In 2014, an article published in the Journal of Management defined the behaviour of transparency. It was termed as “the perceived quality of intentionally shared information from a sender”. You will find a myriad of online and offline resources relating to such behaviour. Furthermore, they all point to a strong culture of good corporate governance.
During a recent culture development session, we took a critical look at transparency. We delved deep into what it means to us, as well as for us. In this cornerstone piece, we discuss our findings and also how they can affect business.
How we define transparency
While there are many formal definitions, we opt for a more personal one. We believe in sharing as much as possible. At the same time, we restrict access to information to as little as reasonable. We prefer being able to honestly answer any question, internal or external. What’s more, if one cannot answer for reasons of sensitivity, we should prepared to explain why.
Think about making this practical daily, and you see how it must tie in with both values and company strategy. For example, Adept is a trusted ICT partner to our clients. We need a high level of transparency in order to build trust and accountability. Furthermore, it helps us build clarity on mutual goals, and sheds light on the value we can provide.
The importance of such behaviour is evident both inside and outside the organisation.
When looking from within, maintaining a transparent culture has several benefits. It leads to less confusion and fewer doubts w.r.t. strategy and actions. It also promotes better shared awareness. Best of all, it eliminates the space for internal politics and permits much higher accountability. Finally, it also fosters a far more efficient work environment.
Transparency is also vital within individual team settings. Think of a Sales team, and their need to create absolute clarity in what they will and won’t do. Or perhaps of a Client Services team, building trust by communicating the reasons behind any issues. Finally, consider an Accounts team. If they provide accurate processes and resolutions, clients will be confident that problems will be resolved. Furthermore, they will also feel that their best interests are always considered.
To fully understand the role of transparency, you should also consider what happens when it isn’t prevalent. This will inevitably create distrust and uncertainty. Left unchecked, these elements feed the rumour mill and breed negativity. In turn, this develops a negative company culture and turns the organisation into an unpleasant work environment. What’s worse, people who are adversely affected by this typically share the experience, leading to reputational damage to the company.
While it isn’t always the easiest to quantify, you have a few tools at your disposal.
Firstly, you need to remain fully and comprehensively aware of what can and cannot be transparent. In addition, you should always consider whether such transparency applies towards all parties: colleagues, suppliers, clients and so forth.
Another option is to consistently monitor the quality, openness and frequency of communication. While this remains subjective, you can easily set standards and minimum requirements.
Finally, don’t forget to simply ask. Query people about whether they feel there is enough transparency. You can make this part of your regular gatherings, or hold brief sessions with individual employees. Question and find out how people are experiencing the flow on information, and make a note to improve the shortcomings. Once you’re ready to put the points into action, make sure to have them as part of your strategy and communicate them effectively to all concerned.
How does one “do” transparency?
There are two levels of being transparent: personal and process.
On a personal level, you can simply develop the attitude of sharing unless there is good reason not to. Added to this, be honest about sensitive subjects when it is not appropriate to share. You should also be comfortable with assuming people have good intentions and trust them with the information they need.
When it comes to processes, however, you need more solid guidelines. To begin with, you should have clear-cut policies on what the scope of certain information is. For example, can you share a certain bit of info with the entire public domain? Or is it purely for active clients? Maybe it’s only intended for your own staff, or for a single individual. Set these rules early, make sure to stick to them, and be open to amending them.
To assist with these, you can develop your own process for rating or measuring transparency. Even more useful would be to have a forum for pointing out perceived transparency problems. Bear in mind that you can have both too much and too little transparency, so don’t shy away from considering both.
At Adept, we have a history of asking for and encouraging clear communication as well as openness. This has led to crystal-clear relationships both inside and with those outside our organisation. We strive to set such examples from the top down. Our personnel commit themselves to learning and improving on the transparency we offer in our daily activities. We actively share materials and ideas to help us foster a better and more transparent culture for ourselves, our clients and our suppliers.
This article’s cornerstone content was prepared in consultation with Adept’s Managing Director, Gideon le Grange, a strong proponent and icon of transparency.