Four Strategies to Increase Organizational Trust and Transparency

In today’s fast-paced, globally-connected business world in which we live, an organization’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many organizational leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimizing risk to the organization. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organizations to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness. Here are four strategies to help in this regard:

  1. Encourage risk taking – Leaders need to take the first step in extending trust to those they lead. Through their words and actions, leaders can send the message that appropriate and thoughtful risk taking is encouraged and rewarded. When people feel trusted and secure in their contributions to the organization, they don’t waste energy engaging in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior and are willing to risk failure. The willingness to take risks is the genesis of creativity and innovation, without which organizations today will die on the vine. Creating a culture of risk taking will only be possible when practice #2 is in place.
  2. View mistakes as learning opportunities – Imagine that you’re an average golfer (like me!) who decides to take lessons to improve your game. After spending some time on the practice range, your instructor takes you on the course for some live action and you attempt a high-risk/high-reward shot. You flub the shot and your instructor goes beserk on you. “How stupid can you be!” he shouts. “What were you thinking? That was one of the worst shots I’ve seen in my life!” Not exactly the kind of leadership that encourages you to take further risks, is it? Contrast that with a response of “So what do you think went wrong? What will you do differently next time?” Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, characterizes these incidents as “learning moments,” where planning and execution come together, a result is produced, and we incorporate what we learned into our future work.
  3. Build transparency into processes and decision making – Leaders can create a culture of trust and openness by making sure they engage in transparent business practices. Creating systems for high involvement in change efforts, openly discussing decision-making critieria, giving and receiving feedback, and ensuring organizational policies and procedures and applied fairly and equitably are all valuable strategies to increase transparency. On an individual basis, it’s important for us leaders to remember that our people want to know our values, beliefs, and what motivates our decisions and actions. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that “People will respect you for what you know, but they’ll love you for your vulnerabilities.”
  4. Share information openly – In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and mis-information which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.

Please take a moment to participate in the Leading with Trust poll that appears below. I’d like to hear your feedback on whether or not these four leadership practices are present in your organization and I’ll share the results in a future article.

19 Comments on “Four Strategies to Increase Organizational Trust and Transparency

  1. Randy, those are exactly right, IMHO. Risk-taking because the best way to make others trustworthy is to trust them; the dynamics of trust are a constant reciprocal exchange of taking risks and behaving rightly. I’m glad to see you listed it first.

  2. Pingback: Four Strategies to Increase Organizational Trust and Transparency | Leading with Trust | The enBrightment |

  3. Once again, a home-run. I especially like the Colleen Barrett, quote: “People will respect you for what you know, but they’ll love you for your vulnerabilities.” It challenges the popular notion of a leaders as “Great Man” striding in to fix everything, all-knowing and invulnerable and let’s people be human.

    • Thank you Dominique! Colleen Barrett is a living embodiment of the Southwest Airlines culture and that quote is reflective of their attitude toward people management.

      Have a great week,


  4. 1- Envisioning a future full of possibilities always comes at a price. It is called risk. Without risk taking, how did man land on the moon? You are 100% correct!
    2- Mistakes remain only mistakes when they are not used for betterment. When they are used as stepping stones to move upward, they are rather desirable. Did I hear stagnant organizations dancing tcha tcha tcha, one step forrward, two steps backward? Yeah, going after a vision is full of twists, turns, paradoxes and course corrections. Again, You are right!
    3- Among others: personal values clarification – setting examples in sync with organizational core values – accountability: all lead to trustworhtiness. When a leader is trusted, it yields faith.
    4- Information depletion is the M.O of Laissez-Faire Leaders. It leads to manipulations, organizational anarchy, chaos, confusion and malevolent deeds at all times.
    Thanks for a gem!

    • Thanks for your comments Joseph! I appreciate your addition of #3 – personal values clarification, and having those in alignment with the organization’s values. Spot on!


      • You are welcome! Really, personal values clarification along with everything you have delineated in the four strategies have the ability to enhance collective synthesis to take an organization to its apogee on the standpoints of performance, competitive spirit, productivity, excellence and sustained success.

    • Seems the poll is just to reinforce the article, and not really a poll.

      The problem I see is that when the face of the organization, the field IT staff, are not considered part of the organization and when these same folks are effectively cut out of the communications channels, the organization is not transparent and trust doesn’t exist! If you factor in a perceived lack of professional respect of this same group of workers by the organization’s leadership and management, how is that fostering a trusting environment? It takes more than pretty words to make an organization effective and efficient. One-way communications just doesn’t cut it. Self-aggrandizement and patting ourselves on the back doesn’t solve the problem, it ignores it. Pro-active communication between all levels of the organization is a start.

      • Thanks for adding your insights Joe. I agree with you that excluding individuals or groups of people from the normal channels of communication is a trust-buster. It fosters mistrust and a sense of secrecy. As you said, proactive communication is a positive step toward building trust and transparency.


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