International managing director at BullhornView Author Profile
Transparency builds trust in business and can help you create a more open and productive culture.
Transparency is a concept that’s become popular in politics, but it’s just as applicable to business.
For businesses, being radically transparent means opening up all communications and data in order to improve accountability, foster collaboration, and boost productivity.
Doing so requires strong leadership and a degree of fearlessness: after all, radical transparency means that, in many cases, employees will be able to see how you’re communicating and where you’re taking the business – and sometimes, they might not like what you’re saying and where you’re going.
If you’re brave enough, though, it can transform your company for the better.
How ‘closed’ businesses damage themselves
To understand why radical transparency matters, it’s essential to understand why ‘closed’ businesses run into problems.
A key reason is that when companies aren’t committed to transparency, they often won’t know exactly what’s going on within the organisation or how to respond to it.
Something as simple as a salesperson being on leave can cause considerable complications: if you don’t have access to their inbox, you’ll conceivably miss messages from prospects and clients – risking existing and potential business alike.
Another is that institutional secrecy inevitably leads to problems. Look, for example, at the infamous Sony Pictures hack in 2014: communications issued by the company’s then-executive chairperson contained racially charged remarks, and also highlighted a significant salary disparity between male and female employees.
To cite just one of Uber’s current image problems, the ride-hailing app landed in trouble recently for launching a clandestine programme designed to thwart government sting operations.
By encouraging insularity and closing themselves off, companies invite trouble for themselves: they create scenarios where these organisations can’t resolve simple internal problems, and leave themselves vulnerable to legal and PR problems.
The case for radical transparency
Both the Sony and Uber incidents raise a simple question: why bother with the hassle of hiding things?
Radical transparency offers a simple answer: don’t. By opening up your business, you can effectively create a system of internal self-regulation.
When a member of staff knows that an insensitive message could be read by anyone, they’re much more likely to be careful about what they say. When anyone can access anyone’s inbox, it’s easy for one employee to pick up a sick or absent employee’s slack.
When you’ve already handed your emails over, nobody has an incentive to steal them from you.
Indeed, adopting an ‘open email’ system – where all but the most sensitive communications are available for any employee to read – can create a culture of respect, responsibility, and collaboration.
A recruitment agency, for example, may find itself contacting the same candidate multiple times because employees act independently and often don’t know what their colleagues are doing.
This can irritate the candidate and jeopardise a potentially important relationship – after all, if they’re not right for one role, they might be right for a future role.
Opening emails makes it possible to know what everyone’s up to – ensuring that these relationships are kept intact and that every employee’s energies are being used as efficiently as possible. Looking at your emails can also reveal insightful patterns in customer preferences and behaviours that might have otherwise been obscured.
It can also identify potential improvements. If Employee X is performing demonstrably better than Employee Y – maybe their sales patter is better, or maybe they resolve customer enquiries more quickly – you can more easily identify the elements of their approach that work, and which elements of Employee Y’s don’t. This information can then be used to boost Employee Y’s performance.
Open business, open mind
Some information, such as financial records, salaries, and more, must necessarily remain private. Radical transparency doesn’t contest this, and nor does it encourage an Orwellian, “If you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide” mentality.
What it does is encourage cultural cohesion. It makes sure that everyone in the business stays true to its values and pulls in the same direction. At my company, we’ve embraced open email and the principle of radical transparency in general.
The results have been positive for the business and its employees alike.
We would encourage any business to adopt the same approach. Because radical transparency, at heart, isn’t really all that radical. It’s about making sure that everyone in your business is behaving in a manner that complements its principles, goals, and priorities. Anyone can get on board with that – and perhaps more should.
Peter Linas is international managing director at Bullhorn.
Why You Should Let Everyone See Your Emails