Ask a group of business leaders whether they support information transparency and you’ll hear a resounding “Of course!” But then be more specific. Ask if they share new product plans widely. How about the most recent financial statements? Their latest ideas for cost-cutting? Maybe that reorg they’ve been tinkering with or company-wide compensation? “Uh, well, um, no, not really … not that kind of transparency!”
Consider this post a vote for greater transparency. If we want to use business as a force for good, we have to change the relationships with our colleagues and our customers. Good relationships are built on trust, and you can’t build trust when you’re keeping a lot of secrets.
You may be thinking that most employees can’t be trusted with sensitive information. They will overreact. Productivity will drop as people waste time fretting and gossiping. Maybe someone will disclose secrets outside the business in a way that benefits competitors. We can’t take that chance!
Sometimes these concerns are warranted. But what if these unhelpful behaviors are a product of the system most of us work in today? Maybe this is the way some people react when secrets leak, not how they would show up if such information were consistently available.
As human beings, we tend to respond to expectations. When we feel trusted, we are motivated to be trustworthy. Of course, as with several aspects of self-management, this comes down to your beliefs about human nature.
I contend that the rewards of transparency outweigh the risks. What are the rewards? I see at least three.
In a very real way, the most important thing we do at work is make decisions. We evaluate options, consider parameters or elements of a decision, seek input from others, and review our experience with similar decisions. And yet consider how often you must decide with incomplete information. It’s an uncomfortable feeling and often leads to suboptimal results.
Sadly, the missing data in some of our decisions does exist, and it lives inside our organizations. When we promote transparency, we free up information — about strategy, tactics, plans, financials, and people — that can be put to work in the service of better decision-making.
We all know that information is power. While it might not be obvious, it should be clear that when we share information, we share power. Greater transparency is like swinging open the doors and inviting folks in; it is inherently more inclusive.
Many of us in the B Economy are exploring ways of working that have the potential to change the system. Information asymmetry has been used to prop up white supremacy culture and male privilege at work for a long time. If you are committed to breaking these patterns, try greater transparency as one step in that direction.
When sensitive information is shared with us on a regular basis, we feel trusted. When we feel trusted, it’s natural to feel a deeper, stronger connection to the organization.
Jason Wiener has seen this firsthand at P.C., a Colorado-based law and business consulting practice he founded that is a public benefit corporation and a Certified B Corp.
“Since opening up our financials to the team, our folks feel a greater sense of purpose when it comes to business development, blog posts, and projects,” Wiener says. “We feel more free to discuss financial matters and iterate together toward solutions. Everyone remains aligned in our commitment to the big picture. Transparency has deepened trust to a level not otherwise seen in typical employer-employee relationships.”
In the race for talent, we’re all looking for ways to attract and retain the best people. A culture of transparency and trust is still a rare thing, and one that can differentiate your organization.
Intention vs. Practice
If you are ready to give greater transparency a try, there’s one more thing to consider as you embark on this path.
I speak with leaders who swear they are strong supporters of transparency in their organizations. But when I ask folks inside those same entities, they express some confusion. The disconnect is this: While there is not an effort to hide information, there is also no endeavor to make information plainly available, searchable, and easy to understand.
As you are able, reduce the number of locations where information lives. Maintaining multiple databases, N drives, cloud storage, and multiple apps, each with critical information, is not only expensive, it’s overwhelming for users. At a minimum, create a short guide to help folks know where to look for each type of information. And establish a cadence for cleaning up data storage, re-organizing, and archiving to ease the search for the most current and relevant bits.
Sometimes people need training to make use of the newly shared information. For example, if you haven’t offered financial literacy training, you can’t expect much from open-book management.
I hope you’ll give greater transparency a try in your organization. What are you waiting for?
A version of this article originally appeared on B the Change. Read more stories of people using business as a force for good in B the Change, or sign up to receive the B the Change Weekly newsletter for more stories like the one above, delivered straight to your inbox.