Transparent Leadership

Adam Freed speaking to a room of teachers at our annual TpT conference in Anaheim

Ever had the experience where you are listening to a presentation by a leader at your company and you (and everyone else) is wondering, “I hear what they’re saying but what are they REALLY thinking?”. I’ve even heard of a leadership team that, one week, told their whole company that “things are great” and then laid off a number of people on the team the very next week.

At Teachers Pay Teachers, I’ve seen our Senior Leadership Team (SLT), which consists of C-level and VP-level staff, do things that have demonstrated a level of transparency that I have never heard of anywhere else and is something that I have come to value incredibly highly.

In this post, I want to share a few examples of that.

Company Level OKRs #

The first example is not unique but I do want to call it out as it is my first experience with it.

Every year and every quarter, we define our company level objectives and key results (OKRs). OKRs are tools that get the company to focus on outcomes, gain alignment, measure progress, and enable autonomy. Essentially, they are goals and they help us all rally around the same things. There’s a lot that goes in to writing them well and you can learn more about them here.

Every week, we take 5 minutes as a company to review a few of them on a slide that looks like this:

Presentation slide showing example Objectives and Key Results

In terms of transparency, this tool provides me clarity around what the SLT is aiming to do for the quarter and for the year. I know that these are the goals that they are reviewing on a weekly basis and I have a link to the document they use to track the company’s progress.

The Data Package #

Every week at Teachers Pay Teachers, we have a 30 minute, company-wide all-hands. In this all-hands, we spend 5 minutes reviewing key business metrics. Those metrics, in addition to a link to an in-depth look into our numbers, are auto-published daily in the #general slack channel and accessible to everyone!

Development Plans #

This was the best example of transparency that I have seen from a leadership team.

At the beginning of the year, our SLT collected feedback about their performance from people in the company. They did this by having a consultant solicit feedback through interviews with tens of people from all levels and across the organization. That feedback was shared, in both synthesized and raw form, with each member of the SLT. The team then shared the feedback they received with each other and put together development plans for themselves.

Here’s the part where that transparency is taken to another level: The SLT presented their development plans in a presentation to the company!!! :shocked_face: During and at the end of the presentation, they all talked about how it was tough to digest all that feedback, present it openly, and ask everyone to hold them accountable.

At Teachers Pay Teachers, one of our company’s core values is that we learn and grow together. This is just one way our SLT practices that value.

The Value of Transparent Leadership #

It’s clear that being a transparent leadership team takes a lot of effort, especially in a fast-moving, fast-growing company. Among other things, it requires a lot of communication that needs to be repeated because there are always new people in the company who haven’t heard it before. But, that effort is worth it.

Having a leadership team that is transparent about the company, about their process, and about themselves is incredibly empowering to the teams that they lead. It empowers teams to make the best decisions quickly because they don’t have to worry about whether they have all the context they need to make the best decisions. If they feel that they are missing some context, there isn’t hesitation in asking for that context because transparency is the default.

If you’re part of a leadership team or a leader on a team, I hope you consider creating channels and processes through which you can be more transparent with your team(s).

If you’re not part of a leadership team, push your leaders to create channels through which you and your whole company can regularly get context.

It’s going to help you, your team, and your whole company level up.

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