Transparency theory

Fifteen years ago, during my graduate business school days, two words kept coming up in every class I took: Accountability and Transparency.

These words were repeated time and time again in classes ranging from Ethics to Managerial Economics to Fraud Examination.

Like most students and academics at the time, I used them as often as I could in presentations and papers.

I even used them often when I started a more substantial leadership role after graduation.

Fast-forward fifteen years, I still like these words and still use them, yet my experience has taught me a great deal.

What I have come to learn is that not everyone wants to be held accountable even if they expect it from others.

I don’t fault anyone for this as I have come across a substantial number of organizations that say they don’t punish mistakes, yet they do.

Hence, if someone made a mistake, they might be reluctant to come forth and take accountability and responsibility for it.

Naturally this links to transparency or a lack thereof.

On an interesting flip side, I have also come across some situations whereby leadership is reluctant to hold people accountable in fear of the person going on stress leave. They would then be short-staffed and maybe even have to do the work themselves.

Holding someone accountable can be challenging.

With respect to transparency, my observations have been similar.

It sounds great to say and looks great on paper, yet when it comes down to it, people might not be wired for radical transparency.

In fact, I have seen people react with downright fear at the idea.

Once again, I don’t fault anyone or any organization for taking such a perspective as in fact, it can be scary to some.

Imagine someone knew what your weaknesses here? How much money you made? All your insecurities and vulnerabilities?

This is scary stuff.

Even more scary is if you can do your job and do it well in 3 hours a day yet you get paid for 7. Do you tell you boss and get more work or take a pay-cut?

If you want to be transparent, you should likely let them know; yes?

It is not as if you did anything wrong.

Transparency sounds great, yet it is obviously more complicated in some instances.

I have known people who were radically transparent and rewarded yet in almost the exact same comparable instance were punished for it.

The people they were being transparent with had very different mindset on what this level of transparency meant.

To one party, it meant honesty and integrity to share everything that went wrong on a project.

To another party, this meant incompetence and a reason for punishment because things went wrong on a project.

I have known individuals at factory environments being pressured to hide workplace accidents so that Management can claim an accident-free workplace.

Given this, are accountability and transparency even possible in a work environment?

My perspective is, yes. That said, it can take a substantial amount of time and requires a new mindset and, a lot of authentic discourse.

Here are my ideas in the form of questions that will demonstrate what I believe transparency in an organization might look like.

Are salaries for every position know to everyone in the organization?

Are mistakes shared openly and regularly in the form of a communication and saved in a learning database?

Are individual strengths and work-in-progress qualities know to all?

Are individual performance goals and objectives shared organization-wide?

Are meetings at all levels recorded and shared or at least meeting minutes shared with all?

Are financials shared or product or program activity reports shared with all? Even if they are bad.

Do staff know exactly how leadership will handle performance issues?

Does everyone know what is meant to be confidential like trade secrets or intellectual property?

Can staff be involved in picking their leadership?

Can staff give leadership constructive feedback without repercussions?

Are there secret meetings?

Are you tracking people’s time, in and out?

Does everyone know how conflicts will be dealt with?

Does everyone know how decisions at all levels will be made?

Not every question will apply to every organization. And I understand and realize there are other complex matter at play here.

Yet, I hope these questions can facilitate the start of an authentic and perhaps challenging conversation.

Transparency theory into reality.