Eventually, you have to limit the information available on your internal company portals and get buttoned up about what you share with the press.
When you're public, go beyond numbers.
Once you're a public company, your employees will have to wait to hear your quarterly revenue with everyone else. And after earnings calls, everything is public knowledge, so you can no longer depend on sharing numbers to earn their trust. That's why you should be more communicative and connected to your employees on other fronts. Your books, after all, are just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Other important pieces include vision -- which will need to be bold and clear enough to unite employees all over the world -- as well as new products, people, and policies.
When you have offices in countries across North America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page regarding every change and update, which is why you should overcommunicate on these moves. That way your employees will feel like they're well-informed and included. As you grow, your employees need to feel as though they're growing with you -- even if they have to wait until the earnings call to assign numbers to that growth.