Brendan: Welcome to the Culture of Leadership. We have conversations that help you develop and become a more confident leader.
This is my conversation with Hailley Griffis. Hailley’s a leader who lives and breathes transparency. Transparency is a core value at Buffer, a social media management software company, where she’s head of communications and content. Hailley’s also a co-host of MakeWorkWork, a podcast about career growth, creative work, and striving to be better.
One of the benefits of leading with transparency, ultimately it creates an environment for open, honest, and genuine conversations. This results in people feeling heard, leading to greater job satisfaction, and a level of engagement that most organizations can only dream of. If leading with transparency is this good, why not more leaders do it? That’s a question you can answer for yourself whilst listening to Hailley share how to lead with transparency.
This is The Culture of Leadership podcast. I’m Brendan Rogers. Sit back and enjoy my conversation with Hailley.
Hailley: Transparency can be extremely overwhelming from a couple of different standpoints. It can be overwhelming from the standpoint of you’re new. I just joined Buffer and I'm logging into everything for the first time, and Buffer is very transparent. You get access to everything all at once.
We have transparent email systems, we have transparent documents, we share all of our project files, notes for everything. You can see everyone's calendar. All of a sudden you join this new organization and you have access to absolutely everything.
It can be a little bit overwhelming in the sense of where do I start, how do I dig through what's important to me, what's relevant, since all of this is transparent.
But transparency can also be overwhelming if you have a person who has said, I will be transparent. You now have to hold yourself to that line. It's a lot of work. I think that people don't always know how much work it is to stay transparent.
We're very transparent at Buffer and that does not happen accidentally. That happens because we put resources into that, that happens because we recommit to this. We're transparent, and we like to say this a lot. We're not only transparent when things are good, we're also transparent when things are bad.
That's where most people will fall off on transparency. They don't want to share that they've had to go through layoffs, which we shared transparently on our blog. It's hard and it's not easy to do, so that can be really overwhelming as to how am I going to share all of this story, all of the context behind what happened here and why this this outcome happened.
I think it can be a lot if you're just full-blown all transparency and you don't really have the resources to help people navigate through that. It can definitely be overwhelming.
Brendan: If a person comes into this environment at Buffer and transparency, what's the person that thrives in an environment of transparency?
Hailley: I think it is two sides of it. It’s someone who is curious, who wants to find information, and is just willing to look for that information themselves. Because if you are, you'll find it. If you're looking for something, if you want to know how to get somewhere, you'll figure it out. Which can be quite powerful for people who are self starters in that way or who know how to take in information.
The other thing, too, is you have to be someone who is open to that level of transparency. If you are surrounded by people who are being transparent, if you're in this culture of transparency, and you're not transparent, it is glaring, it is very obvious.
One of the things that we do is that you're sharing early and often. You're sharing really regularly throughout your work. Someone who isn't transparent might do all of their work on their own and then make a big reveal at the end that's really surprising to people. Maybe in a good way, but maybe in a bad way as well. That's the opposite of transparency.
Brendan: Let's jump into the dangers. What dangers do you see with transparency?
Hailley: I think it depends on the transparency with dangers. I haven't really thought of it from a dangerous standpoint. I think that we always get privacy concerns, and are definitely privacy concerns when it comes to transparency. That's very real.
We do everything to stay on the line of defaulting to transparency at Buffer, which is the way we phrase our value while maintaining privacy for teammates, not putting anyone at risk.
I'm not really sure, when it comes to dangers, specifically, like when you think of dangers that could be quite serious.
Brendan: Let's call it down one to risks.
Hailley: The risks. I think there's always a risk that your level of transparency, especially our level of transparency at Buffer is just not everyone's cup of tea. You just might not reach everyone. You might actually be excluding people. Some people might say that that's bad, but I think in some cases it's good. It's like we've stood up for who we are and we truly believe in this. If you don't agree with us, that's completely fine, you can use another service. You can join a different company. You don't need to work at Buffer. You don't need to use Buffer as a tool.
I think that's definitely a risk. One of them in particular is that we got a lot is people said, oh well, if you share all of your team salaries online—which we do; anyone can see the salary of someone who works at Buffer—you're going to lose your employees very easily because another company could just come up and poach them, and say I'm going to offer them an extra $10,000 or $20,000 and poach that teammate away from you.
We haven't actually seen that because we're offering more than just the compensation. We're offering a full benefits package. Buffer is an incredible company. We have a really strong vision and we have really great leadership. That's a different style of place to work. You can't just add an extra $10,000 and get the same experience elsewhere. But that's a risk that I think a lot of people think they see with transparency.
Brendan: How much money would it take for you to move?
Hailley: It would take a lot of money. I think it would take a lot of money because Buffer is so phenomenal. It's just such an incredibly special place to work. We also have a four day work week. What's the price of me working 1/5 day a week, right? But that time, you can't take that time back.
Brendan: Well said. It's a bit of a short-term motivator, too, financial reward isn't?
Hailley: It is. You see a lot of research that says that after a certain amount of money, your happiness isn't going to increase. Your happiness will stay the same and maybe you'll spend more of it on different things. Whether or not you need those things is probably personal opinion. I also think I'm like, well, I don't want my lifestyle to change that much. I'm very happy as is.
Brendan: Being a leader in Buffer and therefore a transparent leader and embracing transparency, what's been the biggest challenge for you in embracing that environment as a leader?
Hailley: It's always difficult owning up to mistakes in general, as a leader, as anyone, and doing it in an environment where everyone is seeing that you made a mistake and that you're now owning up to this mistake and saying yes, this is on me, can be very difficult. It doesn't feel fun to know how many people are on a certain channel where you're posting something or where you're doing something. But ultimately, I do think it makes us better. But that's one of them that's definitely challenging.
Brendan: What have you found that people coming into the environment, into Buffer, have most been challenged with? For example, you've mentioned a number of things that Buffer is transparent about, that probably other companies would not even consider at this point in time. Are there any patterns about things that people find most challenging in the environment around transparency?
Hailley: I honestly think that it can be flow of information. I really think that that's one, is flow of information, trying to find the right information, understanding how to share information transparently. If you are used to a workplace, if you're used to a culture of keeping secrets, it can be really difficult to adjust to sharing progress on your work.
That might not come naturally, and maybe you weren't rewarded for that in the past. In fact, it was the opposite. It was like, don't tell me anything until you've done the project. Just do your work and be heads down. Whereas we're trying to be a little bit more iterative, trying to share more frequent updates. That can definitely be challenging.
I think that there is something about your work being seen by everyone at the company. A lot of people chime in with thoughts and opinions. We have a great culture of feedback within Buffer as well. I can imagine that that can be challenging.
Ultimately, we screen for this in our interview process. We are looking for people who have examples of either really loving transparency and being able to demonstrate that, having good examples of transparency being worked into their work, and a number of other Buffer values, and transparency is just one of them. Ultimately, we do look for people who are going to thrive in an environment and in a culture, where everyone else is going to be transparent.
To be really effective there, you have to have that trust. I think that comes in through the interviews, the company is really setting that up. Ideally, someone is coming in to somewhere that is already established. There's trust, there's transparency, people are leading by example. You can join in and have a lot of really solid examples for how to do transparency right.
I can imagine that, for a lot of people, that flow of information can be a lot, and then that changing your patterns and habits to be sharing early and often to be more iterative and to be doing—we call it building in public—to really be sharing more about your work more transparently, both internally and externally at Buffer. And that can be very new for people.
We've definitely made some product managers or engineers uncomfortable by sharing their work on social media like my team, specifically, maybe before they're ready, or pushing them to get something out before they were expecting it to go out. That can definitely be uncomfortable and new, but I think people buy into that. That's why they joined Buffer. They know that we're like this, it's not really a shock, even coming into the interview process.
Brendan: If it was, you're not being very transparent if it was a shock?
Hailley: Yeah. If it were, I feel like it comes up a lot on our job descriptions. We're one of the few companies that also put the salary range in our job descriptions before it was even required. It's required by law in a couple of US states now and a couple of other places around the world.
We've always done that. We have a transparent salary calculator. If you could have the option to go in there and see what your salary would be. I think you would get some hints based on our job page and based on the job description as well.
Brendan: You do lead a team at Buffer. Are you involved in the recruitment of your people as well?
Hailley: I was, yes. I have three folks that I manage. I hired each of them, which was a very fun experience.
Brendan: How do you filter for transparency?
Hailley: Transparency in the roles that I'm looking at, which are content marketing, social media marketing, it should come through in work, it should come through in communication, it should come through and work examples. I've had great examples of transparency that people will give me when I'm interviewing them, where they say, this wasn't working, or I was told this, but I don't think that it was true, or it wasn't going to resonate with people and I brought this up. I shared this several times with my manager. I shared this publicly or something like that.
Those are some great examples. I've also had people give me examples where they're like, well, this wasn't working, but I really didn't tell anyone, and then things fell to pieces. I later told the next person all the things that went wrong, and I was like, yeah, it feels like a little late on the transparency here. Maybe not as ingrained with some people, but yeah. It's more so that we filter for Buffer values in general, and transparency is just one of them. It's one of the things that we talk to people about.
It's one of the things you want to make sure that people are comfortable with, too, when we're interviewing. At the end of this, if you get a job and if you accept the job, we're going to put your salary next to your name on a public website that is referenced pretty frequently, hoping that you will be okay with that and that you've made it this far in the interview, because you would be okay with that. But we do make sure to bring that up.
Brendan: Absolutely. I know in my own research, it's pretty easy to find lots of information around. People have written all sorts of stories around Buffer's transparency, let alone the stuff on your website and articles around it. It's very transparent, very easy to find. Thank you for making my job a little bit easier.
Hailley: I think that's a part of transparency, because what I'm talking about, which is information overwhelm, if we're talking about the worst side of transparency, just you have everything. That's almost like a bad example of transparency. To me, it is transparency because you are sharing everything, but it's not discoverable. I think if something isn't discoverable correctly, then is it truly transparent?
A good example of this is our salaries, which is that you used to be able to Google Buffer salaries, and it would take you to a blog post that will point you to a Google sheet that was expired, that would point you to a different Google Sheet, that will give you our salaries. Is that discoverable? Kind of, but not really. It wasn't what we wanted. Now, we have buffer.com/salaries.
You can get there from several places on the main website. You can navigate there, which you couldn't before. You would have had to go to the blog and search there or just put it into Google. That's one of the things that we were rating for. Looking at that project I was rating for, how can we make this more discoverable? Because in my opinion and in our opinion at Buffer, that makes it more transparent, because it's discoverable now.
I hope that your job was easy. I'm glad that your job was easy. It makes me happy to hear that, because we're trying to make that information easily digestible and easily discoverable for people.
Brendan: Thumbs up. You've done very well in my books.
Hailley: You didn't have to go through two Google Sheets to get there, so that's a win.
Brendan: Not that I remember at all. It was pretty seamless, I think. You guys are definitely living and breathing, absolutely. That was part of the process of just, again, I research on all of my guests and the process around this to make sure it's valuating for all of us.
Just doing that and then in the ease of getting information, it was living and breathing, the topic we're talking about, transparency. To me, I've seen it, I've lived it. I'm not even working in Buffer. I haven't used the Buffer product. I know that's a big thing for you guys with people working in your environment, but everything I've touched so far is very transparent, let alone your other nine values that sit there as well.
Hailley: The rest of it is all fantastic as well, and I think that it shines through, too. Our product roadmap is also transparent. You talked about the product for customers that we have and who work with us. I really do think one of the things that we hear from people regularly that we've heard from people for years is that one of the reasons they love using Buffer, there are other tools.
There are a lot of other tools that do similar things to what we do if not the same thing in some instances. But they'll choose us because they know that we walk the walk when it comes to transparency. They can see what's going on on our product roadmap. They can look up our revenue if they want to. They know that we're living by these values that are very important to us and that might be important to them as well, so they end up choosing us.
Brendan: In your role, the Head of Communications and PR stuff for Buffer, what does a normal day look like for you with your team and living the transparency side of things? Your transparent leadership day.
Hailley: Just in terms of transparent leadership, that's a good question. All of our communication is, for the most part, transparent. You can still have one on one chats with people, of course, closed off groups, but all of our communication is transparent.
When I'm giving feedback on blog posts that I'm editing or if I'm looking over something, giving someone praise, looking at something that we need to fix, edit, or looking at something that's gone wrong on the website, these are all happening in public channels. This conversation is all happening in public channels.
I think that it's just approaching it from a mindset in the case of giving feedback or in the case of, hey, this needs to be different. We're always approaching it from a place of curiosity, like, did you see this? Is this just me? I could have this wrong. I feel like one of my favorite things about Buffer is people will often approach it with, I could be wrong, what I'm seeing here is this. Are you seeing the same thing?
Today, I told someone, I was like, hey, this link in your blog post, it's broken. Then it turns out, I was like, can you look into this? She looks into it. I click the blog post again, she's like, does this work? I'm like, no, it's still broken. We finally looped in someone else, it was like, it was me. It was not her. It was not the link. It was me, and how you handle that publicly and how you handle a conversation publicly.
That's such a small example, is an example of the transparently, like collaborating, you're working in public and all these different channels. We make it very easy. A lot of people from across the company jump in and join all different channels. We don't just have marketing people in the marketing channel. I think, actually, we have most of the company in the marketing channel, which is always fun.
Also, like I mentioned in transparent communication, so a lot of the discussions, we're looking at the 2023 budget. That conversation is happening transparently between those of us who are leaders on the marketing team and our director of business operations who's managing the budget. Anyone could go in, poke around and see what the budget is, see what we're looking at cutting. We're looking at making some changes. They would be able to poke around and see that if they wanted to.
I send a lot of email communications. Most of my email communications, I'm BCCing an internal list for marketing. Anyone who wants to know what's going on in the marketing team, maybe I'm pitching reporters or maybe I'm working with someone who wants to collaborate with us on something, I'll BCCing a marketing list. Anyone could go, catch up, and see like, oh, we have talked to Brendan before, actually. Hailley was just talking to him.
If we want to reach out to him for something else, here are some contacts that we already have in that conversation. Or maybe, I drop off for some reason, my daughter is out sick, I need to jump off, and I can say, hey, can you reach out to Brendan? Actually, I can't make the show. And someone else will be able to pick up the thread where I left off and have all of the context. I think there are a couple of examples. I feel like it shines through mostly in communication and collaboration.
Brendan: Hailley, I have to share for complete transparency that whilst you're sorting out some stuff for us when we were prepping for the interview, what happened with my camera was I had one end of the link plugged in. The other one was slightly loose. Just to be transparent, I'm very incompetent around technology.
Hailley: Oh, no.
Brendan: True, it happened.
Hailley: It happened.
Brendan: I'm revealing that to the world now.
Hailley: There's vulnerability in transparency, too.
Hailley: Owning up to your mistakes.
Brendan: I feel like I just have to. You're making me be more transparent.
Hailley: I love it. It's good for everyone. Owning the areas where you are not an expert is one of my favorite things. Just jumping into conversations and being like, yeah, this is not my area of expertise, so who has more information here, or what are some suggestions that other people have? That is one of my favorite things.
But then on the flip side, being like, okay, I have really strong opinions about this other thing. Feel free to challenge me on it if it's not right. I like that vulnerability, and just knowing where you're at with skill sets is also useful.
Brendan: How important is that vulnerability, that transparency linking to trust and being a trusted leader?
Hailley: It's hugely important. I think it can be really difficult to trust people if they're never vulnerable at work, if they never own up to their mistakes, or if they never say that anything is wrong. How can you believe them?
Also, let's say, someone that I'm managing, if I'm always telling them, you're doing a fantastic job, you're doing a fantastic job on their good days and on their bad days, and I'm never telling them anything otherwise, is also not very helpful for them in terms of growth. It would be better if I were honest with them and if I were making sure that I was giving them constructive feedback. Sometimes they are doing awesome.
Honestly, the people I work with are phenomenal, which is great. But there's always room for improvement for all of us than just being open, honest, and fair about all the areas that there are for improvement, and not like blanket statements going with kindness. I feel like vulnerability can play into that and it can help build more trust.
We have a private channel just for our marketing team, where we do daily check-ins. We use this app called Kona, and you can check in. It's like a traffic light check in, so green, yellow, or red. You can just check in with, how are you doing right now? You can assign an emoji and you can share a little bit more information if you want to.
It's a private channel. We only want your immediate collaborators to be able to see this information like it's just between you and your team. That goes a really long way to building trust. Suddenly, no other things are going on in someone's life. Maybe they're really nervous because they're buying a house, maybe someone from their family is having health issues or something like that.
You don't want to put that in the public channel where everyone's going to be in there, but having a little bit more of a private space for that is really nice. That goes a long way to building trust. That allows everyone to be more vulnerable.
Kona actually is fantastic as a tool for prompting you. If you're checking in green all the time, they're like, maybe you are always green, but make sure that you're also being vulnerable, honest, and is everyday green? Or sometimes, are they maybe yellow days that you're saying or green, because you want to put on a good face? They also are opinionated in that way, which I really like.
I do think it goes a really long way. I think that being transparent, being vulnerable also at the right times builds trust. It's something that we've seen in a lot of different areas. We've published blog posts about Buffer's growth and about Buffer's metrics. A lot of times in the past, we've shared all sorts of information, especially when it was uncommon. I think people would find it very unusual, but it has always built trust with our customers, but then it has also opened up opportunities for us which is really cool.
I think there was a funny story of early on, the founders were sharing some of these numbers transparently, and one of them, they were calculating incorrectly. I think it was MRR. Someone commented and they're like, hey, looking at these numbers, I think you're actually making that calculation for your monthly recurring revenue incorrectly. I think it's actually this.
That was extremely useful for them to have been that open and transparent, and they got that free advice from that free correction. This was a very long time ago. I promised that we are definitely correcting. We're calculating MRR correctly these days. That level of transparency and openness can really be beneficial in a lot of different areas, not just building trust, but building trust is definitely a huge one.
Brendan: Also, that feedback shows a great level of engagement to people actually connecting with information and looking at it, critiquing, and passing on the feedback. That's great engagement from your perspective and the role you do.
Hailley: Yeah, it is. I feel like we've always had a leg up on that engagement and have on building community. I feel like transparency is a part of that. People just connected with us, they're like, I know what Buffer is about. You might know more about us than you know about some people very close to you. Some people don't know their immediate family members' salaries, but they know what we make.
Money can be such a hard conversation topic that people don't want to talk about. I don't know if that might have people feel a little bit closer to us, but we definitely have an engaged community. We've always had a great group of customers and folks who are rooting for Buffer. I do think transparency is a big part of that. People love knowing as much as they do about Buffer. We've heard more than once, I know more about Buffer than I do about the company that I work for.
Brendan: Good feedback for your business. Terrible example for the business they're in, I suppose.
Hailley: I personally would not endorse an opaque—is that what you call it—business, a very secretive business? I wouldn't endorse that personally, but some people, to each their own.
Brendan: Can you overshare? Can you be too transparent?
Hailley: I think you definitely can. I think there's a point where it's like, okay, are you sharing information for a certain reason? Is this going to be helpful, useful, valuable? Is this going to help with decisions? Is it going to help with bonding, with relationships?
Is it going to help with doing something on a project moving something forward? Or are you just sharing it because you want to? Maybe it will be a little bit overwhelming for the person on the other end and not really help with any of those areas, not help with relationship building, or not necessarily help move projects forward. I definitely think you can overshare.
Yeah, it's definitely a line that you have to walk and that you have to be comfortable with understanding what lies on one side and what lies on the other. I think that that line is different for everyone. I wouldn't say there's like, oh, at Buffer, we don't talk about X, specifically. I think there are probably groups of people who are comfortable with some things and who aren't with others, and it's very individual.
Brendan: Does that speak to a person's intent around the sharing?
Hailley: Probably. I think a lot of our transparency comes from a really good place. It comes from a place of wanting to (again) build trust for us as a team, to help us operate. Because we're sharing early and often, because we're sharing so regularly, we can collaborate better. But if that oversharing is maybe coming from just a more self-centered place, potentially, maybe like more of an inner-focused place and less of a focus on work and on moving projects forward, then I could definitely see that.
Brendan: Hailley, I want the gory stories now. When has oversharing or when has been too transparent come back and smashed you in the face?
Hailley: Oh, gosh.
Brendan: That ‘oh, gosh’ has been a few examples.
Hailley: Yeah, there always have to be examples, right? You can take anything too far.
Brendan: Please share. I'm rubbing my hands together.
Hailley: You can take anything too far. We experimented with transparent feedback, which was, if I'm saying, hey, Brendan, I think that the fact that you can't connect to your camera is unprofessional, that's an example.
Brendan: I appreciate your feedback, and you're right.
Hailley: I put it in a public Slack channel that could easily turn into finger-pointing. Everyone will be like, yeah, you know, I hate it when Brendan does that. He should really figure this out. That doesn't feel great for you. That doesn't help anyone else. There's just been a bunch of finger-pointing here.
I could have just said, hey, make sure you check your wire on your camera, see you in a bit, not a big deal. Really not a huge deal. It's an entirely different conversation at that point.
We tried transparent feedback, and it did turn into a little bit more. It didn't feel good. It felt more like finger-pointing, so we've reeled that back. Feedback happens between managers in their direct reports and sometimes between maybe their managers or another manager on the team who's experienced something, but it's not getting shared with the whole company. I think that that feels better for absolutely everyone.
Brendan: As a leadership group at Buffer, are there conversations around where is that line around transparency? What is not touchable? Or are there areas of the business that are maybe not touchable around transparency?
Hailley: I don't think there are. We really talk about everything we dig into. You dig into everything that you want to know about the business. That comes up quite regularly. I wouldn't say that the leadership group at Buffer having conversations saying, okay, let's all make sure that we don't talk about this. That's definitely not happening.
But maybe more so about, oh, hey, here's something that we don't talk about a lot or that we don't have a lot of information about. Maybe we should find a way to share that information more openly. Maybe there's something that we might know, as a leadership group that's coming up. But that's a rare example. It's very hard to give an example of that.
I would say that more so, it's like, there's a topic—again, transparency takes a lot of work—that we haven't shared more on purely because no one has had time, and then it's like, oh, hey, a couple of people are asking about this, we should make sure that this information is available to everyone at the company not just within this leadership group. Like who's going to be able to dedicate time to getting that out there. But yeah, it's less.
That conversation about like, here's the line with transparency and more so the conversation of like, okay, do we have a good way to share this? When's the next time we're giving an update on this other thing? There is a lot of internal communication happening, and Buffer is very strategic. Yeah, I personally love it. It's one of my favorite things to see that level of internal transparency.
We do a monthly all hands. That's a fantastic way for anyone at the company to get information from a high level, from our CEO, but then from everyone who leads a team at Buffer, too, from all of the different areas, to peek into that area and see exactly what they're working on. Maybe some challenges, how they're doing with their goals, their reporting and all of that. There is a lot of information available. I wouldn't say that there's an untouchable line that we have.
Brendan: From memory—correct me from wrong—Buffer's always been a remote environment, a remote organization?
Brendan: Do you think that it's easier or harder to be transparent in a fully remote organization versus an in-person organization?
Hailley: Yeah, like in-office? I don't know. I have had very few office experiences, and I've avoided those intentionally. I have noticed that the same things happen. People will go off into certain rooms and talk about things and not share with other people.
I do think that being remote has forced us to communicate more intentionally. It's not, hey, whoever's in this room is getting this update, anyone who's not here might just be passed it through word of mouth by their work friends next week. It's more like, hey, we're writing this down, we're sharing it in a public channel, it's getting shared.
Somehow, everyone will be able to reference later. You'll be able to pull up in another way later. That is very much a remote work way of working. It happens to be a way that is beneficial to transparency as well so that we can have that documentation. I do think that documentation is a really big part of transparency.
That can be something definitely that people who are in office and people who don't have remote environments, they struggle with that level of communication because they don't need to do it in their every day. To document something, to write it down, and to share that update will not be the habit.
That's not always true. There are some in-office places that operate as remote first, but in a lot of instances that I see, it can be a little bit more difficult to have that level of transparency purely because of the way that they communicate.
Brendan: Joel is the founder or one of the founders. I think there were co-founders of Buffer?
Hailley: Yeah, and Joel is now our CEO. He has always been our CEO.
Brendan: Culture is an affliction of leadership and really driving transparency. Do you know why at the heart of this topic, transparency, why it's such an important thing for the ultimate leader and leaders of the organization?
Hailley: You're so right too, because Joel definitely drives this. He's one of the people who I saw some of his emails about making salaries transparent. You can't make salaries transparent without leadership being fully on board with that, right? It is very interesting.
I know from talking to Joel, we've gone over this a couple times. He's done a lot of interviews that I've listened to as well. There are a couple of different things that happened for him. He built at least one other company before he started Buffer. He blogged about his experience then, too. Blogging was all the rage then or at least the things that more people were into in the 2010s, I would say, or even earlier than that when he was building his first company.
He was following other people who were sharing. He was just interested in how these people are building a business because he was building a business. That's the way that he came about it with Buffer. It was just like, I'm going to share how I'm doing this.
Buffer was originally a hacker project in November, build-a-business-in-30-days kind of thing, and launched it by November 30th. Buffer was originally part of that. That was a project he was working on. I think people probably shared updates throughout that project, so he got into the habit of sharing early then.
I've also spoken to him. It sounds like one of his last work experiences before he started Buffer, they were also very not transparent with revenue and transparent with a couple of key things. He only later realized like, oh, yeah, that actually didn't feel great. At the time, sometimes you can always pinpoint like, what's going on here? Why do I not feel good in this environment? And it sounds like later on, he was like, oh, yeah, that didn't ultimately feel great. He definitely built the opposite of that with Buffer, because it is truly an environment where you can get access to so much information.
For me, in a PR role, I always feel fantastic pointing reporters to pages if they ask me for information. It's so funny, because the last one, they'd be like, well, can you tell me what's your churn or can you tell me something? I'm like, oh, yeah, actually, here's a link to this.
I remember I sent the spreadsheet when we used to still have a spreadsheet of salaries to a reporter once. She was just like, can I link to this in my article? I was like, yeah, you can totally link to this. You can share this with other people. She could not believe it, and that is the best feeling for me.
I think that culture of transparency and being able to have that in your work really does make a difference. It's more obvious in some roles than in others. In PR, if I'm only relaying the information that I am being given, but I can't prove that it's true, I have to trust the people that I work with that they are giving me the correct information that I'm then relaying to reporters.
We are really relying on trust alone here, and you might not always have that in every organization. Whereas with Buffer, oftentimes, I don't even ask anyone. I'm just going and finding information on my own, and then I'm like, oh, here we go. Here's the number you were looking for. Actually, it's transparent, which is so fun. Like, here's a link for you to just look at this on your own or share it with anyone else if you want to cite your sources kind of thing.
Brendan: Buffer must be boring for journalists, because then they always want the scoop?
Hailley: I think it's pretty funny when I've talked a lot about transparent salaries lately, and there have been a couple of different laws in the US about pay transparency, and we're coming up on 10 years of having transparent salaries. That is why I feel like, well, how long have you been doing? It's like, well, almost 10 years now, and that's not very exciting. It's like old news for us.
I don't know if we're boring, though. Publishing your salaries on your website is still definitely not typical. We have that going for us. We do publish all of our revenue and metrics that most companies would never publish or even share with their employees in most cases. We still have that going for us.
Brendan: Absolutely. I do sound a bit tongue in cheek. As I said earlier, in the interview, for anybody who wants to go and just check out information around Buffer, everything you've said is so true. It's there. It's exciting. I like looking at those sorts of things and just seeing the transparency that organization is sharing.
One of the things that popped up for me and it popped up again when you said it is around your product roadmap. How many communities are out there around, Xero comes to mind? The amount of frustration I see from people in communities around Xero. Great product, but there's no transparency about their product development. There are all these community sledging things about, we've been asking for this for three years, and they don't come back and give us any answer. Yeah, it's something we're going to do, but it's not on our roadmap now. It's frustrating for people. You guys must have that frustration around your business.
Hailley: I hope not. I hope people don't have that frustration. I think one of the other examples that I've seen is someone I know is using a tool that went through a big redesign recently, and the redesign was quite opinionated.
Based on that redesign, they were like, I don't think I'm going to keep using this tool. I don't know why they made that decision. But if I'm just following the pattern of why I think they made that, eventually this tool will not be for me. That's because the company didn't share anything about this whole redesign that they did. They just did it. They just did a redesign.
If we were in that situation, we wouldn't probably write a too long blog post about it. If you wanted to dive super deep, you absolutely could. It's one of those situations, where you don't have to question why we're doing something. We will tell you why we're doing something or you'll be able to figure it out based on all the things that we've written about on our website.
I definitely appreciate that in tools. I do appreciate knowing like, why are they making this decision? Why are they going in this direction? Because you want to know, does it align with what I'm looking for from this tool? Does it align with the kinds of things I need going forward?
Brendan: Hailley, if you were a mentor of a young leader, not necessarily in Buffer, and you've embraced this transparent leader approach, how would you go about the mentorship of this person, this future leader? What are some of their first steps you think they need to embrace or the mindset they need to encourage?
Hailley: If I was looking at encouraging transparency in them, in particular, and helping them be more transparent as a leader, a lot of it (again) comes down to communication. It comes down to collaboration. I would like to look into, how are you communicating with your team? How are you communicating with your peers, with the people that you're working with?
Are you being transparent enough, but without being oversharing or without sharing everything to the point that it's overwhelming? We don't want to go on either end of these oversharing or overwhelming. You're just keeping it in terms of really valuable, transparent information that can be useful to people.
I would look at communication, and then we look at collaboration as well. How are you collaborating with people? Are you sharing different projects where you're at in the project, maybe in terms of even vulnerability of how you're feeling about certain things in the project?
Then that building and public mindset, which I mentioned as well, which is sharing updates on your project and on your work pretty regularly, and being really iterative with it. Like this is where it's at right now, willing to incorporate feedback or willing to do things differently depending on the feedback that you get.
One of my other favorite things that I think is both good for transparency, good for leadership, and just if you're a type A personality or if you're someone who's really organized, documentation is huge in an all remote environment and in an environment for us, too, where we have people in multiple time zones, so writing down how does this work?
I have a content calendar that we work in, and I have all of these. Like, okay, how does the content calendar work? I have a whole video going through it that anyone can see if they want to jump into the content calendar. They can understand how I do things there. But documentation can be really powerful.
If you can build a culture of documentation in the people that you work with, you essentially don't have to answer the same questions because that answer is written down, and people can find that information for themselves later.
You're really saving yourself work. It's good for remote work. It's good for transparency. Anyone can find that documentation as well. I would also say documentation is pretty key. Also, if you're an organized personality, it's also just satisfying to have all that information out there.
Brendan: I assume, Hailley, you're not one person at work and one person at home. Have you embraced being that transparent person in your home life and your friends, family relationships? And how has that benefited?
Hailley: I think the salary transparency at Buffer really changed my perspective on a lot of things. I'm very open about salaries, about money, about finances now, in a way that I wasn't raised to be in a way that people weren't in my community growing up. I just feel more comfortable having those conversations.
I've also run Buffer's equal pay report for several years in a row, where we look at the difference between what men and women earn at Buffer if you're looking at the whole company.
We don't have a gender wage gap on a role-by-role basis, because we use a transparent salary formula. But if you look at all men and all women, what's the difference there, it's pretty minute. But even knowing that and going into conversations with friends, we have entirely different conversations.
I've been open with my journey and saying, hey, I was paid not a lot of money when I was in San Francisco. We would talk about like, it was barely livable for one of the most expensive cities in the world. Then Buffer more than doubled my salary when I started working at Buffer.
Having those conversations with friends, it means that we can have transparent conversations about salaries. I can help friends who are going through those conversations. I can just be there for a sounding board. Because I've been more open and transparent with them, they're more open and transparent with me as potentially one of the very few people they feel comfortable with talking about their salaries, because that is still a thing that people don't really talk about a whole lot.
It also means that I share a lot about my work, I share a lot about what I'm working on, the things that I'm doing, and also questions things I would like from other people. I get friends who are coming to me and they're like, oh, it's so interesting that you mentioned working on this because I'm interested in this and I've never spoken up about it. Or I want to know more and I'm so glad that you shared something about it. I think that it has really deepened my relationships, but then also really brought into them some topics that we would not have talked about before.
One of my best friends, we were just talking, and it turns out she wants to start a small business, which is incredible. I don't think she's told a lot of people this. I write content for Buffer, and we have a podcast for Buffer about small businesses, about starting a small business, running a small business, and how to incorporate some of these things like transparency and living, being true to your purpose in your business. I was able to send her the podcast and she loved it, which was phenomenal.
It was so incredible to have these multifaceted parts of our relationship. We weren't just talking about pets, kids, her wedding and my wedding. We actually got to a deeper place and her small business aspirations that we had never gone to before.
Brendan: It's exciting stuff. I have to ask you like I did on the work side. Has it ever come back and hit you in the face?
Hailley: Oh, gosh. I'm terrible at having bad examples, because I tend to be a person who's like...
Brendan: We've got to get both sides of the coin, Hailley. Come on.
Hailley: It's good. There definitely are two sides to the coin. I have had situations for sure where I've had friends who then know what I was making before and then knew what I was making now. They're like, oh, great. You can lend me a bunch of money now that you're making more money.
That actually has caused challenges in some relationships and friendships where people are like, wow, I know your salary, so you should be able to either pay for this for me or lend me money. That has created conversations that like, no one was asking me to lend the money when I was making no money. It turns out that wasn't a problem, because I was barely keeping it together myself.
Money is definitely a hard one. I think people don't really talk about it. There's a lot of emotion that comes with money. There are a lot of old problems often that come with money or old emotions and feelings, what you've been taught. It can be a challenging one, for sure. I would say that's probably the biggest one, or people. It's usually around money.
People are being like, oh, I didn't realize you made so much. You should probably pay more rent than you're paying now that I know what you're in. It's like, no, no, the value of your property has not changed based on my salary.
Brendan: It sounds like the transparency in that scenario, gives a good way to filter through your real friends versus the imitation ones, maybe.
Hailley: If you want a shortcut, just publish your salary on the Internet.
Brendan: There you go. Number one tip from Hailley. Publish salaries, you'll sort through all the char quickly.
Hailley: Yeah. Just send it to me, and I'll put it in a spreadsheet. I'll publish it in one place. No, there actually is a fantastic salary database by elpha.com. If you do want to share your salary transparently, you don't have to attach your name to it. You can just share for anyone else who wants to have that information. Elpha is fantastic.
I think PayScale is the other one. They'll actually take the exact company that you work for. You'll also be able to see other people at that company that you work for if they have submitted their information via Glassdoor. You can use it to submit your information to Glassdoor, and then be able to see. If any of your colleagues have submitted their information, you can see it as well. You don't have to send it to me, but you can if you want to.
Brendan: It sounds like you'd love a good spreadsheet.
Hailley: I do love a good spreadsheet or a Notion database. Are you a Notion person, Brendan?
Brendan: No, I'm not. I've not heard of it, Notion.
Hailley: It's fantastic. It's incredible. Oh, goodness, how do you explain Notion? That documentation thing that I'm talking about here with one of the superpowers, Notion is phenomenal for that. That's where all of our documentation is in Buffer, and that's where my content calendar is. That's where I do all my project planning. That's where I have all my notes now.
You can essentially just build these databases of different pieces of information. You can connect those databases to each other. For example, I have a database of all the reporters that I reached out to, and I have a database of all the publications. I connect them, so I can tie reporters to the different publications that they work for. That's a pretty basic example of using two databases and Notion.
People will use it for a database, have all of their projects and all of the tasks related to their projects, and they'll connect them. You can also see all of your tasks or you can see all your projects. You can filter by their status and things like that. It's phenomenal.
It's like if you took an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheets, and you could customize every column, but then you could also click into every box and have it be a whole other page with more information in there. That's what you can do in Notion with databases, which is very cool with tagging and commenting. It's one of my favorite things. I can send you some stuff after this.
Brendan: I look forward to it. We'll definitely put in the show notes. It sounds like something I would like to have a look into, actually.
Hailley: Yeah, it's good. Some of my friends who I know are very organized, I'm like, oh, you should be a Notion. It's built for you. It's built for that kind of mentality.
Brendan: It sounds like me to a tee.
Brendan: Hailley, let's just tie this up in a nice little bow and summarize for our listeners and watchers on YouTube. What's the power of transparent leadership?
Hailley: I think that the power of transparent leadership is that you are sharing early. You're sharing even when it's too early for something to be done. It means that you can gather more feedback. You can level up as a leader. You can learn from others if others are sharing transparently, as well. It's really truly, I think, a secret to unlocking more potential, to unlocking more trust in organizations, to making it easier for everyone to collaborate, and just building a team that is very efficient, they know what's going on.
Truly, I can't imagine operating in an environment that isn't transparent anymore, because it has really turned into such a superpower for us at Buffer. We are really an example that is taking transparently to the nth degree, publishing our salaries online.
I'm not saying everyone has to do that. But even just incorporating some level of more transparency in the way that you work and the way that you collaborate with others, can truly have a massive impact on just how effective you are as a leader on building trust across your team. And then on just (again) elevating all of your projects, because you're iterating on it, and other people can add insights as you're working on it rather than at the end when you've already turned in a direction that you can't go back from now, maybe because you've invested too many hours.
Brendan: Great summary. You shared earlier in the interview where a leader may start this process and where they could focus on. Have you got a bit of advice for organizations? That CEO of an organization, where do you think they should start if they want to get on this journey of transparency?
Hailley: If they're a CEO, if they're a leader, they are the ones that have to start leading by example. That's where it starts. Transparency starts at the top. You can start being transparent and be maybe lower in the organization. It won't be the same as someone being transparent all the way at the top of the organization.
Just like I said, being transparent, it has to be the good and the bad. At least, that's what we recommend at Buffer. That's what we've done at Buffer. It is much more difficult. It takes a lot more work. But when you can be transparent about the good and the bad, really, that's where you're building trust, that's where you're building connections, that's where you're really making a difference in your culture.
You're not only focused on good things and then brushing the bad things under the rug. And then when they do come up, they're enormous. They're like this dust bunny that you've been collecting has turned into this huge thing, and you can never explain to people how it came out of nowhere.
Versus if it's small at first, you're explaining, hey, this is going on, we don't really know what that's going to mean, but we're looking at it. And then six months later, you have more information or it's gone in a different direction, it ends up being totally fine.
That's very different from one day just coming in and being like, hey, we're doing layoffs. Yeah, it turns out revenue has been down for six months, and we haven't told you. No one has done the right things about it because we weren't open and transparent about that.
I definitely think when it comes to leaders, when it comes to CEOs, that transparency has to start at the top, has to start leading by example. Being transparent with mistakes, not just being transparent with wins. Yeah, just sharing openly and honestly, even the small things, especially the small things, really.
Brendan: I love it. I was going to ask my final question, but you have mentioned transparency takes a lot of work quite a number of times during the conversation. Can you just unpack that a little bit? Why do you say that it's more a lot of work?
Hailley: It's because you have to put effort into being transparent. I think that people think that transparency can just be this effortless thing. I think that you can design systems to make transparency easier, which is what we've done at Buffer, where all of our work is just happening in transparent areas. It's not that it's going somewhere else and it's eventually getting moved. However, you can design those systems to support you, and transparency is great. But it does take work to communicate, like this is what I'm working on.
I mentioned at one point, we were talking through this, I think just sharing a bunch of information is almost not transparency if you're not making get valuable, if people don't understand what they're looking at, they don't understand how to find, how to answer their questions, or what they might be looking for because the information isn't organized.
If you're just exporting a spreadsheet with a bunch of data, that might not be super helpful. But maybe if you do a little write up, you have the spreadsheet with the data in it, and you labeled everything nicely so that everyone else who wasn't a part of your process of exporting that data understands what's in there, then they can see what it is, they can work with it a little bit better. It takes that extra step.
It's the same with us at Buffer. All of our transparency, it takes an extra step. We've tried to automate a lot of it. We used to publish all of our revenue on blog posts monthly, quarterly, or however we were doing it. But that step of doing it manually, it does take time, and it does take effort. We're like, how can we automate this? We just have it in a transparent dashboard now that anyone can go check at any time.
I think that's the key. It can be a lot of work if you're manually making everything transparent. I think that's maybe the way that a lot of us start, because you often don't build out your systems from the start to be transparent. But if you do, that will be a lot easier, or just however you can automate them eventually will also be a lot easier.
But then, that transparency from the public side too, just looking at things from Buffer, for example, when we went through layoffs and when we then shared about those layoffs, it was a lot of work. We wrote the blog post, you getting all of the graphics, making sure that you're presenting the information in a way that people are going to understand like, how do you summarize all of the decisions and all the things that led to this problem?
This was years ago for the Buffer layoffs, by the way. This is not something recent. There was a cash flow crisis. That's a really good example of it took a lot of work to get that out there, but we believed it was the right thing to do. We didn't necessarily have to share that information, but we chose to.
Brendan: It sounds to me that, again, being transparent, you've got to be deliberate about it like any culture you're trying to create, but then there's an improvement process around making transparency more efficient and effective. That's where some of that automation stuff comes, which is a process improvement mindset, isn't it? Well done on what you guys are doing. It's fantastic.
Hailley: Thank you.
Brendan: It is the last question now, Hailley. What has made you a more confident leader?
Hailley: I definitely think that making mistakes has made me a core more confident leader, and owning up to them, seeing what the mistakes are that I have made, owning up to those, seeing how I get there, and doing things differently from then on.
I think one of the other things when it comes to leadership has been just learning from other leaders, finding leaders that inspire me or leaders that I think that I can learn from and following their work, following whatever they're publishing, or asking them if I'm in touch with them about their thoughts on different decisions and different things like that.
It's funny, because I was thinking before we came into this interview. It's like, oh, gosh, I feel like a lot of people have really good examples of bad leaders that they've had at their organizations and probably a lot of examples of mediocre leaders. They are there. They're not bad, they're not necessarily good.
It is more rare, in my opinion, in my experience, to find those incredible leaders that you have, incredible managers, people that make you. You're really excited about your role, the work that you're doing, and who are fantastic at everything that they do.
I've been lucky to find a few of them within Buffer and outside of Buffer as well. That has also helped me become a more confident leader, because I've seen what they're doing. I've taken their advice and implemented it for myself. It's always been really helpful. It's great when people can give you a little shortcut through transparently, telling you the things that didn't work for them or the things that did work for them.
Brendan: Absolutely spot on. Unfortunately, you're spot on. There's a lack of, I guess, leadership that is above average. It's fantastic that you found that at Buffer. It's happening, and proof's in the pudding.
Buffer's a great product. The transparency is out there. The organization's living and breathing that. You've been a shining example of transparency through the leader up to actually getting the opportunity to interview today and everything you've spoken about today, so well done. Keep up the great work about being a transparent leader. Thanks for being a fantastic guest on The Culture of Leadership today.
Hailley: Thank you so much for having me, Brendan. I really appreciate it. I love what you're doing here with The Culture of Leadership. This is very cool to see. I'm sure that you're empowering a fantastic generation of leaders who are going to just be better managers than some people have examples for. This is going to be the group of folks who are great leaders.
Brendan: As you are. I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
Is leading with transparency something you’ll strive for? It takes discipline, it takes consistency, it takes deliberate intent, and above all it takes hard work. And it’s worth it. Transparency is a foundation for building trust. Trust is the foundation for building high-performing teams and high-performing organizations. Without transparency, none of this happens. Let me ask you again, is leading with transparency something you’ll strive for?
These are my three key takeaways from my conversation with Hailley. My first key takeaway: Leaders lead with transparency. They’re open and honest with their team. They share early and often. They share the good news and are equally committed to sharing bad news. The best leaders lead with transparency and stick with it.
My second key takeaway: Leaders know transparency requires patience and persistence. Maintaining transparency in leadership can be difficult. It requires constant effort and dedication to ensure that all stakeholders are kept informed. It’s not something that magically happens. Leaders know it requires patience and persistence.
My third key takeaway: Leaders listen to their team. They value input from all team members, regardless of position or seniority. From this, people feel valued and respected. This creates a more productive and successful team. This is why leaders listen to their team.
In summary, my three key takeaways were: Leaders lead with transparency, leaders know transparency requires patience and persistence, and leaders listen to their team. What are your key takeaways? Let me know at thecultureofleadership.com, on YouTube, or via our socials. Thanks for joining me, and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation.
Thanks for listening to The Culture of Leadership. You can access the shownote at thecultureofleadership.com. If you enjoy the show, please follow, rate, and give a review on your favorite podcast platform.