Leo Widrich, cofounder of Buffer, shares, via this Zapiers article by Fred Bauters, six steps to getting to an open culture. In summary:

  1. Check yourself: are you personally transparent?
  2. Be sure other company values are in place
  3. Hire with transparency in mind
  4. Start slow and steady
  5. Equip yourself with the tools for transparency
  6. Remind yourself: transparency is not for everyone

The whole article is packed with insight and well worth a thorough read. The only point I disagree with is number 2. I think that if you are the right sort of person to run an open culture (i.e. your personal rather than company values are in place), and you stick to transparency as a company policy, then the rest will follow. The reason why I believe that is because it is what happened at GrantTree.

As a company, we didn’t have our values explicitly described for a long time, but both Paulina (my cofounder) and myself were clear on our personal values of respect for people, personal growth, generosity and, most importantly, transparency. And it’s transparency that enabled us to create a culture which, while not open yet, was open enough for our team to start pointing out where the company wasn’t aligned with our own values1.

There were many challenges to our culture’s evolution along the way, and many, many chances to compromise, but the uncompromising approach to transparency ended up being one of the key drivers that kept us going in the right direction through all these changes, because of the way it tends to infect everything around it and force it to become more transparent.

So, my deviation from Leo’s advice would be that even if your company values aren’t quite sorted out (which will certainly be the case at the very beginning), sticking to transparency through thick and thin will do a lot to help you keep the culture evolving in the right direction.

Just make sure you yourself are committed – because ultimately, whatever you truly believe will come through in your actions and your choices when faced with challenges. As I’ve argued before, you can’t hide from yourself.


  1. A watershed moment was when, during a 121, I was told by Ellie, one of our Client Managers, that the motivational system that I’d designed as insulting and infantilising