“ Transparency often leads you to the right path. What is the worst-case scenario with transparency? You’re being honest and saying things that are real — the right outcome is eventually going to come out of that.”–Dave Balter, Founder and CEO of BzzAgent
I was inspired by a discussion we had about transparency in my Strategic Social Media class with Paull Young. Young believes that transparency is important because, “Trust is too important to play around with.” That statement should resonate with all businesses, and people for that matter.
Businesses are fighting for trust from their intended audiences. Shel Holtz and John Havens, authors of “Tactical Transparency,” state that the realities associated with doing business in today’s “business environment have emerged as the result of recent trends: Declining trust in business as usual and the increased public scrutiny under which companies find themselves thanks to the evolution of social media.” It is important, now more than ever, for organizations to use tools successfully to be sincerely but prudently transparent in ways that matter to their stakeholders.
Tactical Transparency adopted the following definition for transparency:
Transparency is the degree to which an organization shares the following with its stakeholder publics:
- Its leaders: The leaders of transparent companies are accessible and are straightforward when talking with members of key audiences.
- Its employees: Employees or transparent companies are accessible, can reinforce the public view of the company, and able to help people where appropriate.
- Its values: Ethical behavior, fair treatment, and other values are on full display in transparent companies.
- Its culture: How a company does things is more important today than what it does. The way things are done is not a secret in transparent companies.
- The results of its business practices, both good and bad: Successes, failures, problems, and victories all are communicated by transparent companies.
- Its business strategy: Of particular importance to the investment community but also of interest to several other audiences, a company’s strategy is a key basis for investment decisions. Misalignment of a company’s strategy and investors’ expectations usually result in disaster.
Transparency is no longer an option. No matter how hard you try to hide something, the truth will always be revealed. It is in the company’s best interest to behave ethically and talk openly.
Companies should be well aware that no organization can avoid implementing the tools that will help create better dialogue with customers, partners, and employees. While using these tools, especially online, it is imperative to remain transparent and honest throughout all initiatives. To ensure that your company is transparent the first thing you need to do, as an organization, is assess the situation.
What communication tools are in place that can capture employee ideas? It is important to create an environment that invites and encourages internal dialogue. Do employees feel that their opinions and concerns matter and are there tools that easily allow employees to communicate thoughts and ideas? These questions are important in gauging how near or far an organization is to providing a welcoming and open environment for employees.
Adjust the Culture:
Transparency within an organization takes time and must involve every employee. This meaning that the CEO doesn’t need to be the one blogging or creating interactive media, but they do need to condone the process and be open to allowing employees within the company to produce these materials. Teaching executives how to feel comfortable with sharing information that previously was not talked about is a difficult task but a necessary one.
“I think the thing people really need to know about this is that transparency is sort of a long-term cause. It is not “flip the switch tomorrow morning and everybody gets what the reality needs to be.”
How Open is Right for You?
According to J.D. Lasica, cofounder of Ourmedia.org and the Social Media Group, there are three levels of transparency that an organization should consider when trying to achieve tactical transparency.
- Operational Transparency: That involves creating or following an ethics code, conflict-of-interest policies, and any other guidelines your organization creates. Check out WOMMA for a list of questions and recommendations.
- Transactional Transparency: This type of strategy provides guidelines and boundaries for employees so they can participate in the conversation in and out of the office. Can they have a personal blog that discusses work-related issues?
- Lifestyle Transparency: This is personalized information coming from sites like Facebook and Twitter. These channels require constant transparency and authenticity.
Most importantly, identify areas of the organization that shall remain private. Things kept private should only remain that way to maintain confidentiality. Typical examples of items that companies should not reveal include
- Proprietary information
- Personal information
Establish Your Voice:
Tactical Transparency lists varied views on both objective and subjective journalism. Whatever your organization adopts as its communications “voice,” it needs to be consistent. You need to demonstrate to employees and customers that you’re speaking truth and not just saying what people want to hear or what you want them to believe. “If you are not honest about where you’re coming from, customers will know it and likely never come back.”
Create an Action Plan:
Holtz and Havens outline specific situations where tactical transparency can transform a business:
- Major change initiatives
- Financial matters
- Media interaction
- Employee interaction with the outside world
- Accessibility of management to strategic publics
For each situation, figure out how to incorporate a plan of action while remaining transparent.
Monitoring a business’ reputation can be a great opportunity to listen to those impacted or interested in your business. Whether it’s negative or positive feedback, it gives your business a chance to react quickly.
Tactical Transparency outlines in detail how to achieve transparency in an organization. This relevant and pertinent topic will continue to be of great importance.
Interesting articles to check out:
Social media transparency: How realistic is it?
What Happens When Transparency Goes Wrong?