How transparent should I be?

By Erik Korsvik Østergaard, 10. October 2012

Leadership requires transparency

I understand that leadership requires transparency, but how do I do that? And should I be open about everything?

Here’s a guide to transparency:

  • Step 1: Co-create and publish a list of transparency rules (see below)
  • Step 2: Be transparent about your transparency
  • Step 3: Adjust as the culture evolves

Sometimes employees have the feeling, that the management just wrote a number (“the target is 14!”) on the inside of a glass cube, and all the employees can do is stand on the other side and see the number (“14!”). They cannot get an explanation, or a dialogue on how the number was derived. They feel alienated.

You as a leader should strive to avoid this distance between management and employee.

What can I do to be transparent?

Transparency is perceived as fake without feedback, involvement, and dialogue.

Transparency comes in three levels:

  1. Tell
  2. Tell, and explain the reasoning behind these decisions, figures, and statements.
  3. Tell, explain, and involve in the process, the problem solving, the decisions, and how to get there.

You should strive for level 3 (tell, explain, and involve) as often as possible. However, this is also a contextual judgement.

Why should I be transparent?

A fundamental principle in Modern Leadership is empowerment and distributed power in the teams. A requirement for that is an open dialogue, based on transparency, collaboration, and involvement.

This will lead to trust, mutual understanding, and alignment of expectations,  which leads to higher engagement, better products, and an holistic care for the customers and the value we create for them.

Should I be totally transparent with everything?

No.

Going to the extreme is not suitable for all situations, leaders, or organizations. Do not be naively transparent.

Also, some things are legally required to be safeguarded; and other things are sensitive to both the organization, the single employees, and to the financials or the core business, like patents, business opportunities, and research knowledge.

Instead look at these three categories:

Will it work?

Yes, if you discuss the rules openly, adjust them over time, and base them on trust and understanding.

Step 1: Co-create and publish a list of transparency rules

Look at the list above and see if there’s a fit. Does this match your organization? Talk openly about it and add/remove to the list.

Step 2: Be transparent about your transparency

Publish the transparency list and guide, and use it actively. Refer to it, when you make decisions on communication and dialogue.

And finally:

Step 3: Adjust as the culture evolves

Over time the list will evolve and change, as trust, openness and transparency is something you and your team must develop and practice together. As the culture evolves in this way, a need for updating the guide will be needed. Most likely the requests for more transparency will rise.

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