Transparency @ Hanno

How much of our operational ‘data’ really needs to be private?

Wouldn’t we be forced to be better, fairer, and more ethical companies if we put more of ourselves out in the open?

Those were the questions that Jon Lay, the founder of Hanno, a “radically transparent remote design studio”, and his team posed to others in the design industry when they went public about their commitment to transparency just one year ago.

Instead of keeping their cards close to their chest, the Hanno team laid them all out on the table. Taking action on their core value of authenticity, they expressed transparency externally, by revealing their work processes to the public in their Playbook, and internally with a “choose your own salary” initiative.

Being completely open with your clients while trusting your employees to choose their own salary are initiatives that are sure to shock many managers, however, Hanno lives and breathes it. According to Jon, “being transparent sends a clear message to those outside the company that you are confident about the direction you’re taking, and also that you have at least some commitment to honesty and fairness.”

With clients such as Uber, Transcense and Zirx, as well as a team distributed all around the world (8 designers, 10 nationalities, 6 locations), Hanno is a live example that transparency can work. However, introducing it isn’t an easy task and there are three key elements to consider if you too want to make the transition - commitment, access and iteration.


Grow: Venture outside of our comfort zone - The Hannifesto

Trying something new is confronting, especially if it disrupts the status quo. This is even more the case with transparency, as it affects the organisation’s DNA plus its stakeholders. Consequently, shifting to transparency requires a solid commitment in the face of adversity.

“At first it was a bit scary--again and again, we’ve seen that there’s always a certain fear of the unknown and a sense that ‘there’s no going back.’ We were a little worried that it would be taken negatively and clients would look at everything we were putting out there then decide that we simply weren’t the right team to work with. And perhaps that has happened - I’m sure our transparency is scary to some people and has cost us leads. But any negativity coming from that group of people has been massively offset by all the benefits we’ve gained,” says Jon.

While this commitment may start with the leadership team, it must filter down much further than that. As with any cultural initiative, its effectiveness will depend on the people who will live it day in, day out. Rather than enforcing the initiative from the top down, transparency involves integrating the team into the decision making process to encourage discourse and collaboration.

Whenever we make a change, we spend a lot of time explaining the motivation behind it, both in calls and also in writing. The bigger the change, the more discussion we tend to have about it.”


Take Responsibility: Make things happen - The Hannifesto

You may be hesitant to let the floodgates of information open, however Jon explains, “if people are excluded from conversations, they’re out of the loop and communication starts to fail. Tensions develop, inefficiencies happen, and people start feeling isolated and excluded.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything should be shared though, as some things are better to be kept private. To work out what should and shouldn’t be shared, a fundamental question that Hanno shipmates ask themselves is this:

Why is this conversation not public to other people?

“We’re careful about subscribing to any notion that every single thing needs to be transparent. The basic ground rule is that everything we do as a team should be transparent unless there’s a very good reason for it not to be. So if someone comes to me to share a personal situation, I’m not going to make this public. That goes for other shipmates too. Inevitably, there are also some client confidentiality needs on certain projects (especially when we work with bigger corporate ones), which means that some project information has to be kept within the team that’s working on it.” In addition, too much information can easily bog down the team and lead to information overload.

“Once you open up the firehose, you have to help people learn how to avoid getting their heads taken off by the torrent of information that flows through it,” advises Jon, who also outlines 5 key tips to prioritise and manage the flow of information:

  1. Avoid email in general, but especially 1:1 email
  2. Document everything, even if it’s time-consuming
  3. Find a great task management system (Jon recommends Asana)
  4. Use Slack!


Never settle: Challenge the status quo - The Hannifesto

Even if you are able to commit your organisation to transparency, then give and manage the access to information, the job is far from over. In fact, it has only just begun.

“I think that shipping a big cultural ‘feature,’ is something that you can’t just ‘ship and forget.’ Once you launch it, you have to monitor things to make sure that it’s working and change what is not. So it takes time and a willingness to work hard to understand how everyone feels about the changes once they’re in place,” says Jon.

So there’s a good chance that you won’t get it right at the start, but that’s Ok. The goal isn’t to be perfect. The goal is simply to get started with transparency and over time, move towards something that works.

“We’re not perfect, and we do make mistakes (the original salary formula we used for open team salaries was one that I pushed mainly by myself, and it wasn’t the perfect solution), but hopefully if we continue to iterate, we can keep improving Hanno and build ourselves an even better place to work,” says Jon.

Although committing to transparency requires time, guts and determination, Jon believes that it’s more than worth it at the end of the day.

“For me, transparency in business is important for just the same reasons as we demand transparency in politics. Without it, it’s far easier to exploit those weaker than you or get away with unjust actions. Being transparent means that you’re held to far higher scrutiny (from everyone in your team, or even the public as a whole). In the long run, this means that we end up building better, fairer and more successful companies.”


5 Ways To Introduce Transparency
We’ve distilled the lessons from Hanno and many other transparent companies into 5 easy steps that we can try out in our own teams.
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