Why is Transparency So Important? Here are 5 Tactics to Create a More Transparent Organization.

Part 2 of 4: The Value of Being Transparent, Inclusive, and Data-Driven

Technology and Management Consulting firms in Seattle and Beyond

Transparency

In the initial article of this series, we established that even with great people, processes, and technology, we may still fail to deliver results and accomplish goals. We improve our ability to achieve positive results when we operate with transparency, inclusivity, and data-driven decision making.

In this article, we take a deeper look at transparency - why it’s important, and how to create a culture of transparency in your org.

Creating a Culture of Openness

Transparency is a simple concept, but can be difficult to achieve. There are legitimate reasons why some people do not operate transparently. Maybe I’m dealing with sensitive information and I’m unsure who should have it. Maybe I want to protect others against information-overload and the burden of dealing with “useless” or “boring” information. (I’d argue that there is no such thing as “useless” information, but that’s a different conversation for a different time.)

There are also less-than-legitimate reasons why people actively hide information - politics, sabotage, unnecessarily competing, etc. Regardless of the reason information isn’t being shared, the net effect on the team or project is the same … all team members cannot use the same information when making decisions. If information isn’t shared, people will inevitably create their own assumptions and proceed with decisions and actions according to their “truth”.

The more information is shared, the fewer assumptions arise, increasing the likelihood that all team members can operate on the same baseline of information. This enables data-driven decisions and actions that drive results.

quote_box - operate on same info baseline less discord

When we operate on the same baseline, there’s less discord, and it’s easier for us to debate disagreements in a non-emotional way. Easier discussions lead to better compromises and the ability to drive more buy-in. More buy-in yields better participation. Better participation yields better results.

5 Tactics to Improve Transparency in Your Organization

Improving transparency has more to do with transforming culture and behaviors than processes. You can, and should, design processes that encourage and enforce transparency. But a stronger emphasis should be on behavioral constructs and creating an atmosphere conducive to sharing. Here are five tactics employed by highly-effective organizations I’ve worked in that have strong cultures of transparency.

One: Come Bearing Gifts

Give the gift of information and context. When going into situations (conversations, meetings, presentations, etc) where you will be expressing your thoughts/ideas/decisions, bring the data you were operating on when you formed those thoughts. Regardless if you lead with this information or not, be able and willing to refer to it if/when it will help your audience to better understand where you’re coming from. And do so proactively, patiently, and willingly. Everyone loves receiving gifts, and they establish a genuine appreciation for the giver, so this has the added benefit of strengthening relationships.

Two: Seek the Context You Need

When you are the recipient of someone’s thoughts/ideas/decisions and you are missing some context that would help you consume it ... ask for it. Your ability to make a decision or take appropriate action is a function of the quality of information you have. So you are obligated to get the best information you can.

There are situations where requesting more context can be uncomfortable or even confrontational, especially when the provider feels untrusted or micro-managed. Approach those situations with patience and humility, explaining what you’re missing and why having more information will help you. You could even acknowledge how they might be feeling which would help them to be less defensive. This increases the likelihood that you get what you need while maintaining a good working relationship with the other person.

Three: Assume Positive Intent

Regardless if you are the information-provider or the information-seeker, assume positive intent of the other party. This alone goes a long way in building trust and maintaining respectful working relationships. No one likes to be questioned. And no one enjoys interrogating co-workers to get the information they need. Everyone is just trying to do their best work.

In my 18 years as a professional, I’ve worked with tens of thousands of people, and there are less than five that I honestly believe had malicious intent. All the other uncomfortable situations were just people trying to do their best work, using the skills they acquired over time. They meant no harm. So, assume positive intent, put yourself in their shoes, and try to be helpful. When you operate that way, others will return the favor.  

Four: Resist the Urge to Overly-Optimize Information Sharing.

Yes, we spend too much time in meetings. Yes, we receive way too many emails about stuff we don’t care about. It leads to a lot of “over-sharing”, which takes valuable time and energy to sift through, i.e. opportunity cost.

quote_box - effect of failing to deliver outweighs opportunity cost

I get it. But in my experience, the effect of failing to deliver due to insufficient information far outweighs the opportunity cost of over-sharing. I’m all for being more efficient in meetings and eliminating unnecessary email blasts. But we shouldn’t over-optimize and eliminate opportunities for us to spend time together and deepen our understanding.

This is especially true for people in leadership positions. Given the nature of how leaders operate, we don’t actually do anything that directly achieves a result.

quote_box - ability to get results fx of relationships and interactions

We get results through others. So our ability to get results is a function of the quality of our relationships. And you deepen relationships through more interactions, not fewer.

Five: Leaders Lead the Charge.

Although I state this last, this is the most important. It is the catalyst of the transformation and needs to happen first. Leaders must do the following:

  1. Explicitly state the expectation for openness. Leave no room for interpretation.
  2. Model the behaviors called out here. This will give your people powerful examples, and the green light to act transparency.
  3. Create safe spaces where people can be open without fear of retribution or judgement. Remind people to “assume positive intent” and proceed accordingly.
  4. Openly acknowledge and reward transparency when you see it.

Conclusion

The most successful organizations embrace transparency as it enables better flow of information. Better information leads to more informed ideas. More informed ideas lead to better decisions. Better decisions lead to better results.

Info-Ideas-Decisions-Results

Although the concept of transparency is simple, it can be difficult to achieve, especially if your cultural norms need to change to support it. Leaders must model the behaviors they want, and create safe, supportive environments where people can operate transparently. Just as with any muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. And eventually you’ll reap the benefits of high performance.

Dockett Ellis can help!

Over the last decade I have helped Amazon, Expedia, and StubHub to transform organizations into high-performing teams, by focusing on improvements to their operating model and cultural norms. At Dockett Ellis Consulting we are experts in organizational development, leadership coaching, and org transformation. We particularly shine with transitions to agile operations and product development.

We are more than consultants -- We are Problem Solvers!

Contact us if you’d like to discuss ways to improve transparency in your organization and your ability to deliver.

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Contact us if you’d like to discuss ways to improve transparency in your organization. 

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