Part 1: What is Transparency and Why Do People Want It?

John Schierer Transparency 5 Part Series Leave a Comment

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 5 part series where John Schierer explores the topic of transparency in the workplace. In this part, John explains why Transparency is important.

Part 1: What is Transparency and Why Do People Want It?
Part 2: Why Managers Hate Transparency
Part 3: What HR Can Do to Promote Transparency
Part 4: The 4 Great Myths about Transparency… and the Reality
Part 5: Transparency Case Study: Kyocera in 2001 During the Telecom Crash

By John Schierer

Ask most managers if they value and practice transparency in dealing with employees and the answer is yes.  Transparency- the actions consistent with openness and allowing others access to information key to operating the business- is right up there with motherhood, apple pie and patriotism as a topic. It is hard to disagree with. But a funny thing happens when you ask employees whether their organization in general and their manager in particular is transparent in their dealings and the answer may be significantly different. The amount of transparency employees seek is generally far more than the amount managers are comfortable sharing.   What are the factors that lead to this disconnect?  Why is transparency valuable? And what role do Human Resources professionals play in encouraging transparency in the organization.

The Transparency Value Proposition

What is transparency and why is valuable?  At is core; transparency is about organization-wide access to information, processes and strategies that allow employees to act creatively and independently on behalf of the organization. Transparency and engagement are not the same thing, but there is a strong argument to be made that without the water of transparency, the garden of engagement is hard to grow.

In this digital age, open access to information has been a revelation- think about how difficult and frustrating the car buying process used to be. The sellers used to hold all the information and the car-buying process was filled with distrust and mysterious trips to an unseen manager. Even as you drove off the lot, you were likely to be torn with the thought that you spent too much on this very large purchase. Today, the system is far more transparent and buyers receive multiple offers and equal access to pricing and other data important to their decision.

Your employees likely have more access to information at home than at work. The transparency they see in the world around them likely is greater than at their workstation. That inconsistency is a source of inefficiency and widespread frustration in the workplace. Organizations that address this inefficiency gain a significant competitive advantage both on the job and in the war for top talent. That advantage, however, will only be gained by the bold who embrace transparency fearlessly.

Transparency is the catalyst that unlocks the potential of the organization- allowing each employee to make informed, creative decisions consistent with your strategic direction.

Conversely, lack of transparency makes employees guess- or worse yet- leads to inaction as they wait for someone to dole out precious pieces of information like jelly beans.

How Much Transparency Is Enough?

While the concept of transparency is hard to argue against- everyone has their own definition of how much transparency and information sharing is enough. Every manager believes they give employees enough information to do their job.   The problem is- transparency is not a gradient. Some transparency is often worse than no transparency at all. Employees who work in secretive organizations can accept that fact and choose whether or not they can work in such an environment. Organizations that make half-hearted efforts around transparency usually feature slogans that are not consistent with the actions.  There is no halfway in the transparency effort. Organizations that are inconsistent in sharing are more frustrating to employees who cannot understand why they are trusted with just some information.  They know that with access to all the data they can make better, more informed decisions and be more valuable to their organizations, their customers and ultimately reap the rewards of outstanding performance.  By selectively applying transparency, organizations unwittingly demoralize and confuse their staff.  The organizations that dedicate themselves to the power of transparency fundamentally change the nature of the conversation. The questions no longer is “What do we have to share?” but becomes “Is there any reason we could not share?”

Examples of Transparency

If the concept of transparency is vague, ask yourself: do employees know our strategy? Do they know our top 10 customers by volume and profitability? Do they know how much cash we have and what we plan to do with it? Do they know the most critical items that need to ship this week? Can they identify the top 10 defects in our performance and how to recognize them as well as our plans to eliminate them? What customers are visiting this week? Who are our competitors and what do they do better than we do? How do we make money? What customers do we want to win in the next year and how do we do that? Who are our suppliers and what do they do well and where do they need to improve? These are just some of the hallmarks of a high-transparency organization.

If you hesitate to share any of this information, you have an opportunity to improve your workplace.

The Genie Out Of The Bottle

Transparency is a powerful force, but once an organization goes down the path- it is very hard to retreat. The genie of transparency cannot be put back in the bottle without a huge cost to morale and engagement.

Trusting employees with the important data about your business says a lot about how you see your employees. Are they adults who can reason and are your trusted partners or are they somehow incapable of independent thought on behalf of your customers?

Given the choice between organizations at opposite ends of the transparency spectrum- where will the most talented candidates choose to make their living? ♦

Next: Part 2 – Why Managers Hate Transparency  >>>
John Schierer

John Schierer

John Schierer is a senior Human Resources Consultant with over 25 years’ experience with such companies as Thomas and Betts, Kyocera America, Cobham Sensor Systems, and Cubic. His HR teams create strong cultures of employee engagement resulting in record-setting financial performance.His teams were awarded the Workplace Excellence Award by the San Diego Society of Human Resources (SDSHRM) in 2008 and 2010 and the National Business Research Award in 2009 for wholesale gains in employee engagement results.
John Schierer

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