Transparency has been a big buzzword in the last few years especially with the growth of social media. Every company wants to be transparent in order to better “engage” with their customers. I’m all for it because it gives people a chance to see and hopefully understand what really happens behind the scenes.
The problem with transparency is when a company says they are transparent or they value transparency to their stakeholders, (and I use stakeholders here not shareholders because stakeholders is all encompassing including customers and employees) the expectation is for the company to be fully transparent 100% of the time. More and more organizations are transparent only when it suits them and often that is the when something is going right.
What about transparency when something is going wrong? Transparency during adverse times is more important than during days full of sunshine and rainbows. The bad times is when stakeholders want, and many times even need, information.
One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the final rap battle in 8 mile. That scene is the rise of B-Rabbit (Eminem) from obscurity into rap legend. In the final of the three round battles, Eminem is battling Papa Doc the leader of the Free World rap group and he attacks him by calling him out as not being a real gangster even though he acts all tough. Eminem raps about how his real name is Clarence (not a very gangster name), he goes to private school, and his parents are still together. The one line that stands out to me the most is when Eminem says “…ain’t no such think as a halfway crook.” That line means either you’re a crook or not, there’s no gray area, and either you’re in or you’re out. Here is the link for the entire battle and that specific line on Rap Genius.
There’s no such thing as halfway transparent. You’re either in or you’re out, during the good times and the bad.
This also reminds me of the Clayton Christensen book How Will You Measure Your Life? It’s a must read for getting perspective on what we’re doing from a professional sense whether you’re an entrepreneur or CEO. One of the chapters entitled 100 Percent of the Time Is Easier Than 98 Percent of the Time, Christensen discusses how making an exception just once can become a slippery slope whatever the situation. While the chapter is referring to moral choices, there is a lesson to be learned about transparency as well. If an organization refuses to be 100% completely transparent just once, then time and time again it will be more difficult to draw the line and be fully transparent once again.
Transparency is easy to do in social media but companies consistently get it wrong. When I complain on Twitter about a specific service I’m getting, I don’t want a pre-approved fake apology. If you’re going to be transparent and engage with me, actually tell me what’s going on. Most people would rather know what’s happening and not be given an empty apology or excuse. Furthermore, if you really don’t know what’s happening then tell me you don’t know and will update me once you know.
Transparency is great for companies that can do it. Of course many companies cannot be completely be transparent for varying reasons and that’s ok also. However, if an organization claims to be transparent, then they need to be 100% transparent 100% of the time.