The idea of everyone being open and honest with one another in the workplace sounds to many like a bit of a pipe dream. It may be a nice ideal to strive to or a pleasant tagline for company meetings, but no one actually does it, right?
ConvertKit’s policy of honesty
Meet entrepreneur Nathan Barry, who runs the e-mail marketing company ConvertKit and who has made it his mission to prove that honesty really is the best policy when it comes to a professional environment.
The idea came to him, as he recounts in his blog, on a trip up in the mountains of North Carolina with four friends. He began discussing “a friend’s business and what we thought he really should do”. Having discussed the subject at length, he reflected: “for a second, I almost felt guilty for the comment. It was like gossiping about someone who wasn’t there. But actually, our comments and feedback were helpful. If I were him, I’d want to know.
“Then someone… said the idea that would result in the most valuable time of the weekend: “What if we talked about each other this way — but when they are present? That’s it! We all got excited.”
This idea by ConverKit is so simple that it almost seems as though it would be impossible for a business to see such significant improvements from such a straightforward concept. After all, if it really were that easy, every office across the globe would be doing it. Some critics may also be concerned that such a policy of honesty could breed a culture of resentment and judgement.
Barry addresses this, saying: “we all think of things each other should be doing, but don’t say it out of politeness. It’s considered rude to walk up to someone and give them your opinion on everything in their life.”
While Internal Communication within organisations is normal, this idea of promoting total honesty may seem radical to some.
The benefits and advantages of workplace honesty
“These kind of practices really work as we’ve seen first-hand”, says Pip Murr, Chief People Officer at from Me Learning. The company recently published an article highlighting research into how being more upfront with colleagues does offer substantial benefits.
A study by Arthur J Gallagher & Co on the subject of Internal Communication within organisations concluded that “companies risk being short-sighted if they view employee communication as a cost centre rather than a revenue driver”. Furthermore, the money spent on improving feedback between employees is an investment which can improve morale and reduce employee turnover. Therefore, this creates better productivity and has a net positive result on the effectiveness of a business.
The study’s findings
To come to this conclusion, the study first noted that 86% of organisations participating in the research have their internal communication faculties – in other words, the communication that goes on between employees within the business – dealt with by other departments, such as public relations and marketing. In fact, some companies went so far as to label their Internal Communication as ‘Internal Marketing’ or even ‘Internal PR’.
While obviously important, PR and Marketing are vastly different to Internal Communication. The vital organisational function of clear and concise communication therefore may not be fit for purpose in many instances. Data from the survey backs this up, with just over half (51%) of the respondents agreeing that the integration of internal and external communication functions meant to create better alignment just wasn’t happening in practice.
Put simply, this attempt to push together external and internal communication isn’t working out as it should.
Another key piece of damning evidence is the lack of care when it comes to measuring and evaluating the impact of Internal Communications. A mere 40% of IC Specialists view it as very important. Considering the focus of the profession, that figure is staggeringly low.
It should be no surprise then that 27% of Internal Communicators only report on things like audience uptake. This means that the only information they are getting are on top-level details, such as how many emails have been opened, and nothing more. As a result of this, a quarter of these organisations have no information about how their employees are actually engaging with the company or even any insights into their well-being.
This kind of system is obviously below par and also has the potential to lead to lower productivity and greater turnover in some instances. After all, if an employee has an issue and that issue is not dealt with efficiently and promptly, then that problem would at best remain unresolved and at worst, cause further issues. This would then create a more negative work environment for everyone involved.
Even more shockingly, 12% of organisations had no measurement whatsoever. This is evidence that a lot of organisations aren’t taking Internal Communications very seriously at all.
When you consider the state of Internal Communications in many organisations then, ConvertKit’s philosophy seems a lot less radical and a lot more like a breath of fresh air. Right now, many a lot of organisations are falling seriously short in this department, and many would conclude that improvement is necessary.
How have ConvertKit gone about solving this issue?
The solution is actually pretty simple. Two times each year, the ConvertKit staff meet up in small groups for an Internal Communication session. While this may sound like a standard practice, the difference here is not only the focus on honesty but that for most of the time, the subject of each 15-minute session isn’t allowed to speak.
For ten minutes, each member of this 35-person company is given direct feedback as the team speaks openly about them. They then have five minutes to ask questions and respond back. These exchanges are aimed at getting constructive criticism in order to improve productivity and are intended to be a positive way of improving both people’s work output and overall work life.
So, how is it working out?
The results have been extremely impressive, with ConvertKit making $9.5 million in revenue last year. This represents more than a 100% increase on their profits from 2016, when they made $4 million.
Barry himself believes that this unique policy is a big part of that success, and despite initial reservations by members of the team that it would be a judgemental, negative experience, the sessions have become a vital part of ConvertKit’s growth. This philosophy also carries over into things such as their open book policy, where its employees can look up all company expenditures.
While plenty of companies wouldn’t dream of following in such radically transparent footsteps, there’s little doubt that a lot of current Internal Communication practices leave a lot to be desired. Many could learn a lesson or two from ConvertKit’s way of doing things.