Transparency: a desirable attribute for organisational culture?

I caught up this week with the Aussie contingent from the Stanford Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders, I attended last August. It was so invigorating, like being back in the ‘Stanford bubble’ again, momentarily.

Our conversation went from hot topics in the not-for-profit space such as mergers and funding, to Stanford favourites, organisational design, culture and stories.

… And then I mentioned the word ‘transparency’. It generated a lively discussion about whether transparency of information really is an aspirational attribute for an organisation’s culture.

As an organisation with only four staff sharing a small open-plan office, transparency is almost a given to us. Everyone knows what the others are onto and how the organisation is trading.

But as businesses grow and expand over square metres and departments, the information flow can slow down and break down in silos. Understanding what one’s role is in the big picture can become pretty challenging. So one might think encouraging transparency in such an environment could be beneficial?

Of course, there are shades and degrees of transparency. At one extreme, there are companies adopting a philosophy of open-book management, while on the other end, some that restrict the information to that which is absolutely necessary for the employee to ‘perform their role’. And everywhere in-between, an organisation can choose the type of information they want to openly share.

Which ever end of the spectrum is chosen, transparency should be managed carefully. Sensitive information (for example, the organisation’s financial position) can create discomfort and uncertainty among employees, if not introduced adequately.

Another point the group made was that transparency is as much a top-down approach, as it should be a bottom-up one. Employees need to understand that if they don’t share their thoughts, managers will not know what they don’t know. As such, creating initiatives that encourage people to voice their ideas and opinions is an important part of an open, transparent culture.

Crafting an organisation’s culture is a leader’s challenge (check out Leading by design), but also a great opportunity. When people get engaged, through a transparent process, to identify the type of workplace where they want to work, they can truly believe in it. Now that’s a winning culture!





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