Small organisations typically battle between the desire for maximum transparency and the worry it will all blow up in their face.

The perfect recipe for disaster is small organisations (and their employees) wanting to keep the same level of transparency or familiarity as they double and triple in size.

Now don’t get me wrong, transparency is great! A family feel, open door policies are fantastic but, in my experience, there must be a limit, which is contingent on the following:

  • Size of the organisation

It may be okay in a business of 10-12 employees to share more intimate details about the business or about each other. The environment is quite controlled, there is usually just one or two managers/owners who know their team quite well. You can control the narrative and quickly redirect if conversations start going off track (assuming you are working in the office!).

When the business starts having middle management, I’d advise a re-assessment as information very quickly tends to become rumours, hearsay, and gossip. And this is not middle management’s fault, it is just human nature and what happens when a message goes through multiple mouths, ears, Teams chats, Slack, and so on.

  • Type of information

Financial results are great to share in any size organisation, but you must thoroughly think about format and cadence. As we know, what is small business profits today may be a loss next month. You also need to consider that employees don’t know the ins and outs of running a business, so showing revenue instead of profit does not give them a realistic appreciation of what’s going on! So don’t complain about incessant requests for pay increases when you keep showing them you have hit budget 6 months in a row. The fact that you have replaced all laptops and refurbished the office did not show in the budget spreadsheet – did it even happen?

Personal information, even where innocently dropped at the water cooler (being this physical or virtual!), like how long someone is going on holiday for, how many kids a supplier has, how many husbands the new manager has had, that two colleagues left the office together a few times in a row, is better to be kept to yourself! Why? Simply because it is not necessary to the purpose of the job and in my experience creates more headaches than benefits most of the time!

  • Confidentiality

Nothing is ever confidential. Keep it in mind. Employees do talk about salaries, and you will hardly be able to prove it and sack them for it! Employees do tell others if they have received a warning if you treated them unfairly if you gave them an increase if they are going to quit. What can you do about it? Build a culture of trust and make sure that if they are unhappy, unsure, or dissatisfied they come to you before having a winge to the newbie!

  • Means of communication

To put it like one of our clever clients said to us once, do not put in writing anything you wouldn’t be happy to be published in a newspaper. This applies to both employers and employees, so if you are reading this quickly go and check your last Teams chat!

As businesses grow, so does the chance of miscommunication.  Business owners can lose control of the narrative overnight and cultures are damaged as a result. An important part of managing a growing business is continually balancing your transparency and overshare. 

Have you assessed the balance lately?

Author: Anita Dazzi
Anita is an experienced Senior HR Consultant - having relocated from New Zealand and originally from Italy, she brings a varied background and knowledge to the wattsnext team. Anita thrives on providing our clients with practical solutions and making their busy lives a little bit easier.