13 ways to increase transparency and build strong stakeholder relationships

With so much volatility in the modern marketplace, stakeholders are constantly looking for reassurance that a company is on the right track. However, for many leaders, being open and transparent can be a challenge, particularly when it comes to sensitive or negative information.

A strong communication plan and a willingness to be open are essential for building trust and credibility with stakeholders, so even reticent leaders need to know how and when to share important information or show vulnerability. Here, 13 Business Journals Leadership Trust members offer their best advice for becoming a more transparent leader, especially when building strong stakeholder relationships.

1. Establish a regular schedule of communication.

The most critical component of the relationship between a leader and their stakeholders is trust, which can be established through transparent communication. Establish a regular routine or schedule of communication that stakeholders can count on to alleviate concerns that they are missing important information. Sporadic or haphazard communication will only increase stakeholder angst. – Brian Barnes, Blakeford Senior Life

2. Include education in disclosures.

I have had great success in being radically transparent by including an element of education in disclosures. The proof of true mastery is teaching; if we are not able to creditably and thoroughly teach the state of our practice, then it is clear we don’t completely understand what is going on. When we do and it’s bad news, I trust the team will rally and coalesce to change course. – Tim Hurvitz, Harley Ellis Devereaux (HED)

3. Ensure you’re accessible.

A leader must never underestimate the power of accessibility. Whether done in person or through computer screens, sharing information about both the successes and failures of the company on a regular basis assists in promoting trust in the work environment. Transparency is the key to honest and effective communication with stakeholders and is more likely to yield actionable results. – Kerryann Cook, The Cook Group

4. Don’t allow stakeholders to assume the worst.

I don’t think everybody needs to know everything, but I think paranoia is a bright red flag. If behavior at the top signals that some information is secret and that it mustn’t be revealed, most stakeholders will assume the worst. The best approach is to preach openness and demonstrate that through honesty and truth — even in uncomfortable areas. Don’t “weird out” when it comes to information. – Dan Danford, Family Investment Center

5. Ensure information includes the appropriate context.

As an employee stock ownership plan, we rely on transparency and have employed “open book management” for over a decade. However, not everyone is equipped to fully comprehend everything. Stakeholders want more than just the delivery of information; they want to know how leadership feels about it. To build strong relationships and quell uncertainty, we provide executive insight to help place information in the appropriate context. – Michelle Mongeon Allen, JLG Architects

6. Seek others’ input.

If you’re dealing with difficult issues and you have the tendency to look within for the solution, communicate — with your board, your employees and your support network. Remember, no one of us is as smart as all of us together. Seek counsel and be open to opinions and ideas that differ from yours. – Mark Sanna, Breakthrough Coaching

7. Show your work.

All our major project work is visible to all team members via shared, open productivity software. If I as the CEO say I’m working on something (an HR policy change, for example), each team member can see my status in the software. This level of transparency holds me accountable and keeps me motivated while reassuring employees I’m doing what I promised. – Sam Davidson, Batch

8. Share information as soon as you can.

It sounds obvious, but providing regular updates is key. As leaders, we don’t always have the answers there and then (despite our best efforts!), so it’s important to update stakeholders when you have more details. Don’t just wait for a prescheduled meeting, though; share the information as soon as you can. It shows stakeholders that you value transparency, and that will help to strengthen relationships. – Kenneth Bowles, WilsonHCG

9. Praise in public.

Leaders often forget to “praise in public,” especially in a remote work environment. Stakeholders need to hear who is doing a great job, making things smooth for others or making things happen. Leaders shouldn’t publicly criticize or correct, but when authentic praise is public, it incentivizes continued high performance. Such praise fosters respect for both leaders and the mission, and it’s free! – Amy McDougal, CLEAResources, LLC

10. Share regular updates.

Leaders can become more transparent by regularly communicating updates on the company’s performance, plans and challenges to stakeholders. Transparency builds trust, improves stakeholder relationships and leads to more robust support for the company. A transparent leader demonstrates accountability and honesty, resulting in a more positive company culture. – Joseph DeWoody, Valor

11. Lead by example.

Whenever we do any development training, I volunteer first or try to be the first one to be vulnerable. Transparency starts at the top; when you show vulnerability as a leader, it pushes your team to do the same. If you’ve been in your employees’ shoes and held those jobs or roles, be open about your experiences. That relatability shows transparency. – Kris Lindahl, Kris Lindahl Real Estate

12. Make sure transparency doesn’t stop with you.

Leaders must look beyond themselves and focus on fostering transparency with their direct reports and influential members of the company. While I have my own efforts to champion transparency, I won’t get far if I don’t allow others to represent these same values in their own way. The best thing a leader can do is make sure transparency doesn’t start and stop with them. – Angela Hurt, Veracity Consulting

13. Share not only what has happened, but how you will respond.

No matter how small your company is, approach your business as if you were an executive at a publicly traded Fortune 500 corporation. Whether a month is profitable or in the red, seek to understand why it happened, how you can repeat it (or prevent a repeat, as the case may be) and what actions you will take. Share this information and context with your stakeholders. – AJ Ansari, DSWi