Transparency is the new universal solution to all things and it is an integral part of the changing nature of change. Calls for greater transparency reflect many things, from a decrease in trust to the increased capacity of people to take in new information. While being transparent is often thought of in a financial perspective, the act of increasing transparency is inherently social.
According to Wikipedia corporate transparency is the construct of removing all barriers to —and facilitating of— free and easy public access to corporate, political and personal information and the laws, rules, social connivance and processes that facilitate and protect those individuals and corporations who freely join, develop and embellish the process.
I would suggest that this definition of transparency is more aspiration than reality. In case after case, corporate and professional transparency has involved increasing the flow and access of some information but not all information. One person’s transparency is another person’s cover up. An example is the comparison between the U.S. Governments Ideas about transparency in spending stimulus money at http://www.recovery.gov and commercial stimulus tracking web sites.
I propose that transparency is its own step in new approaches to change management as people want to know more and make informed choices before they take the leap and make the change. There are different forms and levels of transparency but consider the move to corporate performance reporting, the use of six sigma and Lean techniques for process improvement, and increased shareholder demands.
Transparency frequently comes before people are ready for deep change for the simple reason that they want to know why before they ask what and how. This role used to be played by the CHAMPION who would communicate top down the need for change. Unfortunately champions and senior executives no longer hold as much sway as they once did so enrolling people in change requires showing them more information – under the guise of being more transparent.
Executives can and some have used transparency to their benefit in several ways.
- Transparency can “drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company” which is one of Deming’s 14 points. He is right as greater transparency takes some of the sting out of the dissatisfactionthat often is the catalyst behind the need to change. By making thing more visible takes the air out of the rumor mill and replaces speculation with statistics. This can be important in helping everyone understand and come
- Transparency is often the first answer, we will be more transparent and that will start to address the problem. In many ways, transparency has become a quick win and a sign of progress.
- Transparency is a way to enroll people in the change effort to build the solutions rather than trying to sell them the solutions. This was part of the ethos of the original quality movement that drove responsibility for change to the shop floor level.
Transparency is more important than every because people have the tools that help make more detailed information more usable. Transparency has to increase because social systems require information and has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to create that information on their own. The expenses scandal in the UK Parliament is an example, handling of scandals in the automotive, the priest abuse issues are each examples where opacity has made things worse and people took it upon themselves to create transparency where none had existed before. BTW according to recovery.gov the average cost of creating a new job via a stimulus contract was $806,403.80 ! I wonder where I can get one of those new jobs.
Executives looking to lead new waves of change should recognize the role of transparency to drive out fear, focus on what matter and demonstrate trust not by what they tell the people below them but how they let the people see things for themselves. That builds an informed enterprise that can make choices about how to change and choice is the next step of this process.