Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beyond Baby Powder

Another thing that happens when you default to transparency is that it breaks down barriers within the team drastically.  - Buffer

More of this.
I've been thinking a lot about trust lately, and I'm not really sure why. I just think it's so intriguing, so mysterious, so... something that everyone wants so much, both in their personal lives and at work, yet so hard to grasp beyond a vapor; and at the risk of offending polite readership, cannot help but to think back to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's infamous quote about pornography being so terribly difficult to define, "but I know it when I see it."  And, so it is with trust.

Distrust is certainly easy to find; my most vivid memory of knowing when I saw it, was of an estate manager colleague arriving with, to his mind, the most effective way to capitalize on the the culture of distrust having taken deep roots into generations of staff passing through his own downstairs domain, by sprinkling small amounts of baby powder along areas of carpets suspected of where his housekeepers could not be trusted to vacuum. Oddly unknown to him, however, the staff knew each of these little spots which
Less of this.
always smelled fresher than a baby's, well, let's just say they always found it quicker to use the even fresher smelling softener-scented lint rollers to take care of matters and create the illusion of trustworthiness, instead of dragging out the Hoover again. And, so it went with trust.

And, I certainly saw trust yesterday, when I received my weekly update from Compensation Cafe', a highly thoughtful, introspective blog, a little gift that arrives weekly in my inbox with just the perfect amount of exotic crunchy texture between cash dollars and how people really behave at work - to feed my own INTJ-ness from time to time and put a birds-eye view over the nuts and bolts of what number-crunchers have to think about all day long, which is, the more I learn about the professional niche' of comp & benefits it has as much to do with the human element as with getting all the decimal points and fractions right. 

So, to my OrgDev-delight, the Cafe' was highlighting this week a company so advanced in the trust and transparency market, I just can't think of who's done it better. Readers of The Citizen, myself included, certainly don't hold pretense to understand the difficulty of change better than most domestic employees, yet, we will find a buffet to nosh on here and, dare we, hopefully will become adequately inspired to apply such transparency to our own little worlds. The company referred is known as Buffer, a social media sharing service - yet it really doesn't matter what business they're in; they could've just as easily been General Motors, or a residential estate with two team members on board - only that they've chosen to be so extremely (as compared to, well, just about anywhere) transparent and brought to light, perhaps, the most nontransparent topic of all within any company - that of who earns what. I personally think they did this to just dive right in and tackle the big one, and then all the little battles thereafter just turn into a cake walk, but, maybe they had a different strategy. 

Does anyone on your estate really know how much everyone else on the team earns, and how those dollars are both figured and justified? The folks at Buffer do. In fact, they
Clear just goes well with everything.
actually like to talk about it. A lot. 

It feels incredibly liberating to put this out into the open. I’d love your thoughts, ideas and feedback on our formula and how we can improve it further.  - Buffer

And, I think it has less to do with keeping up with internal/external equity issues, and more to do with knowing that operating on this plane creates a safe space and leaves no room for any mischief of keeping secrets from and between co-workers and estate management, and beyond. And, when people know they're in a safe space, they can relax and focus on performing, instead of holding up and carrying around iron shields all day to protect themselves.  And, with more performance comes...  more service to the shareholders (i.e., Principals) and....  more production and demonstrable value.... and....  yeah!... more justification for more.... wait for it.... MORE PAY!  But back to our story....

Regardless of how Buffer carved this culture out, I think it's a great idea to go big on going clear, but like all great ideas, it needs support from the top and communication both throughout - and often.  Buffer seems to have gotten this right and even goes so far to publish on their blog the mathematical formulas for how they figure the wages and remain transparent to their co-workers. Beyond paychecks, though, they just seem to have landed the right approach for building this culture, like a real culture needs to be built, i.e., purposefully, instead of organically. For instance, take a look at their practice of cc'ing everyone, automatically, within the teams where communication could have an impact; this goes far beyond have a rule at work, such as The Citizen highlighted some time ago with Creating The No Gossip Zone, and dives right into the philosophy of ...we're just not going to allow a typical, covert CYA system at work where people snip behind others' backs and have to guess at information, and that won't ever have the opportunity to take bloom in our petri dish if we keep our communication truly authentic, totally open, and most importantly, pro-active instead of reactive....

Like most extreme ideas, good or otherwise, they're not an all-or-nothing enterprise. The takeaway we have, in our own small companies, can be that of inspiration and challenging the way we do business among ourselves... and the way we choose to set up, or not, trust among ourselves.  

Is full disclosure a good idea within your family office and/or small staffing enterprise... on your estate? Why, or why not?  What effect would completely - and actively - open communication have on relationships between your co-workers?  How would your culture evolve?  

And, most importantly, if trust and transparency were fully enveloped as a company value within your team, would there ever be a need for baby powder, again?