I love mornings. The world is quiet, my coffee is hot, and optimism is in the air.
On a recent trip to Phoenix, I found a breakfast place that fit the bill. But as soon as I walked in, I could tell something was amiss. The waitress was stressed, and the customers were anxious. I seated myself and after 10 minutes of waiting I frustratingly flagged down the waitress and gruffly asked for some coffee. She paused, looked right at me intensely, and said, “I’m so sorry. The other two wait staff didn’t show up this morning, and I’m doing everything I can. Please refill your coffee if you need it, and I’ll be over in five minutes to take your order. The omelets are delicious.”
Over the next hour, I saw her twice more — once to get my order and once to deliver my food. Each time, she apologized profusely. At the end of my meal, I left her a 100 percent tip.
Why would I leave a big tip on clearly lackluster service? Her transparency. She thoughtfully and genuinely explained the situation. The transparency made me appreciate her circumstances, sympathize with her situation, and want to help. It also created trust. When she made the recommendation for the omelet, I believed her, because she had already demonstrated her transparency. Not surprisingly, the omelet was fantastic.
The vast majority of people are inherently paranoid. We distrust what we don’t understand. We make assumptions. We concoct motivations.
This is particularly true in corporate settings. I’ll never forget the first time we introduced healthcare benefits. As an unprofitable startup, we were focused on running lean, and we knew that healthcare was a huge cost. At the same time, we wanted our employees to be healthy and happy. We tried to come up with a predictable solution that wouldn’t break the bank. We settled on funding a health savings account for each employee. Basically we were giving every employee about a $2000 per year raise to be used for healthcare.
I expected praise and gratitude to flow. I thought perhaps the employees would throw a small appreciation party or something. Umm… not so much. I got a call from my director of operations saying, “We’ve got a problem. Since the announcement, Julie (name changed) has been going around telling everyone that this is ‘a trap’ because it’s not real healthcare, and she believes it’s going to cost employees a lot of their own money. People are confused and getting riled up.” I was dumbfounded. We announce a raise, and people get pissed. What gives?
Then it struck me. While a group of us exploring healthcare options had hours of discussions, we didn’t communicate almost any of the logic behind the decision. We weren’t transparent. I immediately drove back to the office, called a company meeting, explained the situation, and what it meant to every employee. Those who were originally irritated apologized, and everyone left the meeting excited about the new benefit. A little dose of transparency goes a long way.
When I walked into the restaurant for breakfast, I should have assumed the waitress was working hard and found herself in a difficult spot through no fault of her own. But, I didn’t. When we gave every employee a raise to use for healthcare, we should have immediately received praise. But, we didn’t.
I’ve learned that transparency is THE key to leadership. It destroys paranoia. It simplifies communications. It displays logic. It fosters deep trust. Ultimately, it creates profits.
This post was originally published on Forbes.