HR through the looking glass – transparency and the employer brand

Basil LeRoux, head of HR practice at executive search firm Berwick Partners argues that genuine transparency must start in the HR department.

Business transparency is yet again under the spotlight as Whitehall seeks to accelerate its shake up of UK corporate governance. Its latest proposal, due to come into force by June 2018, will require publicly-listed companies to publish the pay ratio between their chief executive and the average British worker.

However, while the availability of such headline metrics is a step in the right direction, true transparency must be driven by the HR department. If executed correctly, granting current and prospective employees greater visibility of their goals, targets and the performance of the business can be key to enhancing the employer brand and increasing staff engagement and longevity.

The drive for transparency has been influenced by a number of factors, the forerunner of these being digitisation. With more business-critical information being captured and analysed than ever before, organisations have enhanced access to data, much of which is only shared with a select few individuals on the board or in senior management.

The increased prevalence of digital networking resources such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor means that insights into working practices are easily accessible and highly influential in the hiring process. In a market where talent is highly sought after, improving business transparency can act to build employer trust and differentiate an organisation from its competitors. If such initiatives are to be successful, HR directors must play a leading role in implementing positive change.

When searching for examples of businesses that have built a strong employer brand, it is unsurprising that tech giant Google is often cited as a market leader. However, look past the sleeping pods or free dry cleaning and you’ll find a transparent way of setting targets that has proved hugely motivating to staff. All employee objectives are published internally and are visible to all, ensuring that each member of the workforce understands how they and their colleagues are contributing to the overall goals, vision and progress of the firm. This oversight is widely recognised as providing employees with a greater sense of ownership and autonomy, which in turn increases job satisfaction and longevity.

Another organisation that has utilised forward-thinking HR practices to engage staff is Gatwick Airport, which has devised a transparent way of gathering and acting upon employee feedback. Large-scale focus groups are carried out to engage staff and understand what factors are causing dissatisfaction or limiting their enjoyment of the job. This information is then used by the HR department to identify its priorities for operational change. So far the initiative has seen staff vote on new styles of uniform and changes to shift policy that offer employees greater visibility over the nature of their working patterns.

HR teams looking for inspiration to enhance their employer brand should also look to organisations that have a rich history of employee longevity and structural innovation. American multinational W.L.Gore, the parent company best known for its Gore Tex fabric, is renowned for its people practices, the implementation of which has consistently seen it included on ‘best companies to work for’ lists over the past 20 years.

The business utilises a flat ‘lattice’ organisational structure that empowers teams of complimentary, talented individuals to work together in autonomy. As well as this, progression and compensation is decided by the analysis of peer assessment feedback; a transparent process that encourages the building of strong working relationships and has contributed to the firm’s exceptionally-low staff turnover rate.

To increase employee engagement, organisations should consider the impact of publishing information about the business’ performance and goals, as well as employee targets. While doing so effectively can enhance individuals’ sense of buy in, sharing such information requires a high degree of business maturity. Commercially-sensitive information must be protected and sharing too much detail regarding the financial health of the business could cause employees undue stress, so striking a balance is vital.

One area where transparency can prove motivating is employee promotion and progression – explaining why certain members of the team have been elevated, and providing others with clear targets or goals that must be hit for them to follow suit, can help limit frustration and drive productivity.

In the brave new world of business transparency it is essential that organisations look past headline statistics and begin to understand how openness at a ground level can drive real business benefit. To do so effectively, HR directors must have the confidence and conviction to drive this agenda at a board level. Those that triumph are poised to increase employee engagement, maximise productivity and enhance the attraction and retention of talented staff.

Basil Le Roux is head of the HR practice at executive search firm Berwick Partners

Owen Gough

Owen Gough

Owen Gough is a reporter for He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...