Today I have been reading a new, thought-provoking report released by one of my clients, ActionAid, and a number of their partners. The Transparency Report brings together contributions from 17 organisations, mostly in the not-for-profit sector but not exclusively, each of whom have shared their views on transparency with their stakeholders and why it is important to the delivery of their mission.
The report looks primarily at transparency in communications with stakeholders outside the organisations. But so much of what is shared also rings true internally, with employees, volunteers and other groups. As Judith Davey, ActionAid Director of People, Performance & Accountability, says in her foreword:
Meaningful transparency requires a thoughtful, nuanced understanding of what people want to know and why and it means responding to those needs. Less is more. Transparency does not mean that we have to stuff our communications and websites with technical documents full of acronyms and jargon.
Internal communicators must apply this learning too. I have written before about the importance of understanding your audience’s needs and communicating in a way that meets those needs. To do this, you must ask what they want to know and why and you must really listen to their replies. You must respond to their communication requirements in appropriate ways to help them understand what your organisation is doing and why. This is usually the thing that employees are most looking for – two-way understanding and the ability to get involved in and shape solutions to the issues that affect them. Any attempts to be opaque about things that are going on or to use a smoke and mirrors approach to communication will not only cause uncertainty and distress, it will also lead to lack of morale and de-motivation.
And organisations should also heed Judith’s second point when it comes to internal communication. Being open and transparent does not necessarily mean putting huge amounts of information ‘out there’ and saying ‘you wanted to know, so here it is’. The phrase ‘effective communication’ comes in to play here – again something that is dear to my heart and that I talk about a lot with my clients. Just because you have made information available – by filling up a web-page or sending an email, for example – that doesn’t automatically mean you have communicated anything at all. If the information is overwhelming and inaccessible, your audience won’t want to read it and they certainly won’t be able to digest it. And so we come full circle to understanding your audience’s needs and preferences and using the most appropriate means of communication to reach them.
If you are looking for views and ideas on transparency of communication, I’d recommend having a read of the report yourself.
Until next time