See-Through is Sexy

In every company I’ve owned or advised I’ve been an advocate of transparency. Of telling employees as much as you can as soon as you can.

In the last few months, transparency has become both a political symbol and federal law. So like it or not, we’re stuck with it for a while.

Inevitably, once the government gets its hands on something it becomes fodder for the Sunday talk shows and the extremists. Sooner rather than later it will be consigned to the dust heap of soiled political strategy whose time has come and gone.

And that would be a mistake.

Because transparency is one of the most powerful foundations on which to build a business. And it’s entirely free. Except for the courage it takes to begin.

Human nature is territorial. We protect what we know and guard our independence fiercely, because to rely on someone else is to give up control. “Not invented here,” is more than a catch phrase. It’s the starting point most people adopt when presented with another person’s idea. And it undermines the efforts of even the most visionary entrepreneur.

The answer is to build trust by being the first to demonstrate trust. And nothing demonstrates trust like transparency. Transparency about why you’re in business. About your plans for growth. About the problems and the obstacles. About what’s working and what’s not. About whether you’re having a good or bad year. About what you’re feeling.

Transparency does not mean you hand out your P&L once a month to the entire staff. Or publish everyone’s salary on the company’s Facebook page. Your staff need to have confidence that you will protect their privacy, their confidentiality and their dignity.

But it does mean being willing to have public discussion about any issue. If there’s something you can’t talk about, people will understand if you explain why. What they won’t buy is an illusion of transparency, but a reality in which all the big decisions are made behind closed doors.

I read something the other day in which a person described how they wanted to be treated in a time of crisis. I think their sentiment explains why transparency is such a powerful force in motivating people and engendering loyalty even when they know their jobs are at risk.

“I’d rather be a soldier than a victim.”

In a time when you can’t solve problems with money, giving your employees something to fight for can be even more powerful.

Do you agree?