Transforming HR – My 2013 Wishlist – #2: From Secret Keeper to Trust and Transparency

Transforming HR – My 2013 Wishlist – #2: From Secret Keeper to Trust and Transparency

This is part two of my 2013 wishlist for transforming HR. For the intro, check out Wish #1.

My second wish for transforming HR in 2013 is: From secret keeper to trust and transparency

HR is often seen as the protector of information, secrets, and assets. From keeping information about restructuring secret, to conducting confidential investigations into complaints, to dealing with employee relations issues, to keeping locked files of salaries and personal information, it is easy to see how this perception has been proliferated.

In today’s world, where people share information instantly and frictionlessly through the internet and social media, employees and companies expect the same openness to sharing information from organizations. And guess what? Some of the secrets we tend to keep actually would be better shared.

Restructuring with Trust and Transparency

Let’s start with looking at the practice of keeping the secret of restructuring to yourself. I don’t believe this helps anyone. It causes gossip and disengagement, fear and productivity loss. The best restructuring and organizational changes I have seen have been where transparency rather than secrecy was the rule.

I recently discussed this matter of with an HR executive who was tasked with leading the transformation of her organization when it was sold to an American company. Instead of keeping the change secret, she worked with the leaders of their various business lines to communicate what would happen – in the end, they told 1/3 of their employees that they would be keeping their job, 1/3 that they would likely still be with the organization, but in a different role (which they weren’t sure of yet), and the final 1/3 that they would likely lose their job. The changes would take effect in approximately 18 months. Rather than turnover skyrocketing and engagement declining, they actually saw the opposite effect. In fact, the trust that was built through their strategy of transparency improved employee productivity, communication and engagement – even with customers.

As for some of the other secrets HR tends to keep, I have a few thoughts on how we can start to transform them too.

Confidential investigations into complaints:

Alright, I agree that in most cases, it is best from an ethics and legal perspective to keep the details of an investigation confidential. We need to protect the parties involved and to conduct the investigation with minimal interruption or disruption. But in many cases, saying nothing is not the answer. Regardless of how private you attempt to make an investigation, it is likely that people will know that something is happening. Have a strategy for this – one that is honest yet confidential. And when the outcome is decided, make sure you have a strategy for communicating it – for you and the managers involved. Include initial information, FAQs, and who to go to with more questions. Making a change without saying anything at all will cause rumours, gossip, and often disengagement as people may feel loyal to a person who has left the business. By the way, in my mind, it is better to enable managers to conduct their own investigations in most cases, with HR as a consultant and advice provider. Training, case studies and practice helps them to be confident in investigating and making decisions for their own team and business unit.

Employee Relations Issues:

Once again, I think training all team leaders and managers in employee relations is key here. Start with proactive leadership lessons in creating a positive culture, including communicating effectively, recognizing great work, providing feedback, dealing with conflict, and more. (If you need help with this, contact me). Then provide case studies, examples and coaching to leaders in dealing with employee relations problems. Human Resources needs to stop being the “dumping ground” for problems, and proactively prepare other leaders to prevent and deal with them properly.

Those locked files of personal info:

Of course personal information cannot be shared with everyone. But there are some ways to improve here, too. First, look at self service options in HRIS or payroll. cFactor Works provides a great option. This allows employees to access and make changes to their employee information as permissions allow, so that HR doesn’t have to be the keeper and administrator of all of these details. Next, think outside the box as far as Transparency. In their book, Humanize: how people-centric organizations succeed in a social world, Jamie Notter and Maggie Grant point out that Whole Foods actually allows employees to look up the salary of any other employee, to discover how their bonuses were calculated, and more. This is all part of their high-trust strategy. I’m not suggesting every company should share all of this so freely, but think about how you can be more transparent in smaller steps – for example, if people aren’t sure how their bonus is calculated, start there. Create a worksheet and examples for employees to calculate their own bonus.

A culture of trust and transparency is the foundation to engagement and loyalty. My wish for 2013 is that more Human Resources leaders and businesses head down the road from secret keeper to trust and transparency.

Please share your thoughts and stories of creating trust and transparency in the comments, or contact me to discuss!

If you liked this, you might enjoy:

Don Tapscott’s TED Talk about Four Principles for the Open World

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