Transparency is one of the most powerful tools that a leader can employ to develop ownership thinking within an organization. To one degree or another, all adults are accustomed to a certain type of customer-facing transparency embedded into their everyday lives. For instance, 97% of adults in the United States own a cellphone (Pew Research, 2020), providing them with unparalleled levels of real-time transparency. The extent of consumer insight, and data, that is acquired by simply carrying a cellphone is astounding. As another illustration of daily transparency, one need not look any further than the restaurant industry. In response to criticism (Tuttle, 2012), restaurants embarked on a mission of near total customer transparency as a means of improving the dining experience. Walls surrounding kitchens were removed, and diners were now spectators of controlled chaos, and in some instances could even feel the sweat inducing heat of restaurant food preparation. Beyond increased levels of customer facing intimacy, and an airy openness, (which undoubtedly gave rise to a generation of self-described food connoisseurs) did the transparency exercise translate into net-positive gains from an organizational perspective? More importantly, beyond the customer’s willingness to perhaps ask for a menu item to be fixed, how might an inward facing transparency affect an entire organizational structure?
On its most basic level, business transparency can be traced to the establishment and promotion of core values. Presently, subsequent efforts to heighten transparency, tend to surround dynamic process changes, such as creating open communication channels using systems called Slack®, Trello®, and Microsoft Teams. Eliminating the once-is-too-often statement, “I don’t know what is going on”, should be motivation enough to strive for organizational transparency. However, between additional levels of transparency, or even total (sometimes referred to open-book management), what is the optimal level an organization should strive to reach? This is an important question to answer because transparency, at any level, is rife with pitfalls; half-measures are often disastrous, and haphazard full measures can be catastrophic.
One answer for leaders considering increased organizational transparency could be Proximate Accountable Transparency (PAT). PAT is a high-level concept that leaders can adopt to foster transparency, while being mindful of unintended consequences. In short, when unpacked, PAT identifies three key aspects. It starts by asking, for each department, division, or unit, where does the lowest level of successful decision making reside? The next question PAT asks, what degree of transparency is crucial for individuals, at each level, to be their most effective to win? PAT identifies accountability as a must-have, at every level. Accountability is not only the bond that holds the organizational structure together, but also the main ingredient needed to achieve traction. Finally, PAT clarifies, and elevates the understanding, and differences between full transparency, and total transparency. For example, an operations level production line employee, does not need the total transparency of a Chief Executive Officer. However, this production line employee, by means of PAT, can be positioned not only to win at their specific job, but so that they understand how their efforts affect the entire organization. Using PAT, a leader is assured that the correct level of transparency is proximal and accountable, and as a bonus, it identifies critical organizational transparency deficiencies that may have been found during the implementation process.
Too often leaders assume that transparency is binary, and unconditional; however, leaders that utilize PAT understand that transparency is nuanced. Leaders that steer fully transparent organizations are those which are the most effectively positioned to win. To wit, effectiveness and winning translates to value. Value, and the act of being valued, is a sublime human experience. The organization that fosters and welcomes PAT will increase value, accountability, and traction, while realizing boosted levels of shared satisfaction, and individual competencies. The bottom-line is that transparency is a powerful tool, and it should not be used carelessly, or without consideration of its effects. Thus, the successful leader knows that broad-based transparency can hinder, rather than help, they know the difference between full and total transparency, and when it is time to introduce a friend… “Hello, my name is PAT”.
- Demographics of mobile device ownership and adoption in the United States. (2020, June 05). Retrieved April 07, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/
- Tuttle, B. (2012, August 20). Nothing to hide: Why restaurants embrace the open kitchen. Retrieved April 07, 2021, from https://business.time.com/2012/08/20/nothing-to-hide-why-restaurants-embrace-the-open-kitchen