Mind of the Manager

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Study: Management Transparency Motivates Employees

Research shows positive link between management honesty and employee happiness.

A recent study shows the practical, not just ethical, value to an organization of management transparency. Such transparency, implying consistently candid and open management communication, is often considered nice to have but perhaps, from some management perspectives, a bit Pollyanna-ish. This study shows the positive role transparency can play in maintaining an engaged, motivated work force.

This finding was one of several of interest from 7 Vital Trends Disrupting Today’s Workplace, conducted by TINYpulse, a company providing weekly employee engagement surveys. The study, released in December, was based on analysis of over 40,000 responses to those surveys. Three key findings:

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Management transparency is the top factor when determining employee happiness – (In the context of this survey, “employee happiness” is a concept similar to “employee engagement.” Suffice to say, employees in a positive mindset are generally more committed to an organization and therefore productive.) Noting the unexpectedly strong connection between transparency and happiness, the survey summary noted, “This finding surprised us too, with management transparency coming in at an extremely high correlation coefficient of .937 with employee happiness. The cost of improving transparency is almost zero, but requires an ongoing dialogue between management and staff. We see an increasing number of companies using transparency to attract and retain top talent.”

Managers did a solid job outlining employee roles and responsibilities – 82% of survey respondents said their managers clearly outlined roles and responsibilities. “At the day to day team level,” the summary noted, “it seems that managers are able to effectively set expectations and accountability.” In short, sound nuts-and-bolts operational management – trains have to run on time.

But management did not do a good job outlining their organization’s vision, mission and values - Only 42% of employees knew their organization’s vision, mission or values. “Too many executives,” the summary noted, “are not communicating and reinforcing their company’s guiding principles and mission.” This isn’t surprising, as to be successful such value-related communications need to be consistent and sustained over time, and organizations sometimes view such initiatives as “soft” – nice to have but less integral than, say, product or customer communications. (Of course, the downside is a company may end up with a sizable percentage its workforce, like 6 in 10, not exactly sure what their own business is.)

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Adjusting the Spin Cycle - But the most intriguing aspect of the study to me involved management transparency, as I’d never seen a positive connection made so directly between how management communicates and how employees respond to it. It removed transparency from the more nebulous realm of “ethics” and gave it practical business value. If I can believe and trust my management, I’ll work harder for them.

Yet that’s only logical. It stands to reason: People like to be dealt with honestly… they appreciate it and respond well to it… just as they can quickly sense disingenuous or opaque communication.

“Every organization should be thinking about how they can be more transparent,” the survey summary concluded. “It is one of the lowest to no cost initiatives to tackle right away. But of course it requires an ongoing commitment from management to be more transparent to the very people they so carefully brought on board. At the end of the day, to give is to get.”

It’s a fundamental management miscalculation to underestimate employees’ ability to see through obfuscation and spin. Fact is, people listen very keenly to what their leaders say when their incomes are at stake.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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You can follow Victor on Twitter for management-related news, tips and articles.

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Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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