“Transparency” is, without a doubt, one of the most used terms of recent years. Everyone wants transparency, in all areas of life: in personal relationships, at work, in opinions and ideas. After all, in a world dominated by fake news, there is a greater value in the things we know for sure.
There is still a belief that a certain level of mystery is required to create desire, and perhaps that is true in love, but in business, the days when desire was generated by a little information and a lot of makeup are over. Now, what the eyes do not see, the heart does not desire.
Ignorance was a bliss
Many brands have been created and grown by giving as little information as possible to their customers and employees:
“Where does this come from?”
“That doesn’t matter, look at the great price!”
“Where is this going?”
“Nobody cares — it has such high durability!”
“Is everyone at the company paid fairly?”
“The important thing is that you have jobs!”
And so an opaque corporate culture was born. The less people knew, the more the company succeeded. Until now.
“Transparency is not a gamble, it is already reality.” — Paulo Nassar, director of the Brazilian Association of Corporate Communications (Aberje), in an interview
Globalization has brought (almost) everything to (almost) everyone — we know the whole story well. Boundaries do not exist in a world where even the problems have been socialized: you can try to pretend that it is not about you, but deep down, you know that everyone is complicit.
Today, everybody knows that cheap clothes and the latest smartphones cost somebody somewhere their freedom, or even their lives. The chocolate that we love so much is making us sick and destroying the fauna and flora of the country where it was produced. And this is why transparency is so feared: it creates responsibility and consequences, both for the producers and the consumers.
Now, there is a new generation willing to face the consequences, and they want transparency in their consumption. First, companies need to tell their customers where their products come from, how much they cost, how much they pay their employees, and how much profit they make. This generates consumer desire based on honesty and transparency, and engagement is led by the shared values of the buyer and the business.
“Total transparency is the only way to share progress; we use daily stand ups, weekly brainstorms, and monthly ‘share’ days to make sure everyone on the team has an opportunity to have a voice into what we are doing and see the impact of their and the team’s work.” — Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, CMO BitTorrent
Many companies and startups have had success with total transparency: Vert, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, TransferWise, Everlane, Buffer, PACT, Honest By. There is nothing naïve about correlating progress and transparency. Just be prepared for the questions that come as part of any honest process.
Sharing problems is synonymous with transparency. By giving all staff access to all company emails, for example, information — and the responsibilities that come with it — is shared among all employees. Two heads are better than one, and with several people involved, processes become more agile. However, discussions involving many people can also delay decision making.
Transparency within companies still raises sensitive issues that need to be discussed. Sharing financial data, for example, should be accompanied by proper financial training for all employees, to ensure that everyone understands what is being shared with them.
But without doubt, the most contentious example is salaries. How does sharing employee salaries help? Well firstly, employees usually already have their own ideas on how much their colleagues earn, so it replaces hypothesizing with reality. Secondly, gender pay gaps would be quickly uncovered and resolved.
Ted Talk de David Burkus: arguing for salary transparency within companies
The big advantage of everyone feeling like an important part of a company is that allowing everyone to discuss and participate in the decision-making process creates a sense of community, something that is so precious within a corporation that aspires to democracy. Through collective decisions, everyone moves confidently in a single direction, knowing that they are working for something beyond the employer-employee relationship — they are working for themselves and for everyone else.
The key point in this discussion is that knowledge is no longer something to be kept under lock and key. Keeping important information to yourself is not synonymous with power — it is an obstacle to the development of society.
Shared knowledge is true power: shared power, expanded power, power with unparalleled reach, a path with no return.
Nobody is asking companies to be perfect; just trustworthy. Soon the day will come when transparent companies will be the norm, and those that try to stay in the shadows will be immediately questioned about what they are trying to hide.