Emma: Radical transparency is definitely à la mode these days: Town Hall meetings and performance updates sent to the all-company listserv and dashboards with stats displayed on every wall. It’s kind of amazing — information is the great equalizer — but I also think it can make us managers a little lazy: “Information is available to anyone who wants it … so go get it!”

Andy: I totally agree. It’s one thing to see a dashboard. It’s a totally different thing to see what your boss sees in that dashboard.

Emma: I’ve gotten a lot better about asking to talk through it all with my manager and co-managers — it’s literally what 1-on-1s were made for. And then also talking through it all with my team. To this day, having a boss that packages up intel in a way I can understand and use is one of the fastest ways I grow in my job.

Andy: One of the bullets of our Good Boss Scorecard is “I provide context and share what I know,” which sounds very straightforward, but can be a real exercise in judgement.

Emma: I can remember feeling really cagey about everything as a young manager. I was told something in a room with a closed door — does that mean it’s confidential? Or am I allowed to share with my team? What about certain people on my team?

Andy: Same here. It was like I thought anything a manager heard automatically required Manager-Level Clearance. And there’s definitely some stuff that you’re going to have to sit with, alone. It tends to be either very good news or very bad news.

Emma: I once knew for a solid two weeks before the rest of my team that the company was being moved across the country, and we were all being laid off. It was an awful secret I was expected to keep. But most of the information that’s swirling around an office is fair game to be explained and discussed widely. It should be! That’s what exposure is all about: harnessing information and arming your team with it.

When to Share What You Know

Do not share if the answer to one or more of these questions is yes:

•  Would this information damage trust between my team and another part of the organization?
•  Is this about personnel? Could anything about this be construed as gossip?
If this leaked to the public, would it disrupt plans that are in motion? Would anyone get fired?
Would this information make someone feel unstable or uncertain about their future with the company?
• Is there a chance it’s not true or won’t happen?
Have I been told not to share?

Share if the answer to one or more of these questions is yes:

Will this help my team understand how their work/role fits into the bigger picture?
Will this help my team understand the state of the business, or what decisions are being made?
Is this something someone on senior leadership would expect my team to already know?
Is this something that my team, or certain people on my team, will need to have perspective on as they advance in their roles?
Would my team like to know this, or think it’s cool and interesting?



Andy: Sharing context does so many things: it engenders trust, it builds experience, it clarifies the actual point of a project or task, it helps people make smarter decisions by themselves. I remember the morsels that my bosses shared over the years as so illuminating: they were the pulsing gem in a sci-fi movie, alive and exciting and almost otherworldly. They made me feel smarter and more prepared and really grateful.

Emma: When you provide context, you’re explaining how to interpret a raw piece of data. It’s walking through why something is happening, or how it happened, or what’s coming next — why not all three? There are lots of opportunities to provide it outside of explaining stats on a dashboard. These are some of our favorites.

7 Ways to Provide Context

Invite people to sit in on important meetings — then discuss everything that transpired. An especially useful way to get your high performers and people you’re grooming for advancement thinking at the next level. It’s undiluted context (and also takes the mystery out of what happens inside the conference room).

Some ways to add context:
• Was this an effective meeting? Why or why not?
What topics were discussed? Why do those ones matter?
What questions were asked? Why?
Who spoke up? How did they frame what they said?
Who struggled or seemed caught off guard? What did that sound like?
Who was the meetings standout? Why?

Explain how cross-business updates connect with the work your team is doing. Keep reiterating it. There’s nothing more powerhouse than a whole team that truly understands the machine. Not sure what other teams are doing? Ask — or invite their manager to present to your team.

Some ways to add context:
• How do other teams’ priorities align to business goals?
How are they measuring success? Why?
If another team reaches its goals, how does it impact your team?
If they don’t reach their goals, how does it impact your team?
What challenges are other teams trying to tackle?

Be open about your calendar. Particularly relevant are big meetings you’re prepping for, deadlines you’re trying to hit, and conferences you’re attending. Your team will rally around you, understand any stress better, and be equally invested in the outcome.

Some ways to add context:
What’s at stake?
What personal goals are you trying to achieve?
What data/strategies will you be using? How? Why?
Where do you feel confident?
What are you the most nervous about, or least prepared?

Reveal the messy pre-work that led up to a successful product. Share with your team how you got there: the first draft of a massive spreadsheet, your original presentation outline, rough drafts of emails, your notes as you put together a meeting agenda. It’s an exercise in vulnerability — and also an extraordinary trust builder.

Some ways to add context:
Where did the idea start, and what were next steps?
When did it start to look like its finished version? How much work did it take to get there?
What feedback did you get along the way, and from who?
What feedback did you get about the final product?
How can you leverage what you created/learned in future work?

Post-mortem your own misfires. This can be something big, like a presentation that went awry or an initiative that didn’t garner results, or something small, like an email no one responded to.

Some ways to add context:
Why did you think that plan would work?
Why did it fail? Is there something you’ll do differently next time?
What feedback did you receive? Do you agree or disagree?
How does it compare/contrast with something that was successful?
What trends/habits do you notice about yourself?

Annotate industry news or another company’s product. A little bit of classic competitive research goes a long way.

Some ways to add context:
What’s working? Why?
What’s not working? Why not?
How are other people in the organization — like your boss — talking about it?
How does it impact your team/company/industry?

Do a deep dive on your own reasoning. Pick something small and low-stakes — a memo, a meeting, edits to a piece of work — and explain why. Why are you forwarding that email to another department? Why are you suggesting you meet in person? Why did you format it that way? These are all decisions you’re making that another person may do differently. Gradually work your way up to higher-stakes scenarios.



Andy: I’d suggest tailoring these techniques to the people on your team. Some people would cry at the idea of walking through the version history of their boss’ latest opus. Other people would love it. I’m in the love camp — but know your people and deploy these methods accordingly!

Emma: A good way to navigate that is to just ask if someone is interested. You’ll see the light in their eyes either dim or sparkle.

Good Boss Achievement Stickers: I Give Good Context EditionThe Bent Good Boss Achievement Stickers I Give Good Context Edition