Is radical transparency needed in a high-trust culture?

"Trust and transparency are two sides of the same coin," argues Aster Group's people and culture director - ©Cecilie Skjold Wackerhausen/

The pressures facing both employers and employees have supercharged debates around flexibility, inclusion and the relationship between business and colleagues.

For many, that has led to placing more impetus on the individual, causing firms to focus on how they can both make their offer to employees more appealing and adopt bolder practices to help them achieve inclusion and flexibility goals.

Previously niche management theories like radical transparency, for example, are becoming more popular. The most obvious influence is the increase in businesses publishing salary bands for all employees to see.

Read more: Trust is the foundation of business

But a few years on from the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a significant catalyst for workplace evolution, I find room to speculate about whether policies that promote balance offer more longevity.

As people managers, the trap we must avoid falling into is implementing radical policies just because that’s the direction we believe the world of work is going in, without questioning whether that is the right cultural fit for our businesses.

’The Aster Way’ is a shared understanding of how my organisation works, to create a fair and inclusive culture. A key word we consider is trust. Having already fully embraced flexible working practices pre-Covid, trust has always been key. Without building trust between a business and its people, transparency can actually be counterproductive. Is that relationship mature enough, for example, to have open and honest conversations about pay?

Trust has influenced so much of how we have designed our approach to employee engagement and it has become inherently clear to us that trust and openness has to start at the top. Employees will never feel listened to if a company’s leadership is closed off and inaccessible. Through improved leadership development programmes, we’re doing what we can to nurture a culture based on trust. This is a priority for being a leader in our business.

We’ve also introduced quarterly all-colleague collaborative calls with our executive board. These two-way conversations are as much about our exec giving an honest and open business update as an opportunity for all of our 1,900 employees to raise issues and put forward new ideas.

With the right leadership ethos in place, it's important to introduce practices that encourage trust to flow through the entirety of the business. For us, revamping how we build trust, work collaboratively and manage disputes has been a big part of that. We have nearly 2,000 employees working in a high-pressure, challenging sector where grievances and issues are unavoidable, so we need to be adept at delivering positive outcomes.

Read more: Why workplace trust creates a productive and engaged team

Becoming an accredited restorative practice employer has been crucial for our business. These collaborative and communicative approaches help colleagues build healthy relationships, enabling collaborative connections to permeate the interactions we have with our peers, and our customers as well.

Trust is a two-way street so the final part of the puzzle is demonstrating to our colleagues that we are committed to continually learning and evolving along with them.

We’re forensic in our attention to employee voices. We hold regular focus groups, feedback opportunities and pulse surveys, allowing us to keep our ear to the ground on what our colleagues are feeling and what they need from us. Working with an organisational psychologist we also recently conducted a culture audit, that has helped us to delve deeper into what life is like at Aster across our very diverse workforce. As a result, we now have a more holistic view of how our cultural intentions are lived and a plan of how we can continue to work with our colleagues to ensure their lived experiences match up to our promise.

Read more: Employee retention: How to earn employee trust and retain top talent

Trust and transparency are two sides of the same coin. Unless a business is earning the trust of its employees, and ensuring that openness is baked into culture, transparency can create risk. Employees that don’t feel listened to can in turn feel exposed in a militantly transparent culture. It’s about listening and ensuring the policy on transparency reflects the mood music that already exists in the workplace.

By Lyndsay Nickerson, people and culture director at Aster Group