Responsive Orgs: Lens 3 – Transparency & Growth

April 24th, 2020

The third layer of our Model for Responsiveness is Transparency & Growth. Our interviews, roundtables, and data all suggest that organizations which provide a high level of transparency and enable employees to be continuously working and growing are in a better position to respond to both threats and opportunities.

Figure 1: A Model for Responsivity | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Transparency & growth?

While we were initially surprised that the concepts of transparency and growth fell together, the more we have spoken with leaders, the more this makes sense. Organizations with a propensity toward transparency also tend to have a propensity toward allowing growth.

When a lot of the literature talks about transparency within organizations, the conversation focuses heavily on ensuring that information from the top leaders (strategy, vision, mission, direction etc.) is understood and absorbed throughout the organization. However, transparency is bigger than just pushing information down. Organizations that focus on transparency are able to see what is happening in different functions and at different levels, and better coordinate efforts.

And transparency breeds growth. With more access to information and more line of sight to different initiatives, employees grow. Responsive organizations augment the growth stuff that naturally occurs as a part of doing work with really clear information on performance and expectations, opportunities to understand skills gaps, and access to resources.

Our data identified 3 areas important to transparency and growth.

Figure 2: Behaviors Affecting Transparency & Growth | Source: RedThread Research, 2020. 

As with other roundtables, we had really insightful discussions on each of the 3 areas, especially in light of the struggles many leaders and L&D functions are facing right now. We have summarized the major points of that discussion in two ways:

  • Mindmap. Click the window and use your cursor to explore. It's almost like being there. This is a live document, so if you have additional thoughts, please feel free to ping us with a comment or send a note to [email protected].
  • Main points & leader advice. The choice morsels of the roundtable have also been summarized below, including short definitions and some of the really great advice we heard from leaders.

Transparency & growth mindmap

Main points & leader advice

In the following sections, we expound on these 3 areas and highlight the good advice we heard at the roundtable.

Transparent performance

Two of the areas identified by the research for the factor of Transparency & Growth dealt directly with performance. In recent years, Stacia and I have seen a convergence of the performance and learning & development space. We’re seeing this convergence in the way people functions are organizing, in the technology they use, and in the discussions they have. Why? Because it’s necessary to understand how someone performs in order to help them grow. Our research highlighted two specific areas of transparent performance.

First, data showed that Responsive Organizations do a better job at ensuring managers provide transparent guidance on performance. While many organizations wait until years’ end and rely on shady, opaque processes to share performance, Responsive Organizations are better at helping employees understand how they’re performing at all times.

Second, and more specifically, as organizations require more data that help them understand performance, many of them are pushing these insights to the individuals themselves. This has a few benefits. One, providing data often takes the difficulty out of sharing performance insights. Two, data can be shared more regularly and does not rely on manager ability and / or desire and / or time. And three, employees are the best situated and the most motivated to make use of that data to change what they’re doing.

Advice from leaders
  • Tighten up 1:1 schedules. Even before COVID, we heard leaders talk about the power (and underuse) of 1:1s. Now, leaders agreed that even the quarterly requirements some of them had in place was too long. Meet weekly. Maybe even daily.
  • Give employees responsibility. Many leaders mentioned that feedback on performance isn’t just the responsibility of managers. Employees need to be taught – and enabled – to ask for feedback. Teaching them that feedback is less scary when it’s solicited helps them feel empowered, and prompts leaders to do it.
  • Master the mention. Build a culture of feedback by not making it so heavy and formal. If you have feedback for an employee, jump on the phone and talk through it or mention it in passing. They’ll appreciate it and dread it a lot less than a scheduled ½ hour meeting to discuss how they screwed up.

Skills & growth resources

For many months now (24-36), we have been having regular conversations with smart people about the skills movement. Call it what you will (and we’ve heard Upskill, Reskill, Skilling 2.0, and Other-skill, just to name a few), the conversation was started with an understanding that the world of work is changing at an unprecedented rate.  As such, responsive organizations do what they can to understand the skills that exist in their organization and ensure that their workforce is continually developing new ones.

Advice from leaders:
  • Look for hidden or unstated skills. One leader said that he and his team, even before this crisis, made a point of spending time with people doing their jobs. This helped them to understand the skills that differentiated the high- and low-performers, and gave them direction on how to help develop for those jobs.
  • Quit operating off job descriptions. One leader mentioned that this was a fantastic time to stop making decisions about what someone could do off their job description. Asking for volunteers, making assignments based on observed skills, and even borrowing from other departments broadens the skills pool and allows employees to develop skills that they may not have.
  • Don’t regress in redesigning employee development. Leaders mentioned the need to think broader than content and the LMS, and to remember that work is different. Radically so. We have had to reimagine how we work. It follows that employee development opportunities will need to be rethought as well. Many leaders are using this opportunity to do completely different things. Some that leaders mentioned: skills and project marketplaces, book clubs, lunch and learns, user generated content and shares, etc.
  • Ask: "How and what have you learned in the last six weeks?" This is our favorite suggestion. Many leaders and L&D functions don’t know where to start rethinking learning. One leader suggested asking employees what they have learned in the last six weeks, and how they learned it. Even with the dearth of company resources and organized learning experiences, learning has continued. In fact, it has probably accelerated. Pay attention to patterns that are being used for learning in the absence of the formal and use the cues to design your future state.

Managers & leaders as enablers

A lot of the research we did last year pointed to the importance of leaders and particularly the frontline leaders or managers. Employees see leaders as either someone that can help them do their work or someone that will keep them from doing their work. Leaders in our roundtables had several pieces of advice for ensuring that they're helpful, not detrimental.

Advice from leaders:
  • Be human. Yes, hard information needs to be shared right now. But being vulnerable and real about what is going on as leaders share changes in direction is critical to gaining the trust and buy-in from employees. One leader said that she received an iPhone video from their CHRO, who had stopped by the office to pick something up. She reiterated how quiet the office was an how grateful she was that employees were home where it was safe.
  • Call out bad manager behavior. Leaders mentioned that traditional ways of thinking and bad habits may linger, even in this new environment and suggested calling it out. For example, one leader recounted that a leader in a virtual meeting said, “I hope you’re enjoying your vacation working from home.” Behavior like this is not just insensitive and damaging, it undermines larger changes the organization is trying to make. Call out bad behavior. Correct gently, but correct.
  • Lead. Now is not the time for a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. Employees are looking for leadership and taking cues from what they see their leaders do. For example, if leaders send emails at 2am, the expectation that everyone works at 2am is set. Leaders need to set the tone. Hopefully a calm one. They also need to lead by example and model skills for managing people. If they don’t have them, now is an excellent time to develop them.
Dani Johnson Redthread Research
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst