Let's Be Clear About Transparency

Aric Conroy
Aric Conroy
“To be effective you must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true. If you are too proud of what you know or of how good you are at something you will learn less, make inferior decisions, and fall short of your potential.”
Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work

Are you clear about your path to success or are you getting in your own way?  Your success or failure may well be tied to various aspects of personal and organizational transparency.  Transparency may seem like a new-fangled business buzz-word, but it’s a concept that’s been around for quite awhile and one which has significant merits.  Business concepts such as open-book-management (The Great Game of Business, Jack Stack, CEO, SRC Holdings Corp.) and radical open-mindedness (Principles, Ray Dalio, Co-Chief Investment Officer & Co-Chairman, Bridgewater Associates, L.P.) are steeped in principles related to transparency, candor, and sharing the truth (particularly the uncomfortable truth) in order to create deeper levels of understanding, promote higher levels of employee ownership, engagement, creativity, idea generation, innovation, and problem solving.

In our own 2017 survey of 339 organizations’ values statements, two of the top 50 corporate core values identified were openness and transparency (see Figure 1).  However, it’s important to recognize that openness and transparency mean different things to different people (and organizations) and are operating principles which exist on a continuum.

Last week a panel of executives at the University of Michigan’s Ross School Center for Positive Organizations semi-annual consortium meeting discussed their own experiences with implementing open-book management (OBM) as part of their journey toward greater transparency. Rob Dube, President and Founder, imageOne, Rich Smalling, CEO, American Innovations, and James Goebel, Chief Architect/Partner, Menlo Innovations each shared their organization’s approach to transparent business operations, highlighting, in-turn, their levels of disclosure.  Menlo Innovations employs a fully visible financial process including line-of-sight into compensation data, and they delegate fiscal decision-making to all employees.  Rob Dube shared that imageOne, an organization in the early stages of incorporating OBM, favors the use of small games to continue the evolution of open-book practices, and that they are not yet fully transparent about sensitive information such as wages and salaries. Dube offered that imageOne has experienced significant, tangible wins for the entire organization through greater transparency, while also discussing some of the challenges they’ve encountered along the way.

Sources of 2017 corporate values data:

  • Fortune Magazine’s Best 100 (US) Companies to Work For (2017)
  • Fortune Magazine’s Top 50 (US) Companies (2017)
  • Conscious Capitalist Companies (US Public Firms) (2017)
  • Conscious Capitalist Companies (US Private Firms) (2017)
  • Conscious Capitalist Companies (Non-US Firms) (2017)
  • The Nonprofit Times Best Companies to Work For (2017)
  • US Public Sector - publicly available data for federal & state government agencies

One attendee asked the panel for their help on incorporating greater levels of openness and transparency in their own organizations, particularly if you are not an executive with complete discretion about instituting new company practices.  Panelists and members of the audience universally agreed that starting small, perhaps within a team, work group or department was a great way to begin.  Open and transparent business practices aren’t always about finances – increased communication, delegating decision-making, and as Ray Dalio advises, radically transparent feedback open the door to higher levels of trust, shared perspectives and unlocking the wisdom of the team through ‘idea meritocracy’.

James Comey, in his book A Higher Loyalty shared his own leadership principles, including his view that leadership excellence is achieved through transparency:

“With broad support across the organization, I was going to drive leadership into every corner and every conversation in the FBI, until we were consistently excellent, across all roles and at all levels. We would teach that great leaders are (1) people of integrity and decency; (2) confident enough to be humble; (3) both kind and tough; (4) transparent; and (5) aware that we all seek meaning in work. We would also teach them that (6) what they say is important, but what they do is far more important, because their people are always watching them. In short, we would demand and develop ethical leaders.”

Transparency and openness can  enrich your personal life as well.  Building the ‘muscles’ required for candid conversations with your friends, families and loved ones inspires deeper levels of trust and intimacy, creative problem solving, and offers the gift of seeing the world through others’ perspectives, while increasing your own levels of humility and understanding.

The great news is that there are many ways to begin and a wealth of resources to help you and your organization along the path to the benefits of enhanced openness and transparency.

Start with small steps and start today!

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