Open and honest conversations

Written by
Glenn Elliott

21 Oct 2016

21 Oct 2016 • by Glenn Elliott

I have had the pleasure - and challenge - of being the CEO of both a small startup as well as a larger global enterprise in Reward Gateway. When we first started in 2006 we were very small, just a handful of people. Communication is very different with only a few people in a small office to when you’re an international company, with seven offices in three continents. In a small office, you are constantly connected to people and it’s easier to practice open and honest communication. You can have a team meeting just by standing up and calling one. You don’t need an intranet or websites; you can just use a whiteboard. Employee engagement and building relationships is easy when you can all pop out for a coffee or go for a drink to celebrate or commiserate. And transparency tends to be more of a default - in a small team it is harder to have walls and barriers so information is far easier to share and stumble over.

Maintaining that same level of honesty as the company grew...

Even in situations where most outsiders wouldn’t practice completely open and honest communication, we still believe it is always the best policy. When we were in the process of selling RG to Great Hill Partners, we kept our employees informed throughout the entire process - just as we did with the sale to Inflexion.  When we know we will be making departmental and organisational changes, we tell employees ahead of time. 

Not everyone believes our decision to do that is wise. They may believe that telling someone that their role will change or be eliminated in time may cause that person to leave. But who is to say that won’t happen anyway? It’s better practice to be honest and give them the option. In our experience, most people stay on and help with the transition; they do not resent us, and they do not prematurely leave.

But as we grew, we had to change our methods. We couldn’t relay messages to everyone in the company as easily anymore. So what did we do? We hired someone wonderful called Catrin who works hard to maintain our communications on all our internal news. She collects updates from the Leadership Team every week which she posts on our company intranet, for all our internal communications and employee perks. Every two weeks, there is a new “global briefing,” which is a newscast-style recording that relays all updates on product and people in the company, as well as some entertaining bits including the monthly staff lottery drawing. And at the end of each quarter, we release and explain the financial stats from the quarter.

Twice a year, we host the Global Business Update (GBU), our all-staff biannual conference. It’s held in London, but we stream it to our offices in Bulgaria and Sydney, so everyone watches at the same time as a team. The leadership team and other staff make presentations to keep everyone up to date on current business, and someone is interviewed without having first had access to the questions to ensure an honest and unrehearsed answer.

We are in the age of social media, so we also set up a private Facebook and a private Instagram. Your people will have different social media favourites and you should let them choose the one that they want. We also have a weekly email, and next we’re looking at Snapchat - don’t be shocked, The White House is already using SnapChat!

Can you honestly say your global company is transparent?

Our diaries at Reward Gateway have always been open for everyone to see. I made the mistake of closing off my visibility for a short time a few weeks ago. In doing so, I learned that part of staying connected and being open and honest is keeping that open, too. 

Recently, I began to feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the company. We now have seven offices, which means that in order to conduct business, I have to travel a lot more than I ever did. I wanted to find a way to stay connected to everyone despite not being able to be in each office all the time. I already had my personal blog, but as that was not geared directly to Reward Gateway employees, I needed to find a new form of communication. So, I began the “Hello from Glenn” blog on the company intranet to keep everyone updated on what I am doing no matter where I am. 

Now this might sound time consuming, but with today’s technology it is easier than ever before to type quick updates on the go - be it on the plane or during your morning commute. My last two posts to the company were video posts—like having a quick chat with everyone. It doesn’t need to be lengthy, but it shows that you prioritise your colleagues, and want to keep them in the loop, instead of just saying you do.  

The consequence of not being open and honest with your employees is mistrust. This mistrust can lead to fear. They will wonder why you are not keeping them updated and staying connected to them. Technology doesn't allow us to use the excuse "I'm too busy" anymore. There are far too many options for staying connected to and communicating with your staff on the move. As they say: “if something is important to you, you’ll find a way to do it.” Make staying connected to your employees important to you regardless of how busy you get, because it is important.