15Five Founder Talks Company Values, Trust and Transparency

When my friend, Yvon Chouinard, started making climbing pitons in his parents’ backyard in the late 1950s, he broke all the rules.

Photo: David Hassell,  founder and CEO, 15Five; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: David Hassell, founder and CEO, 15Five; Source: Courtesy Photo

When my friend, Yvon Chouinard, started making climbing pitons in his parents’ backyard in the late 1950s, he broke all the rules.

At the time, climbers were using soft iron pitons, which they left in place. Chouinard, on the other hand, made them from steel. And as his climbing gear company grew — eventually becoming the iconic outdoors brand Patagonia — he managed his employees in novel ways as well.

Like the steel he used to anchor climbers more firmly and establish trust between them and the mountain, Chouinard pioneered an innovative management style of trust and transparency. The company had no private offices, an architectural arrangement that helped keep lines of communication open, and he truly trusted his employees to get their work done.

“I can’t stand telling other people what to do,” he once said in an interview. “I purposely try to hire people who are really self-motivated and good at what they do, and then I just leave them alone.”

In a world where only 18 percent of people trust their bosses to tell the truth, according to Forbes, every leader can learn from Chouinard’s global success. Numbers like these illustrate just how important transparency and trust can be. They create an environment that encourages high performance and happiness.


Navigating Trust and Transparency

By leading with trust, you build an environment where transparency naturally occurs and is supported by both the leaders and the employees. Here are four advantages to implementing these ideals into your company:


  • Satisfaction goes up.

    Employees who feel their bosses trust them and are giving them everything they need are more likely to be satisfied and work harder.

  • Turnover goes down.

    Simply put: Employees who are engaged and supported want to keep working! People who trust their bosses are more likely to buy in to the goals of their companies.

  • Efficiency improves.

    Being transparent empowers your employees to make decisions on their own, which enables them to work without having to double-check every little detail with managers.

  • Fears dissolve.

    Employees and leaders have fears that hold them back from being forthright in their communication. Building systems that encourage trust and transparency allow employees to communicate problems honestly and trust that their managers are there to help them.


Creating Sustainable Culture

So, what holds us back from reaping these benefits?

Often, it comes down to micromanagement — especially if we’re unsure of a new employee or if a project is critical. It’s natural for management to want to stay informed, but directing every move robs employees of the autonomy that drives their satisfaction and robs managers of precious time.

Sure, trust and transparency take time to develop. Mentoring and supporting employees doesn’t just happen. It requires a different mindset and presence that busy executives often feel they don’t have time for. They are placed in the bucket of “soft” projects that sink to the bottom of the to-do list.

You can overcome these issues, however, by taking these three steps:


  1. Create an easy-to-use feedback loop.

    Every single employee has something to offer, and giving them the opportunity to be creative and challenging them to progress will benefit the entire team. Always encourage your team members to let you know what’s on their minds and to explain how they think you can improve.

  2. Take the leap.

    Make a conscious effort to empower employees to be autonomous by giving them the information they need and letting them design and execute a project. It will give you a chance to support their potential and give them feedback on how they can improve.

  3. Create positions that support employee needs.

    You should always strive to promote your employees’ personal ideas of success and satisfaction. Mary Miller, CEO of a janitorial company (an industry with a turnover rate that can reach 300 to 400 percent), appointed a “dream manager” with whom employees could discuss personal and professional goals. For Miller it “is all about getting people excited about their future by getting clear on their dreams and what they want.  We started helping employees buy homes, get driver’s license, continue their education . . . it changed lives and the way our employees were thinking about the possibilities of their future.” (Source: BusinessInterviews.com) By responding to her employees’ needs, she reduced turnover to 45 percent.

Buffer, a company that helps manage users’ social media accounts, demonstrates transparency and trust every day. Among Buffer’s 10 company values are “default to transparency” and “have a focus on self-improvement.” The company takes transparency so seriously that it publishes its salaries and how they’re determined, to the public. When it started doing this, the number of applications for open positions skyrocketed.

Running a company this way might seem awkward at first and somehow inappropriate in a business environment. In the end, however, managers and employees must learn to trust one another and be transparent with their challenges and needs. That way, all of the members of your team can grow into their best work as they grow your company in the most sustainable way possible.


This article has been edited and condensed.

David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, the leading web-based employee feedback and alignment solution that is transforming the way employees and managers communicate. Named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes, David has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, WIRED, Fast Company, and Financial Post. Connect with@dhassell on Twitter.


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