How transparency can improve your workplace
Bruce Livingston was at a loss..
His company, Frontline Inc was failing. Sales were slumping hard, longtime clients were moving on, and staff were becoming complacent. As CEO, Bruce knew his 15-year-old company needed a significant change to survive; more importantly, Frontline needed to change fast.
Frontline Inc specializes in point of sale cash systems for the food and beverage industry. When they started 15 years ago, they built everything from hardware to the software that their signature products would use. During their heyday, Frontline was the gold standard in point of cash sales systems. With a very impressive 99.9% up-time, Frontline's systems were heavily sought after by big chain restaurants and bars alike.
After five years of growing profits, they saw the need to pivot from the hardware side of their industry. Focusing solely on software, they were able to establish themselves as world players. The strategy worked, instead of employing a team of hardware technicians sent out to fix various issues, they now have a group of technical support representatives who remain in the office and take calls.
This strategy cut their overhead by 10%, and since their software can quickly be shipped out via download, their market reach grew to include three continents. Sales were booming!
Then it happened..
Hire amazing people and inspire them to grow and embrace change.
Darkhorse Technology, Frontline's biggest competitor, released an online point of sale system. This solution enabled Darkhorse to release new updates and features much quicker than Frontline. They also engineered their software to work on a tablet, allowing restaurants and bars the ability to have portable cash systems that were not reliant on giant, dust collecting computer systems. This evolution of technology transformed the game for the industry and Frontline wasn't quick enough to respond to the demands of an ever-changing consumer.
Frontline's sales dried up. While their longtime client base held on, eventually they even started losing those clients when they renovated their restaurants. Frontline had to pivot fast, but complacent staff drove an anchor into the ground regarding a company-saving change.
Many of Frontline's staff have been with the company since the start. The hardware guys that once served client sites changed gears and became senior support technicians. One even went back to school to learn software development to help the company redevelop their software. The sales team were super good at their jobs, but they could see the writing on the wall when Darkhorse moved into their space. Prospective clients were asking for portable cash systems that Frontline didn't have.
While it became apparent that Frontline was going to have to pivot to a cloud-based solution, by now, it was merely to play catch-up. Were they already too late? Some staff argued that they would better off just selling their existing solution to hotels or more significant chained clients where they could leverage their scalability and dependability. Some other staff just weren't comfortable with the uncertainty of change, electing instead to hold on to their current solution until there was nothing left.
We can change culture if we change behavior
All of the employees on Frontline's team were very knowledgeable, hard-working and great tempered people but they had become stale with innovation. There just wasn't an incentive to change. Like a fat house cat, their dinner was coming every day regardless of any additional effort they may push out. It wasn't that they lacked ideas as they knew their space very well, they lacked the motivation to move on them.
Bruce scoured the internet on ways to enhance employee engagement. Many solutions focused on money by giving bonuses or added perks. Other solutions were more drastic like replacing employees with new and younger hires who have more creative energy. Most solutions pinned the problem on the staff, but Bruce didn't see it that way. He knew that if the company were to change, he would have to transform himself right along with it.
But what can he do?
In his travels on the internet, Bruce came across a blog post that focused on company culture. In it, he read that to inspire employee engagement and produce an innovative and supportive company culture; the first step to moving forward would be transparency. Transparency was the first step in the "flow of company culture." Bruce was intrigued. What is this flow of company culture and how can it benefit him and Frontline?
Transparency: This is the root of all company culture change. When companies are not open with their employees, it fosters a culture of anxiety and doubt. All decisions from leadership create skepticism and unease within the team. Employees who work for a company who is not transparent, tend to work by self-preservation and guard tasks as their own so they do not appear to be expendable. Real, decisive transparency by company leadership ensures that all employees are aware of the good things that are happening as well as the bad. Employees who work for a transparent company tend to produce more as they are more in tune with the needs of the team and are not working for their jobs.
Trust: When leadership conclusively demonstrates transparency, soon employees are transparent among themselves, this mindset change creates trust between everyone. When employees trust the direction of a company, they are more likely to trust their fellow employee. When people are trustworthy, there is a reasonable expectation that everything will be ok if they fail. When an employee believes that their stature within the company is not at risk because of failure, they are willing to take a chance with their ideas and push their limitations. We all know that pushed limitations lead to growth and the only way an employee can grow is if they can trust the environment they work in.
Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy.
Respect: When people trust each other, they begin to respect each other and their relationships. Respect is a crucial ingredient when it comes to fostering support within a team. When everyone can find common ground based on mutual respect and not blasting down egos, great ideas can then become a reality. When company leaders respect employees, employees become empowered to make their own decisions and take calculated risks. Through risk most often comes the most significant rewards.
Alignment: After respect comes alignment and alignment is when the magic happens. When employees feel aligned with their company and those who they work with, the sky is the limit as to what they can produce. Work doesn't feel like work when everyone in a company is aligned. While there will always be conflicting values and opinions, employees who are aligned realize that there is still a common ground in which to rally around and this always ends up being the betterment of the company as a whole.
Passion: When people feel good about the things they are doing, it commonly leads to passion; they will want to keep doing that thing all of the time. When employees are safe, aligned and respected in their workplace, they often become passionate about the work they do. Sick days drop, staff involvement increases and positive company culture begins to take shape when employees are excited about the work they do. This excitement leads to passion, and they realize that every drop of energy they put into the company will result in the company growing.
Innovation: The last step in the flow of company culture is innovation. It is the complete result that leads to all kinds of growth and purpose within an organization. Employees who work in transparency trust and respect their co-workers and company leadership. They understand the meaning of the work they do and appreciate the alignment that comes along with it. Employees and leadership alike are happy coming to work to feed their passion for making their work and the lives of their co-workers better. When everyone involved in a company feels this way, innovation is sure to ensure. Like a school of fish, swimming in the ocean, no school never survives if every fish is off swimming on its own, it takes a complete alignment to escape the predators and currents that threaten their existence.
Upon reading the blog post on the flow of company culture, Bruce took each step to heart and realized that the only way to get his company back on track would be to give it all away to his staff. At the next company meeting, he opened up the books and showed the revenue projections for the company. Instead of treating each employee as a number, he gave them each ownership over their job. There would be no more approvals for vacation time and scrutiny over sick time used. They were all adults; everyone has the right to dictate their work schedule and workload. Employees who had difficulties with this new culture would be given ample time to adjust, but ultimately would be let go if they just couldn't fit.
It took three years, but Bruce noticed a drastic improvement in the psyche of the company culture. Employees were much more engaged and were passionate about the direction of the company. There were bumps along the way, and some staff members did leave for other opportunities, but overall everyone embraced the direction they were heading. Not only did they manage to update their point-of-sale software to be cloud-based, but they also were able to expand into the hotel industry with a point of sale cash system that handled reservations!
None of this would have been possible had they not embraced the flow of company culture. Frontline Inc saved themselves from possible doom, not by increasing their prices or cutting back expenses. They saved themselves by looking inward and realizing that their problem was not outside the company walls, but inside. Now that they are a stronger company and flowing in the right direction, nothing will stand in their way.
Is your company transparent?