Sunday, July 30, 2017

Is Transparency the Missing Link?

I started my career nearly 40 years ago now and remember my first job as if it was yesterday. What I distinctly remember from that time is the transparent cultures that I worked in. I remember feeling part of the organisation even as a young inexperienced graduate as the organisations leadership made me feel a valued part of the organisation, where my thoughts and inputs were actively sort by my manager on a reasonably regular basis.
Obviously there was confidential, high level information that wasn’t so transparent, often until after the fact, but that didn’t bother me, as I genuinely felt that I was a ‘cog in the organisational wheel’ albeit a very small cog and part of both a small departmental team and a much larger organisational team. 
When I talk to employees today, however, they often tell me that they feel that they are seen simply as a ‘warm body’ filling a position, to do as they are told and do not feel that they are employed for their thoughts and ideas. It seems, sadly, that transparency is not a business principal that is embraced by many 21st century leaders. I wonder why?
There definitely seems to be a negative trend, back towards command and control leadership which is really sad, as this leadership approach does not build strong organisational cultures. Organisations that encourage or turn a blind eye to this negative style of leadership may feel that their choice is validated because they get the results they want – but they naively don’t appreciate the cost in terms of ‘lost’ employer loyalty, innovation, and performance. Because the allure of the power that comes with the command and control style – these leaders blindly continue on their path, believing that they are solely the ones who have any brains in the organisation – and that employees are there to do as they are told; and not to think or question ideas.
These command and control leaders fear transparency as they believe it will show their weaknesses and shortcomings; and as individuals who can’t stand solely on their ‘work record and skills’ need ‘power’ to keep them in their leadership role – and the ‘perceived feelings’ that this brings. Hence they avoid transparency and create a ‘brick wall’ between themselves and the employees they ‘lead’ – allowing them to operate with perceived impunity. In the end command and control might get results but it doesn’t get optimum performance, sustained growth and innovation – business principles that are vital in today’s cut throat world of business.
Because command and control leaders are rarely transparent, this just fuels the distrusting culture even more, creating a very negative environment for their employees who simply adopt a ‘survival’ culture until they either find an alternative job or until they retire. Creating, in the end, a lose-lose situation for everyone – if only these modern day leaders had the courage to open their eyes and see it.
Transparency is the ‘competitive advantage’ between organisations and leaders you want to work for and those you strive to avoid or escape from. Transparency is one of the key elements of what organisational cultures should be all about. For example some of the benefits of transparency include;
It opens up a trusting relationship between leaders and employees;
It allows employees to contribute and innovate towards clear goals and objectives – a win-win for everyone;
Employees feel part of ‘something’ and feel valued – hence this helps with talent retention;
Day-to-day business discussions focus on genuine ‘pro-active’ honesty in all aspects of the work cycle – where, for example, mistakes aren’t hidden but transparently embraced and actively learnt from; and
Transparency makes an organisation a ‘rich’ place to work in, learn and develop your career.
It seems in today’s hectic global business environment that too many organisations have let poor leadership become the acceptable norm – often because once in place these leaders surround themselves with incompetent people who will follow them and be the ultimate ‘yes’ men – pushing out the best talent – but sadly still getting good enough results to remain in post.
It needs a strong CEO, with a strong board, to constantly challenge and investigate their ‘real’ company culture rather than the one that is portrayed by those in positions of power – as there may be a real difference between perception and reality, which can have a huge impact on an organisations future. A lack of transparency is like a cancer slowly eating away and ‘killing’ the good parts of an organisation.
Often by the time organisations find out that their middle management is not that good, it’s way too late to do anything about it – as by now all the really good talent has already left.
Leadership comes from the top and hence so does transparency. As a leader you need to ‘get out’ and meet you employees – have genuine and transparent one-on-one chats with them to find out what the real culture is like – and then you can more easily adapt and respond.
Just by getting out and having genuine, meaningful, transparent conversations with your employees will go a long way to developing a transparent culture; from there you can build a very special organisation. Why not give it a go today, you won’t regret it…..