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  • 08.23.11

The Just-Right Approach To Social Media And Transparency, And What It Says About Your Company

Your company’s approach to social media is generally also indicative of your overall approach to trust and transparency and relative comfort with sharing information. Your willingness to share information, and allow others to do the same, says a lot about you. Do you want to be perceived as secretive and controlling, or as trusting and open?

Charlene Li, the author of Open Leadership, recently visited our company. She talked about three different stances that companies take when it comes to social media. 

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Some companies are quite comfortable with employees posting on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as long as they act responsibly as representatives of the company. Other companies are little more buttoned-down. They have some issues and fears and they want more control of employees’ use of social media. Finally, some companies are really locked down and forbid people from using social media. They don’t want anything going out except through official channels. 

Most organizations are somewhere along this continuum–either hot, cold, or somewhere in the middle that’s just right for them. Their approach to openness with social media is generally also indicative of their overall approach to trust and transparency and their relative comfort with sharing information. 

Where does your company stand on the issue of openness and transparency?

The answer is important because your willingness to share information, and allow others to do the same, says a lot about you. Do you want to be perceived as secretive and controlling, or as trusting and open?

Your decision-making process is just as important as what you eventually decide

Whenever you announce an important decision, make sure that people understand your reasoning and process. If you decide that some information is just too sensitive to share openly, that’s okay. Just be sure that the process you use isn’t seen as secretive. In the absence of openness, people will imagine the worst. 

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One area where companies often run into trouble is sharing information about employee compensation. Is there anything more mysterious in organizations than who gets paid what? But that doesn’t mean that the process or reasoning has to be mysterious. If you have a good reason for paying at the level you do, let people know. Keeping it a secret doesn’t help things. It just causes unnecessary discontent.

When people don’t like the way pay is distributed, they usually question the process. When people understand the process, they will be more likely to accept a distribution that, even though they may not agree with it, they can see it came about through a fair, well-thought-out process.

A CEO who serves on our board of directors went through something just like this when an internal employee survey showed dissatisfaction about the fairness of pay in his company. This was really frustrating to the CEO, who believed that the company’s pay scales were well above industry averages. 

Just to be sure, as a first step the company conducted a highly visible and transparent study with an outside company that analyzed their whole compensation system. What it showed was that the company’s base pay levels were almost exactly at the 50th percentile for organizations of a similar size and with the same demographics. It also showed that the company had a generous bonus plan in place available to all employees. The bonus plan, together with the base pay, resulted in employees being compensated at the 75th percentile–well above average.

Armed with this information, the leadership team went on an organization-wide campaign to talk about the procedure they used to determine pay scales and the rigor they used in applying it. As a result, they were able to change people’s perceptions of the level of compensation in the organization and its relative fairness. Because people had a greater understanding about the way pay scales were determined, they had a better capacity to understand and accept the results, even though they still wished—like all of us—that they were making a little more.

It was purely an openness issue. The company had been operating fairly for a long time but leadership had not taken the time to fully disclose the way they were making decisions. When they eventually did disclose the process, perceptions went up.

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When people aren’t able to point to a process that is known, published, and understandable, they start to make up their own stories. If there isn’t clarity about the way decisions are made, the stories people make up are typically a lot worse than reality.

Don’t be afraid to share information with others. Sure, there may be a potential downside, but it doesn’t compare to the upside you can achieve when you openly share, get others engaged in the process, and trust them to come to reasonable conclusions.

Scott Blanchard is the Executive Vice President of Client Solutions for The Ken Blanchard Companies®. Ken Blanchard is the best-selling co-author of The One Minute Manager® and 50 other books on leadership. You can follow Ken Blanchard on Twitter @KenBlanchard or @LeaderChat and also via the HowWeLead.org and LeaderChat blogs.

[Image: Flickr user Rockies]

About the author

Scott Blanchard is the Executive Vice President of Client Solutions for The Ken Blanchard Companies®. Ken Blanchard is the best-selling co-author of The One Minute Manager® and 50 other books on leadership.

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