(Photo-illustration by Fermate/iStock by Getty Images)

One employee posted a photo of her young son at her desk, explaining why the demands of homeschooling were prompting her to temporarily switch to part-time work. Another very bluntly shared that she’d be late for a meeting–after staying out too long the night before and oversleeping.

The disarmingly honest and personal posts by Kintone employees appeared on a widely viewable company portal. Such candor on the forum is appreciated and encouraged, a key element when it comes to building workplace transparency and a healthy corporate culture, said Dave Landa, CEO of Kintone, a tech company that provides an all-in-one workplace platform for teams. Transparency is “the necessary foundation for accountability and inclusion,” Landa said in a presentation about building a transparent workplace, speaking at From Day One’s December conference on inclusive leadership.

“Culture is like the wind–so it was written in a Harvard Business Review article on leadership recently. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt,” Landa said. “When it’s with you, the sailing is smooth. When it’s against you, everything is a lot more difficult. And just like the wind, culture–company culture–can be elusive to grasp. Leaders cannot mandate culture; you can’t just say it and it is so,” Landa said.

Then how do leaders create and manage it? “You have to be very intentional about it,” he said. “First off, you need to define that culture explicitly. You then have to establish policies, the right policies, that will help support it and guide it along toward that clearly defined culture.” As follow-up, “The next thing you need to do is create and give examples and activities to encourage that culture. And finally, you really need to provide tools and methods to continuously maintain and develop that culture,” Landa said.

Dave Landa, CEO of Kintone (Photo courtesy of Kintone)

Four elements are held above all else at Kintone to achieve the desired teamwork culture: Sharing a common vision; being oneself and taking responsibility; embracing individuality; and finally, transparency, Landa said. That’s why the company supports the public portal as a place for employees to share everything from the aforementioned employee explanations and admissions to information about what days and times they’ll be unavailable to work, to what they’re doing to make their work-from-home setups more convenient.

Key to the ethos and practical implementation, Landa added, is complete honesty, whether it’s about lateness or expenses or other issues. “We have a few maxims that we always share to try to capture some of our beliefs and policies,” Landa said. “So first one, of course: It’s okay to mess up. But just don’t try to cover it up. And then, correct actions. Don’t blame people.”

He emphasized the concept of “public first, private second,” explaining: “That’s really just a mindset. Anything that you’re going to be saying or doing should be public first by default. And that is really something that drives a lot of what we do.”

Kintone additionally fuels that drive, Landa said, by “pursuing these elements intentionally to help build the empathy and the trust necessary for developing great culture and effective teamwork.”

‘It’s certainly not always easy,” he acknowledged. “And oftentimes, there are conflicts between these different elements. And it’s really important to work on balancing the different values that they represent. But for us, it gives us our true north that we’re always working toward.”

Whether it’s at Kintone or other companies, transparency tends to increase worker happiness, which in turn increases productivity, Landa said. “So happiness, trust and productivity–they’re kind of like the antioxidants for organizations.”

The ethos is mandated from the top. At Kintone, Landa said, high-level weekly executive meetings are open for other team members who want to participate or listen in. Notes are then shared from that meeting, with employees given the opportunity to question or comment online.

Even expense procedures have been made more transparent in order to achieve company and cultural goals, he said. “We switched from a traditional, hierarchical, sort of opaque system–where managers approve expenses and then it moves on to finance for their review and approval–to a system where all company-card expenses are shared publicly together in a workbook at the end of each month within our central expenses space, which is on our publicly accessible portal,” he said.

A slide from Landa's presentation (Graphic by Kintone)

“Individuals essentially utilize those workbooks to then create their expense-report records,” he added. “Although there’s still pre-approvals for larger expenses, we have been able to eliminate a lot of the approval process and a lot of the onerous, time-consuming manager approval process by making this expense report transparent.”

Kintone brings that transparency to its issue-resolution process, called the “aspiration engine.” Said Landa: “Basically, it encourages team members to identify places where we can do better. It brings team members together to very transparently identify causes for this issue–without affixing any blame, just looking for the actions or the causes that might have brought us to where we are, and then landing on and assigning the action, steps, to help bring this issue toward a very clearly stated, better vision.”

“We do this on a regular basis,” he said. “And we really try to make it so that nothing is off the table. Any issues that folks see where we can do better, let’s start working on it.”

While portals, threads, apps and other technological tools are key to realizing cultural and teamwork goals, the themes of commitment and communication need to inform every aspect of corporate efforts, Landa said. “The more you can centralize communications, the better off you are in creating a holistic transparency environment.”

Returning to the comparison between culture and the wind, Landa said: “If you want transparency to be a key part of that culture, then you need to really fill up those sails with the policies to support it, the examples to encourage it, and those tools and methods.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this thought-leadership spotlight: Kintone. Thank you as well to everyone who attended this conference live. Please visit our conference page to register for more upcoming events.

Sheila Flynn is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for the Associated Press, the Sunday Independent, the Irish Daily Mail and the Irish Times. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.