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Striking the Balance Between Approachability & Professionalism

May 15, 2016

Consumer cynicism and employee apathy are real threats to business, but a growing number of strategies include some level of transparency to counteract these attitudes. It’s pretty easy to share your good side with the public, but are you really ready to expose your company’s struggles and mistakes as well? 

Companies that connect to their audiences in a more human way can transcend the detachment and disloyalty of other business relationships that are based upon faceless products and services. Transparency can be a powerful tool for growth and development—both internally and externally. In fact, a business’ willingness to share its information with the public can not only build trust with its primary market, but also deepen commitment from its clients.

Before considering whether transparency is the right strategy for you, it’s important to first explore exactly what it is. To be clear, such authenticity is not oversharing, airing dirty laundry, or manipulating. Too often, companies have reserved it for situations where there has been a mistake or a breach in trust. At the core, it’s not primarily a tool of apology. Rather, it provides clarity about your business so that stakeholders can make informed decisions about your company, product or service. It’s about connecting to your clients and employees in a way that fosters connection and loyalty. It’s about setting clear expectations about your relationship with your audience, and inviting them to be a part of your growth. 

Consider the benefits of building an open, trust-based relationship:

> It gives you more opportunities to tell your unique story with depth and perspective. 

> Authentic openness, both in data and culture, breeds reciprocal trust and loyalty.

> Increased interaction with clients through straightforward engagement methods gives them a voice and provides you with instant feedback on your performance. For example, Domino’s turned a potentially embarrassing problem of negative feedback on the quality of their product into an advertising campaign in which their empowered consumers prompted change. 

> Internal honesty, where employees have insight into the status and workings of the company, can improve communication and sharing, strengthen systems, and decrease turnover. 

While the benefits are many, building relationships through corporate transparency does have its risks as well:

> A culture of openness can sometimes have the reverse effect of inhibiting positive, experimental behaviors in order to avoid embarrassment, thereby weakening the spirit of innovation.

> The feeling of being exposed may cause the company and its employees to “act” a certain way in order to control image, causing true authenticity to suffer.

> Sometimes consumers don’t like what they see behind the curtain. Take for example the backlash that occurred when Chick-fil-A’s founder publicly supported traditional marriage. Supporters would argue the restaurant chain gained far more benefit from the increased loyalty of consumers who were aligned with their stance, but the risk of repercussions was still there.   

In the end, true transparency takes time, planning, and slow, steady effort.

Here are 6 ways to get started:

  1. Practice openness in your own leadership and ensure your managers are in alignment.
  2. Set up systems that encourage and reward team cooperation and sharing. Hire employees that fit such a paradigm.
  3. Encourage responsible social media use. Start a corporate (or CEO) blog that humanizes your brand, inviting employees and clients to generate content.
  4. Share more data with your stakeholders.
  5. Communicate your intentions, both internally and externally, even when the news is bad.
  6. Re-evaluate your organizational chart and titles. Do they inhibit healthy vulnerability? If so, consider a radical change in the structure. 

With today’s consumers and employees naturally skeptical and increasingly savvy, withholding information or spinning your message is no longer a wise strategy. If executed well, transparency can replace those outdated methods of communication and set you up for continued sustainability and growth.

Case Study:

Marcus Lemonis: Vulnerability as a Business Strategy

Things got very personal at the recent iCONIC:DC Conference, when The Profit’s Marcus Lemonis (CNBC) opened up to his audience to illustrate the critical role of vulnerability in business.

Known to prefer handshakes over contracts, the well-known entrepreneur and philanthropist argued that by fostering a trust-based relationship through mutual vulnerability, business interactions are stronger and less complicated. To illustrate his point, Lemonis began his presentation with some brutally honest revelations about himself—sharing his struggles with an eating disorder, the abuse he suffered as a child, and his years of social rejection as a young man. His personal testimony was raw, self-deprecating, and unapologetic. And it instantly captured the attention and trust of his stunned audience.

“The key in business is the willingness to be open and honest and vulnerable about yourself,” he said. Dispel defenses and egos by sharing something of yourself, he claims, and you clear the channels for reciprocal vulnerability and trust. Only then will you enjoy maximum productivity and loyalty with clients and employees.

Lemonis frequently applies three pillars of work—people, process, and product—to his business philosophy. While all three are essential foundations of business, here he underscored the first pillar, saying, “While business is largely about numbers, it’s more about people.” 

Find out how to get the additional capital you need to keep pace with your growing business. Call Sterling National Bank today at 855.274.2800 to talk with your relationship manager.