First Secret of Doing Business: Keep No Secrets

March 4, 2011
Nashville Business Journal

A “no secrets” approach to leadership offers tremendous benefit—and surprisingly little risk. Over the years, I have met and worked with business people who were reluctant to share more than “the basics” with employees. They all suffered from that “too much information” mentality—that somehow sharing too much might lead a competitor to uncover a big trade secret or more confusion among employees.

There are a variety of justifications for keeping workers—and even business partners—in the dark, but in my experience these are unfounded. Instead, it’s this very secrecy that erodes productivity in organizations.

My longtime mentor and boss, a commensurate business philosopher and storyteller, believed sharing information with everyone was at the heart of a strong organization. People would do their best if they felt connected to a team that kept no secrets, he said, and this philosophy became a cornerstone of the Tractor Supply Company success story.

Trust building: Sharing information goes a long way in building trust and loyalty in the business world. One clear demonstration of Tractor Supply Company’s belief in gaining trust through transparency was its decade-long publication and distribution of an annual report—when the company was still private.

Job security: Put yourself in the position of an employee who is either in the know or in the dark. When included, you feel like you genuinely belong and can contribute more than just labor. If you are left in the dark, you are more likely to feel insecure and suspicious, and may be recruited more easily to work for another company. 

Good ideas: In most businesses the best ideas come from those closest to the work. The more knowledge those people possess, the more productive their ideas. In my nearly 30 years visiting hundreds of Tractor Supply stores and talking with thousands of employees, I can say with sincerity that the best and most practical ideas about our products and processes came from the folks in the stores. 

Employee engagement: With no secrets about how and why a company does business, employees understand or are free to inquire about all aspects of the organization—sales, new products, trends, the direction of the company, etc. Likewise, in a no-secrets environment, leaders who share, ask good questions and listen carefully can collect the best overall knowledge about the business. 

Collaborative culture: When you share your business vision with employees and business partners they can better grasp the value of their contribution. Employees who are included and valued can become engaged more productively, contribute more frequently and build loyalty more quickly.

So remember, keep no secrets. Trust breeds trust. Trust your people and they will trust you and your organization as a whole.
Joe Scarlett,
Retired Chairman of Tractor Supply Company
Founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute

Comments and Discussion:

Inclusion & No Secrets

Posted Jan 13, 2011 at 6:00 PM by Jack Rahaim
Joe: I make my living as a consultant and it always confuses the hell out of me when clients have a culture of exclusion and secrecy even to the point of not involving top managers in strategic planning. Part of the 'heavy lifting' I do in the beginning of an engagement is to get the client to agree to widen the circle of participation. Invariably, once they have the experience of one inclusive meeting, realize that their people not only thirst for inclusion but have something to offer, the working premise is that they'll be at all future planning sessions. The advantage, as you allude to above, is that the senior managers now have an ego investment in making 'their' plan work. Jack


Posted Jan 13, 2011 at 12:43 PM by Jay Johnston
I pray for all of your articles to gain the power of widespread osmosis and creep gently into the minds of our employers!

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