Private and public companies are two different animals. The main difference is that public companies are required to share financial information with shareholders and the public and private companies are not. As an employee in a public company, you will likely have some insider knowledge that you really shouldn't share with anyone, to prevent insider trading. This creates a rub--how do you control that information and foster a culture of radical transparency?

Lockdown is normal (and also doesn't work)

Generally speaking, most companies lock down most of the information they don't want anyone to disclose (material nonpublic information, or MNPI). The rationale is that it prevents you from blabbing or misusing what you don't know. 

The problem with this approach is obvious. It keeps people in the dark and assumes that doing so is necessary because people can't take personal accountability. This assumption simply isn't true, and it undermines your company-wide trust factor.

A smart modern alternative

At KnowBe4, one of our cultural core tenets is the idea that people should be treated like the adults they are. We start by teaching workers about extreme ownership. This is simply the idea that you stay fully accountable in a situation from start to finish, regardless of the outcome, and that you hold others to the same standard. When everyone operates under a mindset of extreme ownership, they're not afraid to claim the role they have in a given circumstance, and they understand how their individual behaviors influence the entire group.

Applying this to data and stock trading, we intentionally bring the extreme ownership concept into training related to insider information. We teach employees to recognize what insider information is and the expectations around it. We make sure they understand that as long as they're appropriately responsible with the data, we're going to reciprocate by continuing to share and be transparent about it.

With everyone on the same page about MNPI, we give the team well-published trading windows during the year. Typically, this is right after an earnings call, because at that point, you've disclosed what you should disclose and no longer have insider information to keep secret.

So we get a good balance. We educate our employees, and we give them the opportunity to use the information they have when it is appropriate. Rules and transparency are both part of the business.

How to be more transparent in your business

If you want to take the KnowBe4 approach and improve radical transparency in your public company, then it's smart to get some legal help. Attorneys can decipher the jargon around trading and MNPI for you. They can also give clear examples of what people on your team can and can't do. They're able to help you set up guardrail systems or frameworks for your workers and even support your formal insider information training.

As for the training itself, have plenty of it, and repeat your concepts in practical ways. For instance, let's say you have regular all-hands meetings. As a pre-roll for each meeting, play a short (e.g., 90 seconds) public service announcement that reminds everyone what MNPI is, how it works, who they can and can't talk to, and so on. With this kind of repeated exposure, people are more likely to absorb the rules and act on them as a default.

With radical transparency, you can build a culture that sets you apart for the future

Every company has information that workers shouldn't use or freely give out. But you can treat your employees like adults and trust them enough to protect the data you share. Paired with approaches like trading windows or blackout periods, this lets you operate in a happy medium where your secrets stay safe even as you openly communicate. 

Good education and training are a must, but if you work hard for this balance, it can have an enormously positive influence on your culture. This has been the case at KnowBe4. Because we're open and encourage the extreme ownership mindset, we have great fun. In fact our ability to be lighthearted and joke even as we take our work seriously has become one of our major differentiators.

Get your employees out of the dark. Be honest with them. Be clear about what and why they can or can't share along the way. The above-board behavior they give you in return for your trust just might surprise you.