REMOTE Step 4: Encourage openness and vulnerability to create trust between team members and informational transparency
In REMOTE, Tools, Culture and Triggers are mainstreamed in all 6 Steps as mutually empowering agents. Without Tools there is no ability to act. Without Culture there is no institutional cadre to channel the individual’s motivation. And without Triggers there may be no start of the targeted behavior.
Companies that invest in all 6 REMOTE components will be able to create a High Productivity Remote Work Environment. Not only will this lead to a much happier workplace, it will also give them a very strong competitive edge versus competitors who do not invest in REMOTE.
In our last episode (on Momentum) we discussed how to gain and maintain Momentum in Productivity and Workflow Management for Remote Workers. In OPENNESS it is all about creating a Remote Work Set Up that empowers Trust and Transparency between Remote Work team members.
Who cares about Openness?
Openness in the workplace is mostly over assumed, but under represented. Ask people whether they are for openness, transparency and trust, and most will answer that this is a no brainer. Of course we want openness and trust in our teams and we want to trust in our teams. Several studies have found that (open) communication between employees and senior management is among the top five most important indicators of job satisfaction.
Yet open communication and, what I call ‘trust habits’ (colleagues practicing trust daily) leads a lot to be desired. A stunning 33% of all employees do not trust their employers. And company leadership is increasingly worried. In 2020, more than half of local CEOs are concerned about a lack of trust within business. Why is this such a big deal for them?
Well, employees who don’t feel trusted try less hard to succeed, are less productive, and are more likely to leave your company. Employees who feel trusted perform better, and are more likely to go above and beyond role expectations. Plus, when employees feel their supervisors trust them to get key tasks done, they have greater confidence in the workplace and perform at a higher level.
So if the ‘normal’ Workplace is already worryingly deficient in the amount of open communication, transparency and trust, how will a remote workplace fare? Well, communication when not in the same office space is even more challenging. There are less chances for impromptu face-to-face meetings to have ‘quality conversations.’
‘Looking someone in the eye’ is important for maintaining transparency. Not being able to physically do that makes gaining transparency and repairing trust ‘on the spot’ difficult. So creating the framework wherein these kinds of interventions are less needed is even more important in the REMOTE Workplace set up. In addition, we need to see how we can get the next best alternative to face to face openness in a digital environment.
So let’s see how companies can create OPENNESS in a digital REMOTE work set up, using our 3 Layer Approach: Tools, Culture and Triggers. We will see that Openness has 2 mutually reinforcing sides: personal openness/vulnerability, and business (or organizational) openness.
For the tools layer I am going to assume that by now you are aware of the RESPONSIVENESS and EXPRESSION Steps of the REMOTE Framework. Creating responsive communication and expression platforms are at the core of building Openness. Here the Tools layer is more about creating sub-tools to deepen Openness.
Channel Your Openness
It is important to give Openness a digital location where it can flourish. Although this REMOTE Step is more about culture than tools, we cannot assume that the concept will just find its way around the Remote Work Set Up by itself.
So in Slack (if you use it) think of creating dedicated channels for people to share their feelings or setbacks. Allow the rest of the group to offer encouragement. Additionally, you could add a “I Need Help” kind of channel for people to share things like:
“Hey my son just hurt himself in the kitchen. What do you think I should do? Does anyone know what I should do during this COVID crisis? Is it now risky to see the doctors?”
Other channels could be more random channels for workfloor banter, jokes or games. Whatever you create, as long as it is seen as a neutral channel where anybody can express themselves it will help to channel Openness.
Anonymity sounds counterintuitive for Openness, but providing a channel for anonymous complaints, suggestions or even rants is important for Openness. Trust means that nobody is above scrutiny and that people are being held accountable. At the same time, submitters of complaints about trust and openness need to know that they are heard and they will never be prosecuted for whistleblowing.
Slack has been working on integrating Anonymity Channels in their product since 2016 but it has never been formally rolled out. There are legacy Slack apps that can be used though, like Anonymous Bot. This allows people to post anonymously about anything in any channel. The channels are probably best directed to the leadership team of a company and companies should tailor restrictions on how much complaining is allowed based on their unique scenarios. Perhaps having set Complain weeks, coupled with a requirement that complaints need to consist of a minimum amount of lines of text, could prevent people from spamming or trolling.
In some companies levels of Transparency and Trust are so high that anonymity channels are not needed. During The Octalysis Group’s consulting work with LEGO, we discovered that it was considered good practice for staff to complain about misbehavior of their superiors to the bosses of these superiors. It was not only good practice, it was explicitly demanded of staff and they were given full protection from any repercussions whatsoever from top level management. LEGO is a good example of the right balance between personal and corporate openness. Personal openness is encouraged and reflected by corporate openness to deal with the results of that openness.
Schedules and Calendar Openness
We already discussed how management needs to lead by example in order to create a Culture of Trust and Transparency. Having the tools to make insightful what management is doing on a daily basis is important. If you want to hold your staff accountable for their work, you need to show openness to the highest degree yourself.
At The Octalysis Group we have used project management tool Trello to let everyone know what we are all up to:
This way management shows what they are doing as much as anybody else. It leads to transparency and accountability.
Openness thrives through meritocracy and leading by example. Many companies still have a bureaucratic culture, where people in higher ranks have perks that others don’t have. It is only fair, of course, that a CEO earns more than a junior manager for example. But often leadership allows themselves behavior they demand that their staff refrain from. This can cause great resentment among company staff. Employees who don’t trust their managers usually point to their superiors skating the edges of ethical behavior, hide information, take credit for others’ hard work, or flat-out deceive people.
Let’s revisit some good practices that will contribute to a Workplace of Trust, Transparency and Openness. There are many more examples that you can implement, but the below gives you a good overview of some fireproof principles and examples.
Own your failures and your victories
Management needs to ensure that rules apply as much (or actually more so) to them as to their colleagues. So when they don’t deliver on promises, they have to be held accountable as much as other people. In remote work setups this becomes even more important as it is easy for people (including management!) to slack off and not stick to deadlines and hide behind invisible walls. In remote settings it is tempting for people to not be proactive. We may find that work has not been done that was due weeks ago. And people saying: “Oh yea, I plan to do it this weekend”. It is not so much about that it does get done in the end. It is about proactively showing to all your colleagues what is being done about deadlines and why.
At The Octalysis Group, management regularly asks that their shortcomings or delivery failures get addressed in public online meetings. This way they show that we all make mistakes and that we all sometimes slack off. It is about owning these failures that creates an environment of Transparency and Trust. Most people have no problem in owning their successes. Owning your failures is even more important for Openness.
Write down together what Openness means
It is important to define together what Openness is and how it rules our behavior. We already discussed the Octalysis Group DNA and how it defines, culturally, what all our people embrace and embody. Our Openness principles are under point 4 and 5 of the DNA (below)
You may think that it is easier for The Octalysis Group to agree on a DNA, as we don’t have thousands of employees (yet). But large companies like LEGO have shown that you can agree on, and actively work with, such principles. At LEGO every meeting opens with a statement about LEGO’s core values and principles and all employees know them by heart and can always fall back on them. Their corporate culture is based on openness, trusting their company’s core values; Creativity, Imagination, Fun, Learning, Quality & Care, which are reflected in everything they do.
We don’t have to be as adamant about repeating your company DNA in every meeting. But in Remote Work setups, it does pay to purposefully pay tribute to it in public. Praise people for their successes during your next Zoom Staff call, but also encourage them to own their failures. And who better to start with failures than management. They are fallible human beings too, after all?
Candidness in the Remote Workplace: some management tips
Merriam-Webster defines the act of being candid as: expressing opinions and feelings in an honest and sincere way. There is a direct connection between being authentic, being candid, and improving company culture. Many people have already addressed the importance of candor in the working place in creating a culture of openness.
Being candid is crucial for a remote workplace. As we cannot look each other in the eye, it is even more important to create clarity rather than leave things fuzzy. Candor is often confused with being rude or confrontational. But often the latter is not about what you say but how you say it. As the french say: “It’s the tone that makes the music”.
So how can management contribute to it:
Create a safe forum for folks to raise questions and concerns, and then extol those who ask them. Public acknowledgment is just as much about influencing those who hear it as it is about reinforcing those who receive it. If you celebrate those willing to risk opening up, it will encourage others to step forward to offer their insights and perspectives.
Prime the pump
Raise challenging issues to show they’re not off-limits and encourage people to contribute to the conversation. When they see that management is willing to “take the bull by the horns” it is a great signal that it is ok to tackle touchy topics. This leads to more risk taking, workplace activity, and (importantly) staff buy in. The current COVID crisis is an example: make clear what it means for staff. Don’t spin a nice story but be frank and honest on the content, while being empathic to the recipients of the message.
Lead by Teaching
Be a living example of candor. Teach people how to have difficult conversations that involve diffusing tensions, speaking candidly while minimizing defensiveness & resistance, and rapid rapport building.
Set your Ego Aside
Create an environment that is safe for team members to openly discuss needed changes even if it concerns the leadership team. Ego’s are not important, but the end result for the group is.
What Truth or Dare can teach us about Openness.
My business partner Yu-kai Chou came up with an interesting insight from the party game Truth or Dare? that we can use when designing for an Openness culture.
He realized that the game is so successful among young people because sharing vulnerable truths about oneself builds trust and bonds. The problem is, most people don’t want to open up and share personal truths as it potentially can make them seem, and feel, more vulnerable. But because it is anchored against something that is scarier (the “dare” part), people choose “truth” and end up sharing vulnerable feelings in the end. Truth or Dare uniquely gets peoples to share a bunch of secrets that make them bond due to this design.
Now we won’t be recommending Truth or Dare itself for your company environment, but including Truth or Dare elements during remote engagements can be a fun and effective way to create meaningful team bonding and openness in remote workplaces. The questions do not need to be personal, but can be about professional duties so as to make it less confronting for staff. (We will explore these topics more in the next REMOTE Element – Teamplay).
Now that we have created the Openness Tools to support the Openness Culture, we can look at how to set up Openness Triggers to get people to be active participants in the Open and Truthful Workplace.
Connect it to existing habits
Openness behavior is more sustainable if we can create Openness habits. We know from BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits, that habits grow through:
- Define a goal
- Identify the easiest action possible towards that goal
- Connect the action to an existing habit
So if you want to mainstream Openness in your organization, think of creating Openness moments around recurring (daily) events. If you have daily catch up meetings for example, start by letting people openly state one really small thing that went wrong as well as a big thing that went well in their work. By juxtaposing the small negative with a big positive you can take away the unease of sharing weaknesses (a small variation to Truth or Dare?). Always make sure that people get sufficient praise for exposing themselves to the group (ideally management should start off with their own vulnerabilities).
Toastmasters Icebreakers: team triggers
At The Octalysis Group, we have introduced an informal, online, version of Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a community and approach for mastering public speaking. There are a number of speeches that people do in our meetings that gets them to open up to the team. So during their Ice Breaker speech people tell something about things that define them as a person. Another example are our Toastmasters Debates where people have to defend an opinion that may run counter to theirs.
All of these instances are triggers where nobody can hide behind hierarchy and bureaucracy, and interaction is all in the open. Feedback training ensures that feedback is constructive, trustworthy and forward looking.
Progressing with your REMOTE Workplace Set Up
As we have seen, there are many opportunities to create immediate and lasting OPENNESS for your Remote Workplace. The Layers can be easily organized from a company or department wide level. The Octalysis Group will happily help in creating an Openness environment in your workplace. Just contact me for a free consultation.
In our next episode we will discuss TEAMPLAY, and we will investigate how to design small team activities for team members to understand each others’ strengths and tendencies during “flow.”