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Embracing Radical Transparency Brings Strength To United Way Suncoast

When we travel by plane and experience turbulence, we look to the pilot to communicate what’s happening and our flight attendants to prepare us for the bumpy air. The more specific information and details they offer, the better.

Our organizations, our families, our teams look to the leaders for the same input and feedback. It is critical that we provide it consistently. Sure, it is easy to keep your head down and plow ahead, or to even say to our kids, “I’m the parent and it is my decision.” Yet the more we proactively and transparently share, the more we fulfill one of leadership’s most important roles: build trust.

We live in very dynamic and challenging times. If we have learned anything in the last two years, it’s that change will not slow, and challenges abound. People continue to suffer, whether it stems from the impacts of the pandemic or the rising anxiety from the seemingly never-ending pace of progress that demands a response.

I joined United Way Suncoast in November of 2019, three months before COVID arrived at our doorstep. I brought my commitment to radical transparency to the organization, and clearly communicated this philosophy to our board as one of my core values. I wanted everyone to know what to expect from my leadership and what they were going to get from me.

This isn’t a value that comes easy. It’s hard. It’s something that takes courage, consistent implementation, and unyielding effort. You must embrace the learning lessons borne from this approach. Sharing openly is never easy for anyone, but it is almost always the best path to creating solutions and strengthening relationships.

So, how do we practice radical transparency at United Way Suncoast?

It takes a lot of listening and learning. Within my first few months, I outlined the challenges and opportunities facing our organization. I created a vision for what the path ahead looked like. Not only did I share this with my board for its input and support, but I also shared this with my entire team. I created a video that everyone could watch on their own time and followed up at our all-team meeting. I used that vision as a touchstone for the organization’s work. I knew that I did not have all the answers, but I did communicate the framework we were going to use to get those answers.

We share practically everything. We send out our financials to our board and our team. We conduct an annual team engagement survey and comprehensively share those results (and great feedback) to our team. We created an execution plan for our strategies, and we continue to come together to share our progress and seek input from our colleagues on how we can strengthen the work. We encourage our team to lift up challenges and opportunities because we share so comprehensively with them. The answers always lie with those closest to the issue. We also embrace sharing in smaller ways like our outlook calendars. These are nearly completely open for all in the team to access.

We confronted the pandemic with a deep commitment to transparency, even if the answer was, “We are still trying to figure it out,” or, “We don’t know.” Especially in those early days, we huddled our team members together twice a day to communicate broadly about our actions and next steps, to create greater unity and ensure they knew our direction and how they could help.

We remain open about challenges and opportunities. When we do this, we expand the possibility of solutions. In fact, we strive to consistently facilitate team conversations to gather input, whether it’s obtaining feedback on physical workplace needs or gathering input on the roadmaps developed to execute our strategic plan. Being open means holding space for hard conversations. We do not shy away from hearing all perspectives and lifting up the concept of radical candor. It is only when we proactively and openly address issues that we can move more quickly to solutions.

Sharing our impact represents one of the biggest ways we embrace radical transparency. We’ve elevated our data work to provide needed insights for decisions and visualize the scope of the issues we tackle like the housing crisis. When Mackenzie Scott decided to invest $20 million in our mission, we communicated this transformative gift to the community and created a webpage for comprehensive updates.

Finally, we share the framework for how we make decisions, empowering our team to elevate and lead. This is key. If a team doesn’t understand how decisions are made and how they can be part of that process, we can’t pivot or move as quickly as we should. This is imperative for being agile and responsive, especially when you are an organization serving our community.

What’s the impact of our radical transparency? Our team members can communicate clearly about our work. They deepen relationships with their peers, they build their confidence in our work and make needed connections. Our annual engagement survey tells us that our team highly values this approach, especially in these current times.

Mother Theresa said, “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” I know this is one of the most important and impactful ways to strengthen our organization. It isn’t the easiest road, but it leads to the best destinations.

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