Why Transparency Is the Golden Ticket to Successful Client-Agency Relationships

17-Mar 2022
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Chelsea Williams SENIOR COPYWRITER

Think about the last time you felt betrayed. 

Maybe a friend lied to you, a family member left you out of an important decision or a romantic partner shared good news with someone else first.

Those are the types of experiences we tend to envision when we conjure up memories of betrayal, but we often disregard an area of our lives that’s full of the same kind of painful potential: work.

It’s possible to endure similarly powerful negative emotions when we feel ignored, left out or lied to by colleagues and higher-ups. If you hold a leadership role, it’s wise to avoid being the source of this kind of anguish for the people who work for you. 

Some people may even consider it a responsibility.

Transparency from employers is not just something people appreciate — it’s something they’re coming to expect and, in some cases, demand.

In this article, we’ll explore:

What Today’s Employees Expect 

Let’s dig into the 2022 workplace landscape. A lot has changed in a short period of time. 

A Quantum Workplace study found that 65% of employees have noticed a change in their organization’s culture over the past two years, with 35% describing the change as “dramatic.” 

What’s striking is that 54% identified company mission and values as the most important factor in establishing culture.

The lesson? If your agency hasn’t clearly defined what it stands for, it’s going to struggle to find and retain top talent.

Explicit values indicate to employees that you care about consistency and accountability.

Today’s savvy workers also want employers to earn their trust. They care about having conscious, compassionate leaders to look up to, and they need to know those leaders are willing to stick their necks out for the people they’ve hired.

Essentially, the hierarchical office structure of old is breaking down as a new generation of young adults demands more basic humanity from the companies they choose to work for.

Set the Stage With Internal Honesty

One core value modern workers expect to see upheld is transparency.

In a Harvard Business Review study, 70% of workers admitted they were most engaged when they had open communication from senior management. 

There’s science behind this observation. Polyvagal theory, put forth by Dr. Stephen Porges, states that human connection and critical thinking cannot be achieved if the sympathetic nervous system has been triggered. Physical safety must exist first, followed by emotional safety, for people to access a state of calm and productivity.

Solid messaging on the part of leaders creates a foundation of emotional safety for employees.

When people feel clued-in by those whom they’ve entrusted with their livelihood, they feel safer. This means they’re more capable of accessing their prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain responsible for logic, creativity and complex problem-solving. 

Those in leadership have the power to contribute a great deal to a team’s feeling of safety — or to a lack thereof. Without clear communication, people flounder.

Vice President of Training and Coaching at SNP Communications Danny Schultz explains why. 

“If you lead your team with ambiguity and zero clarity, or fail to acknowledge imperfect information, the silence and anticipation of what might be can take more of an emotional toll than the reality of things.”

What Is Workplace Transparency?

At its core, transparency means truthfulness. Just as being truthful matters in personal relationships, it’s a vital element of healthy professional ones. However, there are some important differences.

In a work context, it’s easy to cross the line into oversharing. While allowing employees to be privy to some decision-making processes and financial details is helpful, it can also be overwhelming to them. Particularly if your agency is struggling behind the scenes, it’s not the best idea to induce a job-security wobble for your employees.

For example, sharing notes or slide decks from C-suite meetings is a meaningful gesture, whereas discussing a point of conflict between two executives with a lower-level team member would be going too far.

Josée Lemoine, COO of Canadian agricultural consulting group Backswath Management, describes the way she gauges how much to reveal: “The information you share with your colleagues should be something they can use to influence change, either for themselves, their business unit or the company.” 

Think of it as a parent-child relationship: You should be honest while maintaining propriety.

Benefits of Transparent Leadership

Giving team members a voice in some major moments can bring about surprisingly positive results. While you might fear having too many hands in the proverbial pot, you could reach fresh creative solutions when you listen to new voices.

At Detroit boutique management firm URGE Imprint, including everyone is a way of being. 

“We will not make a decision that we are unable to explain to our team members, partners and clients,” says Analyst Dylan Hengy. “We encourage all team members of all backgrounds to give their input, knowing that different points of view bring us to the best answer.”

Even if your leadership team will have the ultimate say, making an effort to bring others into the decision-making mix gives your agency culture a transparency boost.

Radical honesty can also be a powerful tool for problem-solving and conflict resolution.

Information and transparency are the best tools to disarm or de-escalate a situation,” says Janya Anderson, Operations Manager at New Zealand marketing agency Pure SEO.

An Argument for Extending Transparency to Clients

When you do a good job of valuing transparency internally, you’ll see it reflected in the relationships your agency builds with clients, partners and the larger community. Letting external contacts in on the good, the bad and (occasionally) the ugly can improve their impression of the value you bring to the table.

The easiest way to implement transparency with clients is to expand and automate visibility into current projects.

READ NEXT: See how this software company doubled in size and revenue with the help of the visibility offered by Accelo.

Instead of being worried that greater visibility could encourage clients to find fault with the way your team operates, why not imagine the potential benefits of being transparent with them:

  • They could more fully understand the complications of your job — and, therefore, have more patience with the time it takes to see results
  • You’ll spend less time justifying your fees because they can see how much time you’re spending on each task and how you’re applying the project budget
  • When something doesn’t work, they’re witness to everything your team tried to avoid or solve the problem

It may be nontraditional, but clients, like today’s employees, crave more open relationships with the people whose work they invest in.

Kurt Davey, Founder of digital marketing and eCommerce strategy agency NEOVERVE, explains why he believes in bucking mainstream best practices in this context: “It doesn't make sense for us to keep clients blind to the collaborative process when they are the major stakeholder.”

How To Be Forthright With Clients

Beyond visibility, there are many ways to ensure transparency stays top-of-mind in your agency-client relationships.

Here are a few top tips to stay honest and prevent client turnover:

  • Be 100% honest about potential problems before they blow up
  • Explain the “why” behind any changes to a process or deliverable
  • Use an integrated tech stack that easily facilitates consistent updates

Finally, don’t worry so much about whether a client has specifically paid to have access to a piece of information. When you lock information behind a paywall, you send the message that you’re all about money, which can be damaging to the relationship long-term.

Like remote work, transparency is here to stay. It’s time to decide how you want it to look in your agency.

Need a daily reminder of why transparency matters and how to bring it to the table as a leader? Download our handy transparency tips sheet and hang it up in your office.

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AgenciesClient Relationships
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