More than a buzzword: how we practice transparency at Front

The merits of building a transparent organization have been stated over and over again.

  • A 2013 Tiny Pulse survey found that workplace transparency is the number-one factor in employee happiness.
  • As Keith Rabois shares in this First Round Review article: If you want people to make the same decisions that you would make, but in a more scalable way, you have to give them the same information you have.
  • A Harvard Business Review study from 2013 reported that 70 percent of employees feel most engaged with their organization when leadership consistently updates staff and communicates about the organization’s strategy.

Transparency makes people more engaged in the success of the company, happier at work, and more effective in their jobs. Your ability to keep highly effective people working at your company is probably the biggest indicator of success.

And yet, in a recent survey, only 23% of full-time U.S. employees say that they have full insight into how their organizations are actually doing.

Leaders withhold information for a variety of reasons: they don’t trust employees to use information correctly, they don’t have the time to provide necessary context, they are afraid of transparency backfiring. Bottom line, transparency can make a lot of people uncomfortable.

If transparency doesn’t come naturally to you, I understand that it can seem daunting and overwhelming to figure out what to share, how to share it, and how to ensure that the sharing of information doesn’t become a time-consuming burden.

I’ve been told we do a pretty good job of being transparent at Front. We have an incredibly high employee NPS (97!) and transparency frequently features as a theme for that score. People feel trusted and empowered with information. I decided to share how we do it in the hopes that I can make it easier for others to do the same with their teams.

How we define transparency

At Front, being transparent means making relevant information and context easily accessible so that everyone can be more efficient and effective. We default to transparency and inherently trust employees to not abuse their access to information. We believe that by eliminating the power that can come from being one of only a few with access to information, we reduce internal politics and strife. The line is drawn, however, when information is about an individual (i.e. salaries, terminations) or when access to that information would just be a distraction from daily work.

How we do it

Internally:

  1. We share goals and openly report on progress:
  • OKRs are set on a quarterly basis. The company OKRs are shared and used to inform team and individual OKRs. Results of the company OKRs are reported on and shared at the end of every quarter.
  • We have an All Hands every week where the most important company metrics (revenue, opportunities, CSAT, uptime, DAUs, etc.) are shared and discussed (I will publish our deck soon)
  • Dashboards around the office display each team’s results in real-time. Each department sends out a monthly recap on their performance.
  • At the end of each quarter, I go into depth on the quarterly results, what went well, and what we can learn from.

2. We share and discuss the good and the bad:

  • We conduct a post-mortem after issues (e.g., outage, email mistake) and send a company-wide post-mortem outlining what went wrong and how we’ll improve.
  • After every board meeting, the deck is shared with employees and I share candid feedback from the board members.
  • Via shared inboxes in Front, everyone has access to customer feedback and customer NPS results so it’s always clear what we’re doing well and where we need to improve.

3. We encourage questions:

  • Every other week, I host an AMA-type session that all employees are welcome to attend.
  • Each week, employees are invited to ask questions, anonymously if they choose, and Front leaders candidly respond to these questions at the end of All Hands.

4. We give colleagues access to our work:

  • Everyone’s calendars are default public so you know how everyone spends their days.
  • Notes from meetings where strategic company decisions are made are accessible by everyone.
  • Front the product enables us to share inboxes and individual conversations so we can collaborate efficiently.
  • Also via Front the product, employees can grant their managers or colleagues access to their individual inboxes to provide visibility into what they’re working on and/or to ensure all work is handled when they are out of the office.

Externally:

  • From day one, we’ve made our product roadmap public and encourage customers to post and upvote features they’d like us to build.
  • To help other entrepreneurs, I share our fundraising decks publicly.
  • When something goes wrong (i.e. outage), we tell our customers what really happened and how we’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  • We are honest with customers about what our product does and what it doesn’t do. We don’t overpromise or sell to roadmap.

If this was helpful, you can learn about Front’s other values and how we practice them by checking out our Culture Book.

People often ask how Front will retain its unique culture as it grows. I don’t believe our culture is something that should be “retained,” but rather something that will evolve as our company scales. We created this Culture Book not to dictate our culture, but rather to define the values that will shape the evolution of our culture.

I’d love to hear how you are practicing transparency in your organization and how your culture practices have evolved as you’ve grown.