A lack of transparency creates a 'breeding ground of insecurity,' according to one tech CEO

  • Employees want their organizations to be transparent, and that’s especially true during a crisis. 
  • TVSquared CEO Calum Smeaton has centered his leadership around transparency, and it’s paid off. 
  • It’s crucial to communicate often and maintain transparency even as a company grows, Smeaton says. 
  • This article is part of a series called “IQ to EQ,” which explores the management styles of inspiring business leaders. Check here for similar stories.

During all times, but particularly in the wake of a pandemic, transparency from leaders is crucial.

Even as vaccines begin to signal a restored sense of normalcy, some employees may still feel anxious. Workers will still have to grapple with a range of pandemic-related questions, such as how they will safely return to the workplace, if at all. 

This is where the role of transparent leadership comes into view. A study from the HR Science Forum showed that transparent organizations — that is, organizations that are open, honest, and informative with their employees — are more productive, innovative, and trustworthy. 

Calum Smeaton, founder and CEO of UK-based adtech company TVSquared, is one of many leaders who has decided to squarely center their paradigm on transparency. He’s joining such leaders as Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who pledged in February to make the platform’s content moderation policies more transparent, and Zoom’s Eric Yuan, who received praise for his transparent response to a security breach on the platform this past year. 

TVSquared began as a small startup idea conceived in Smeaton’s kitchen in 2012. Today, the company has over 100 employees and delivers analytics for advertisers in more than 75 countries. TVSquared has measured over 1 million TV ad campaigns to date. 

“Employees need to know both the good and the bad” about the company’s status, Smeaton said. “If you’re not transparent, that’s where you create a breeding ground for insecurity.” 

Transparency is hard when working remotely 

Even during non-crisis times, 84% of employees think they don’t get enough information from management. Leading with transparency becomes even more difficult when the only way you can collaborate with your team is through virtual means.

Megan Clarken, CEO of online advertising company Criteo, has said that it’s difficult to get a sense of how her employees are faring through digital conference calls. 

“The fact that you’re never face-to-face with somebody except for on Zoom and this sense of not really knowing whether people are okay or at the edge, this becomes really challenging for me,” Clarken told Insider in September. “For me, personally, it’s hard to not get a feel of whether the 2,700 people I’m leading are okay.” 

Because you aren’t physically with your coworkers every day, Clarken recommended that leaders consider setting up consistent times for meetings, creating open lines of communication with your employees, and bonding with your colleagues without a business agenda. 

Communicate often 

When the pandemic started, Smeaton decided to turn TVSquared’s monthly town hall meetings into weekly updates in order to keep the team more regularly informed with developments. 

“It was really about keeping everyone up to date, and having three very clear goals as to what we had to focus on during that time,” Smeaton said. “The team, the customers, and the cash.” 

Regularly informing employees about company updates helped to keep uncertainty at bay throughout the team, according to Megan Garnett Coyle, TVSquared’s vice president of communications. 

“Especially at the start of the pandemic, when everything was so up in the air, knowing more than expected has brought a level of calm,” Coyle told Insider. 

Mercury Systems CEO Mark Aslett, who was rated Glassdoor’s highest-rated CEO during the coronavirus pandemic, gathers every manager in the company on a weekly video call to solicit feedback. He dedicates 40 minutes every week to answering every manager’s questions directly. 

Aslett’s strategy allows employees to get direct answers from executive leadership. That way, they’re able to feel heard and get their answers from the top of the chain immediately.

Maintaining transparency levels 

As TVSquared continues to grow, it has become more difficult to keep everyone in the loop. 

“In the startup world, you go through so many ups and downs, and at bigger companies, you don’t really feel the bumps in the road,” Smeaton said. “At a small company, everyone feels the little bumps.” 

After nearly a decade in business, TVSquared is beginning to mature past its startup phase. That means Smeaton has had to be especially intentional about maintaining transparency across the company. 

“Transparency is really easy when you’re 10 or 15 people all in the same office,” Smeaton added. “As you grow and get spread across four or five, six different offices with people working from home, then you have to change the way you get those messages out, and you have to change the structures you have in place to do that.” 

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