Business development 18 November 2016

How to create a culture of small business transparency

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Whilst transparency and accountability work in tandem, it is transparency that creates accountability and leads to concrete action

It’s crucial that small businesses embrace a culture of transparency and accountability to thrive, writes Richard Langham, European head at Adobe Document Cloud.

When working for a smaller business or startup, ensuring the steady flow of new opportunities and sales is absolutely crucial.

I remember once, in my early days as a sales executive, an important contract my company was working on was missed and nobody on my team was able to explain why, or take ownership of the problem.

As this wasn’t the first time it had happened, I decided to find out once and for all what the problem was. I held one-on-one talks with everyone on my team until I pinpointed a few crucial stages of the process where delays had taken place—approvers were unaware of changes, slow to respond to calls, or were unavailable to sign documents—and a lack of communication meant others were left in the dark.

Since then, I’ve ensured that everyone in my department takes ownership of their stage of the process, while also making sure that everyone else in the department knows what stage we’ve reached, and who is responsible for which tasks.

In other words, transparency and accountability can streamline your processes, drive better workflow, and ensure that your team actually achieves what you aim to get done.

The power of transparency

While it can be frustrating to experience a hold up in a process, it is considerably more frustrating to have no view on the cause of the problem.

We’ve all experienced the difficulties of trying to solve a delay or issue in a process where another individual has to approve a certain step.

As can often happen, when a team misses a big deal or it suffers delays, everybody is quick to assign blame to everyone else – but nobody steps up to take ownership. It can take several days of conversations with a team to determine where errors had occurred.

In short, a team can strive to achieve goals, but without any built-in transparency it is impossible to keep all staff members up to date.

This applications of this problem reach into any area of work where a business relies on steps being approved and authorised so that processes can keep moving. From procurement and logistics, to accounting and HR, to engineering and production – even into deals and sales. In all of these areas and more, a lack of transparency slows operations down, preventing employees from working at maximum efficiency.

The accountability transformation

Whilst transparency and accountability work in tandem, it is transparency that creates accountability and leads to concrete action.

Once a business has a clear view of how their approval process works, they determine who is accountable for each process. Sometimes that means getting analytics on who has opened a document, how far they’ve read through it, what action they’ve taken inside it – and where the process is getting held up.

When everyone knows who is responsible for making decisions, how to reach those decision makers, and how the approval process works as a whole, it’s much simpler to keep everyone on the same wavelength, and drive the process forward.

This isn’t just wishful thinking – all the tools for this accountability are currently available technology.

Built-in accountability completely eliminates common excuses like, “oh, I haven’t seen that email” or “nobody told me about this”. This is because when an employer takes responsibility for finding and talking with whoever has delayed a process, they’ll understand the employer has evidence of this failure. This transforms the dynamic of the conversation, and focuses the dialogue on getting things done.

Building transparency from the ground up

The ability to track who has opened documents is only the tip of the iceberg. Transparency and accountability need to be built into a business’ culture, from the executive level down. Everyone on a team needs to be accountable for managing specific steps in the process – and everyone else in the department needs to know which steps remain to be completed, and who’s responsible for completing them.

As a matter of fact, a business’ commitment to maintaining transparency and accountability can reach far beyond their own company.

If recipient-tracking technology is introduced – along with the fundamental principles of clarity and responsibility – to discussions with suppliers and partners, the clarity brought to the entire approval chain can help them target weaknesses in their own approaches, enabling them to speed up their processes.

In order to establish a transparent document workflow, it is crucial to ensure that employees are a part of a company culture which has an emphasis on accountability, with the internal processes to support it.

Further, these principles and culture can be shared across a business’ entire supply chain, helping them to reap even greater results in the process.

Ultimately, by focusing on personal accountability and organisation-wide transparency, a business enables itself to work smarter and get things done more efficiently.

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