How to Decide What Your Employees Need to Know and What They Don’t

You’ve decided that transparency is the way to go with your workforce. As a result, you’ve gotten real on your social media, right down to allowing staffers to launch friendly “takeover” days. Plus, you’ve revved up the information on your thriving corporate intranet. Your overall goal? Make sure that you’re saying what needs to heard.

This is a step in a healthy direction, as a transparent attitude from the C-suite tends to build trust, loyalty, and engagement among team members. The more you open up, the more appreciative personnel are apt to be. That’s a good thing, especially if you’re interested in improving productivity and potentially scaling operations.

Still, a big question looms: How much is too much? In other words, do you have to tell your people everything, right down to the minutest detail? Or are there some things that need to be held to the vest, at least for a time? When is too much… well… too much?

It’s a good question, and shows you’re taking the situation seriously. Even companies with a penchant for keeping everyone in the loop struggle with when to gush and when to button up.

If you’re having difficulty knowing whether to talk about something important on a wider scale, you’re not alone. Asking yourself these questions will help you determine if a subject is best for all—or best kept private.

1. Are we ready for this to get out publicly?

You have a concept in mind for a new marketing campaign. Your employees have poured over it for months. So far, it’s been kept completely secret, except for need-to-know staffers. But is this worth making widespread knowledge internally?

As you might guess, the answer depends on your company’s intent. Will it matter if the public finds out about your campaign? Could it derail your effectiveness if competitors know too soon? Sometimes, secrecy is (literally and figuratively) your secret weapon when it comes to advertising or other “No way!” announcements.

Before giving everyone on your staff the inside scoop on anything you’re about to unveil, map out the journey. Write down everything that could go wrong. For instance, what if a worker exposes the concept online? Is the element of surprise so important that it could ruin your team’s efforts? Your answers will guide how many people you tell. (Or don’t tell.)

2. Are we legally bound to be discreet?

Consider this scenario: Your business recently was involved with some legal dealings. As a part of the situation, you and other executives had to sign paperwork forbidding you from talking about all or some of your dealings. Yet you feel your workers should know. Is it okay in this case to discuss anything, at least with some of them?

To be sure, you’ll want to ask your legal advisors before making any public statements. You can’t afford to get into hot water simply because you want to be transparent. Yes, it may be understandable that you want to make the dealings known to employees. However, you have an obligation to uphold the law.

This type of situation could be pertinent any time you’re working with contracts, such as for anticipated mergers or lawsuits. Knowing in advance who to tell so you don’t violate any agreements or documentation.

3. Can our firm stand up to some (temporary) scrutiny?

In the public sector, pay is well-known because workers are introduced to different levels of income. As they get promoted, they naturally earn more based on years of experience, background, education, and other factors. Yet the private sector historically has clung to secrecy surrounding pay.

Currently, fewer than one-fifth of all businesses make their managerial or other salaries public. Some organizations even forbid supervisory and executive employees from talking about compensation. Yet there’s been a push to let the proverbial cat out of the bag when it comes to pay grades.

Should you open up salaries for conversation, then? Before you do, talk with your human resources team members. After all, you’re bound to experience some scrutiny and may backlash. You want to be able to anticipate all concerns. That way, you can address them in an understanding, proactive way.

4. Is our corporate culture languishing?

A strong corporate culture keeps people in the seats and encourages top talent to apply for job openings. In fact, culture can drive everything from high-quality customer service to improved sales conversions. But not every business’s culture is thriving—so don’t take it for granted that yours is doing just fine. It might be hurting due to lack of information.

How can you know the on-the-ground feelings about your culture? Elicit anonymous feedback from your team members. Ask them if the culture seems to be stagnant or even failing. If they tell you it’s unwell, a key issue could be a lack of transparency in terms of mission and vision. That is, your people may not understand your organization’s direction or their place in it. And that means you’ll probably have to open up more.

Employees who work in “cone of silence” silos frequently feel like they’ve been shifted to “need to know” status. Being more upfront about the business can help them see their roles in the company’s future. As a result, they’ll have a better understanding of how they can play pivotal parts for your brand.

5. Do our employees know how (and when) to take action?

Plenty of workers have zero clue how to file a suggestion for a process improvement, let alone make a formal promotion request. You can’t blame them for their ignorance. Instead, you have to look for ways to fill in their gaps.

As an example, you may want to update your handbook and make it more accessible to all. Perhaps it’s been a while since you dusted it off, which would make the guide woefully outdated. Or, people might not realize where they can find essential information even though you feel you’ve been clear. Remember: Perception is reality, so get to the bottom of this issue.

The less your team members know about policies, the bigger the disadvantage for your brand. Bringing everyone up to speed at once can be a huge benefit. Plus, your workers might finally take advantage of perks like EAP programs, which could lead to a wellness boon among those in your workforce.

It’s time to move from keeping everything under wraps to willingly opening a few doors. Concerned? Take heart: You don’t have to reveal everything in order to get a boost from being more transparent. Making a few changes could have a measurable effect on your company’s morale and the bottom line.

Show More