Company Culture

5 Ways to Build a Culture of Transparency

5 Ways to Build a Culture of Transparency
Image credit: Shutterstock

We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »

Many companies and entrepreneurs want employees to think like owners of their business. But how many of them actually take steps to empower that kind of thinking?

If you want teammates to act like true owners, it’s important to equip them with the information to think like an owner. Transparency is one of the most important traits of great companies, regardless of the size or industry they’re in. Sharing information engenders trust, generates learning opportunities and leads to smarter decisions.

Related: 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures

At Gusto, we believe so passionately in transparency that we made it one of our core values from day one. Our values are not something we put on our walls. They’re something we live and breathe every day in how we work and make decisions in the company.

Here are five ways you can build a culture of transparency in your business.

1. Hire people you trust.

Some companies get caught up in keeping matters private, which can lead to distrust between teammates about what they’ll do with the information. Instead, hire people you instinctively trust, so you’re comfortable empowering them to think like owners of the business. While equity can serve as a financial benefit for success, owners often covet responsibility and autonomy to build something from nothing -- and not be blocked by a lack of information along the way.

2.  Be open in meetings.

We strive to have everybody at Gusto understand “the why.” We share details about growth, finances, hiring structure, priorities and future plans during all-hands meetings. I also hold an AMA (ask me anything) twice a month, along with other teammates, where anybody can come and ask questions.

Nothing is off limits. Everything is fair game. We’ve found that if you’re as quick to document -- and answer for -- your mistakes as you are to celebrate victories, teammates can learn from your experiences. Marketing can pursue better campaigns, sales can convert leads, engineers can create more scalable systems, care teams can vocalize customer pain points, and more. Everybody wins.

Related: How to Lead a Caring Company Culture

3. Be upfront with customers.

Being transparent also extends externally, especially to customers. At Gusto, we believe in transparent marketing and sales strategies. For instance, we don’t hide fees from our customers. In fact, we’ve built a pricing tool on our site where customers can find out exactly how much our service will cost for their business. In addition, when a customer is not a great fit for our product, we’ll recommend another provider -- no matter how painful it can be to lose their business. By being clear upfront, we know we’ll have a happier customer for the long term when we are a great fit.

4. Seek feedback, and disclose it.

One of the best ways to improve is to elicit feedback from your team. At Gusto, we do a survey every quarter to measure engagement, leadership, alignment and development. To encourage open and honest feedback, the survey is anonymous. However, the results are shared with everyone. In addition, we also do personal reflections that each employee shares with their team lead, and vice versa. This helps teammates learn and grow to be better teammates and better people, and it helps the company create and sustain an authentic culture.

5. Show what you stand for.

Sometimes being transparent isn’t easy -- but it’s the right thing to do. As CEO, I strive to acknowledge mistakes and own them whenever they happen. It’s part of holding ourselves accountable to each other so we can all get better. No one is perfect. Likewise, we also talk about our shortcomings in areas we’d like to improve, both internally and externally.

For example, Gusto CTO and co-founder Edward Kim wrote a post on our engineering blog in September acknowledging the work we needed to do to improve diversity on our engineering team. By recognizing this was something we could be better at, the team was able to come together and create a plan to fix the problem. I’m happy to report that, as of this posting, we’ve met those diversity hiring targets and we’re continuing to get better in our diversity efforts as we build our team.

One of the most important aspects of building a business is to understand your identity as a company. Creating a culture of transparency can be critical to your mission and help build trust and camaraderie. And in the end, that can help you, your team and the customers you serve.

Related: How 'Undercover Boss' Taught Me to Hire the Right People and Continue to Nurture Them