What comes to mind when you hear someone talking about the need for “transparency?” In many different environments now, that seems to be a readily accepted buzz word. Whether in government, business, or individual relationships, that word seems to somehow be tied to an image of success.
According to one definition I read recently, the term business transparency means “clear, unhindered honesty in the way one conducts business.” While I believe that is very important, I don’t think that definition goes far enough to explain what really needs to happen for transparency to exist. Writer Victor Lipman expanded on that concept in a Forbes.com article (http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2013/12/11). He shared survey findings that revealed how the cost of transparency is almost zero, and yet it greatly impacts the bottom line of the business in a positive way when it does exist. The study explained that if employees believe and trust management, they will work harder for the good of the organization. For that to be realized in practice, the employees need to be able to see what they are expected to be working toward. They have to understand the mission, vision, and objectives of the organization as well as the key processes that drive the organizational outcomes.
That leads to the real question. What does transparency really mean to each employee? I have observed in business, much as in all life experiences, that what may be transparent from one vantage point is often completely obscured to those who are in a different place. That concept is easy to understand if you think about it. Consider the view in the suites above the finish line at the Indy 500, compared to the race experience for those seated in the infield bleachers along the backstretch. Both are exciting places to be, but the entire race experience is completely different for the fans. One person may describe the best part of the race as the moment when three cars came racing down the backstretch and went into the turn three wide battling for position. The other may say the highlight was the photo finish. Either description could be an example of complete honesty, but neither would accurately describe the race overall. Similarly, in any organization all views are necessary for transparency to exist. Whether your role is “on the front line” or you hold a position with a “view from the top,” all input is equally important.
How are we supposed to overcome these kinds of differences in what is visible within any business? It doesn’t happen without individuals from all parts of the organization making a commitment to listen and learn about what is happening in all other areas of the business. It may not be possible to actually put people in different positions for a period of time to allow them to observe first-hand what happens outside of their normal area, but there are other ways to achieve similar results.
Think about the Indy 500, and how many different cameras and reporters are placed all around the track, to try to deliver a complete view of the race for the fans watching on the Jumbotrons at the track or watching the race on television from anywhere in the world. In business, we don’t necessarily have cameras to record what is happening, but we can use similar types of communication. Take pictures of the different work activities to share with new employees. If the work flow in one area is impacted by the results that come from some other area, use process maps to identify those upstream and downstream activities. Make the information easily visible to employees so they know what impact their work may have on the final results, as well as how their tasks affect the ability of others to perform effectively. If reports contain data that is important for one or two areas of the organization, what data could or should be added to make the same report an effective method of communicating a single, more meaningful message to all employees?
Before I understood the issues related to different views from different perspectives, I thought that everyone should be able to see the same problems and therefore would want to work on the same solutions. For example, I have seen several instances where some corporate initiative placed a significant added burden on the front line service delivery teams, and no one at the administrative level seemed to care. Likewise, there have been times when suggestions for seemingly simple process changes were met with significant amounts of resistance by the field, for unknown reasons.
As I have enjoyed the opportunities to interact with individuals from all aspects of the HTM profession during the past several years, it has become increasingly clearer that we simply do not see the same things, or at least we do not all have the same perception of the things we do see. That does not represent a lack of desire for transparency, nor does it represent any intent to be dishonest in most cases. It is something that can easily be corrected, in most instances, once recognized.
We each must accept the responsibility to be open to viewing any situation from some perspective other than our own. That is especially crucial when the instinctive reaction to a suggestion or expectation may be negative or defensive. Instead of allowing that initial response to drive what happens next, make a conscious effort to first verify that everyone is seeing the same thing. Once those pictures from the different perspectives around the track all start to be visible on the Jumbotron, everyone can grasp a more complete representation of the circumstances.
Any place on that race track, on any lap, can have a dramatic impact on the finish. For organizations where the employees are able to see what it really takes to get to the finish, they will all be more likely to work harder to get there, and the result will be a win for everyone involved. So, no matter which seat you are in, seek to acknowledge and apply the vision from the other vantage points. Transparency requires an overlay of all views to create the full picture of the organization.
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