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What does transparency mean?

Companies and employees talk about transparency, but what does transparency mean? To me, being transparent means being open with goals and expectations and sharing successes and setbacks. Being transparent means you share information and don’t hide from the truth.

While lots of companies talk about being transparent, they simply mean they want a culture that encourages open and honest communication.  Unfortunately, they often mean that in a one-way sense.  In other words, they want employees to be open and honest, but they want to be able to evade tough questions when things aren’t going well and even when things are going well as they’re afraid that may encourage employees to demand/expect better compensation/benefits.

Being transparent means having honest conversations about performance when it’s not going as expected.  This doesn’t always mean someone made a mistake, but it does mean being willing to talk about why things didn’t go as anticipated and then actually listen to the response and the reasoning.  When mistakes or misunderstandings do occur, it means talking about future goals and consequences.  Ignoring issues or concerns is not being transparent, it’s hiding from potentially difficult conversations.

While I don’t believe it’s necessary for companies to completely open their books to all staff, sharing as much as reasonable shouldn’t be a concern.  Building trust within an organization helps many companies and employees succeed.  Being transparent allows us to admit we don’t have all the answers and maybe can learn from others’ perspectives, giving us a more diverse view of our world.

The literal definition of transparency has to do with the quality of being easily seen through (as well as being open and honest).  Sometimes transparency is difficult.  But ignoring things that are difficult gets us nowhere.

Have you had a conversation with your employees about transparency?  What does it mean to you and/or to them?  What does it mean for your organization?

Let’s talk about it!  Maybe that’s a step in a “clear” direction! 

A ghostly figure in a mirror.

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