On Transparency

I believe that organizations and people operate best when their values are known, their actions are consistent with these values and information and results are communicated freely.  This is what transparency means to me.

Here is why I think it’s so important.

1. Creates accountability. When everyone in an organization has access to information, they can assess  effectiveness of activities, challenge the status quo and offer ideas for improvement.

2. Allows people to focus on actual results instead of speculating on what might be happening. This is huge. How much time and energy is wasted debating what might improve a process, when people don’t have accurate data to tell them how the process is performing in the first place.

3. Creates credibility for individuals when everyone can see the results of their activities.

4. Creates trust when people have free access to data and they see that decisions are made based on the data.  They can also determine if the decisions are consistent with objectives and values communicated.

5. Creates loyalty.  When people are confident they are being told the truth, whether good or bad, they are grateful for the trust being put in them and are more likely to stick around through tough times.

6. Prevents corruption.  So many examples to consider, but think about how many government and business scandals would have been avoided if people were open and transparent in their professional activities. Watch this TED talk for more.

I think that, often, managers aren’t sure how some information will be perceived so they just feel safer in not communicating it at all.  My experience has shown me time and again that this strategy inevitably blows up, creating worse perceptions, AND creates ten times more work later when trying to manage the message once information has gotten out anyway.  No matter how bad the news, people are remarkably understanding as long as they can believe the motivations behind any actions were consistent with the values and goals previously communicated.  They way I see it transparency gives people the freedom to use their creativity and ingenuity to find better solutions to problems instead of using them to cover up mistakes and “manage the message”.

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