It’s becoming more and more important in today’s business landscape for workplaces to build a culture of open, transparent communication. Candor, defined as a state of openness, frankness and honesty, is the term used to drive most of these efforts. However, many businesses — especially those that have been around for a long time — still operate within a culture full of secrecy, confusion and poor internal communication. When entering into a leadership position, it’s important to prioritize candor right from the start.

Candor in the Workplace

The culture of candor ends up flowing multiple ways within the organizational structure: It must flow from employees up to management, and from management down to employees. With the former, it’s important that employees feel comfortable challenging concepts, suggesting new ways of thought and giving constructive criticism both to their teammates and to management.

Workplaces where employees are uncomfortable with this concept end up stifling innovation and problem-solving. Management needs to be able to create a safe environment where employees feel like they can question and challenge the status quo without facing repercussions.

Likewise, management needs to create open channels where they share business decisions, internal reports and other important information with their employees. This sort of information needs to “trickle down” to employees who may not have a direct use for it, but will still value the knowledge and use it to gain a better understanding of their work environment.

Sharing company objectives and overall business decisions help employees feel invested in their workplace. When employees don’t feel like they understand management’s decision-making process, or feel like the company is floundering for direction, it erodes the trust between teammates and management and leads to underperformance and employee dissatisfaction.

When Candor Isn’t Appropriate

Executive management won’t be able to share everything with all employees, of course; some business decisions stay private, especially in the planning stages, to avoid employee unrest and gossip, or to keep the idea secret from the competition.

In fact, with most intellectual property issues, information control can be critical to the status of trade secrets and the like. Also, information about individual employee issues — promotions, improvement plans and personal issues — are kept private to management and HR for privacy's sake. There’s no need to share any of that information.

Also, candor should not be used as an excuse for aggressive, cruel or bullying types of comments. Criticism should always be constructive, complaints should be presented professionally and arguments should be avoided. Part of building up a culture of candor is drawing a line on how to display candor, and how to respond to it.

How To Encourage Candor

The first step to creating a culture of candor is to obtain buy-in from top leadership. Historically, executives have tended to keep information private, even when it would be harmless to share it, just from force of habit. These habits should be challenged, and leaders should be encouraged to share what information they can and to answer questions from employees. Transparency needs to stop at the top of corporate culture, to set a clear example.

From there, management needs to create an environment where people feel safe asking questions upwards. HR elements, like open-door policies or retaliation protections, help employees feel that they are able to have a voice and won’t be punished for thoughts that don’t necessarily walk the obvious company line. It’s important to encourage questions and dissent, as these new thoughts are what lead to improvement in the workplace.

From here, continue to move forward in a way that encourages questions and focuses on the ways transparent information-sharing can help both the department and the business as a whole. This will allow a candor culture to take root in your workplace.