3 Ideas to Help Make Your Organization More Transparent

This post was published originally on the Switch and Shift blog.

One of the most pronounced trends in business over the last five years or so has been the move toward greater transparency. This trend has been driven primarily by the revolution that we call “the internet,” where the default has now become public, and information that used to be kept behind closed doors or in certain expert domains has now become readily accessible to anyone around the globe who can somehow access Google.

Inside organizations, this means that employees are expecting more information to be shared, more of the time. For some, this push for transparency is nothing new. For many years, for example, Whole Foods has shared its salary and bonus data internally with everyone in the organization. In other words, everyone at Whole Foods knows what everyone else makes (a frightening prospect for many companies). Yet they don’t do this just to be provocative—their transparency is very strategic. By sharing the bonus data, they enable everyone on the system to see which teams are performing better than others. Teams that are behind reach out to the teams that are ahead to find out what they’re doing, and then they apply that knowledge to their local context. The whole system becomes more agile and responsive—all enabled by that layer of transparency.

We found in our more recent research that making things more visible internally tended to increase both the quality and quantity of good decisions inside the organization. One of our case studies, a custom software company called Menlo Innovations, literally puts their project management system up on the wall in the room where all 50 of their employees work, enabling them each to make their own decisions about when to put their work on hold to help someone else who is behind. Making everything visible yields better decisions throughout the system (without the necessity of managers, boring project status update meetings, or frantic and distracting emails asking for help).

Of course you’re not Menlo, and you’re not Whole Foods. I’m sure you can find reasons why you can’t share your salary data or put your project management system up on the wall. But that does not excuse you from embracing this important trend. There are many ways you can make things more visible internally to improve your decision making:

Improve Your Systems and Processes

Create systems and processes that share more data. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Many large companies are strategically strengthening their intranets, even creating internal online communities, to ensure that people know what’s going on internally. And perhaps the simplest example of improving transparency comes from the payment processing startup, Square: if more than two people participate in a meeting, then notes from the meeting must be shared with EVERYONE internally. You don’t have to read all the notes, but you no longer have the excuse of not knowing what’s going on.

Evaluate Your Decisions

You can also come at this from the opposite side: figure out where your decisions are most in need of improvement, and build up your information sharing to support those areas. Maybe you’ve been creating great new products that have been consistently going over budget. Clearly the financial decision making has been the weak link, so look to your financial reporting processes and see if you can get more targeted and perhaps more frequent data to the product team throughout their product development life cycle.

Distract Your Silos

One of the biggest culprits when it comes to shutting down transparency is the very existence of our different departments and divisions. While they are necessary (sometimes we need a space where we can go deep in our own area of expertise), silos can benefit from occasionally being distracted. Find periodic projects that require people to work across silo lines to get things done. We have one client that created a cross-functional work team to dig into customer engagement practices. The project will end, and the individuals will go back to their areas, but the connections they made and the information they learned about what their colleagues are actually doing to improve customer engagement will actually enhance their future decisions.

Stop settling for excuses. Embrace transparency (and improve decision making) before your competitors do. It’s actually easier than you think.

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