Transparency is one of those terms thrown around in the social media world that is much easier said than done. When asked, of course we support being transparent and authentic. But when push comes to shove, we usually end up controlling information and releasing the minimum amount we can get away with, hoping to avoid risk.
The damage done to a small business that is obviously withholding information can be swift and severe. So, businesses today need to ramp up their ability to actually do the work of transparency—sharing the right strategic information with the right people—to ensure that action gets taken and problems get solved.
Small businesses, by their very nature, are "people-centric," characterized by fewer organizational layers than large corporations and the need to streamline operations based on financial constraints. However, in many respects, they face the same challenges as their larger corporate cousins, namely, that the people calling the shots have probably spent a considerable portion of their work lives in traditional culture. Consequently, although size does matter, the strategies to overcome intrinsic beliefs about the value of trust and transparency are very similar.
The essence of transparency is to share more. That’s the easy part. However, most of us running small businesses understand that there are still things we may not choose to share publicly, such as unique strategies we offer to clients to achieve common goals, or the intricacies of our business plans. However, individualized transparency architectures optimize and shape the information that stakeholders need. This helps small businesses realize key business goals and harness the power and expectations of employees, consultants and customers alike.
Although the nature of transparency architecture varies by organization, the trajectory of a transparent culture is similar. Consider these three elements:
- What do we share?
- With whom do we share it?
- Why does sharing matter?
Business owners need to make a list of things that are currently controlled and kept behind barriers and think through whether or not releasing that information could be leveraged to produce better results. Obviously it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of being more transparent and mindful of both your clients’ (and your business’) privacy concerns and legal restrictions with regard to sharing.
Given how closed organizations have been historically, there are a number of opportunities to increase transparency in ways that can improve results. What if, instead of an annual strategy meeting with select staff and consultants, you engaged your entire team in these critical conversations openly and often? Leverage the expertise of the people you're working with and provide them with a stake in your business, however small it may be. They could use the insight to improve their performance and change how they engage with your business and with your customers. Most organizations shy away from sharing this type of subtle feedback, believing that it is too difficult (i.e. time-consuming) or too sensitive (i.e. someone might take offense) without realizing how much can be gained.
Sharing the nuances of a strategic conversation at the executive level is just one example of an opportunity to be more transparent. In your business, you need to take inventory of other opportunities and then piece them together into an overall transparency architecture that doesn’t reveal everything to everybody but intentionally provides more extensive access to the information, thinking, analysis, data and insights to provide better results. Your transparency architecture is as critical to your overall strategic goals as any other factor and is designed to help you solve problems and make progress. Repeat the process annually, much like the annual analysis of your business plan, as it is likely that your business, clients and consultants change that often.
It may seem scary, and you certainly can’t control how everyone you work with will react to this new level of transparency. But today’s economy requires unprecedented levels of speed and agility. The secret to speed is trust, and at the heart of trust is transparency. So take a look around your company and identify specific packages of information that you are not sharing, and figure out who could use them to start solving problems. Start including that information in a new transparency architecture and prepare yourself for the positive results.
Image credit: FruitMuseum 20fbyscarletgreen via Flickr
OPEN Cardmember Maddie Grant and co-author Jamie Notter delve into this topic and much more in their new book, Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World. Thanks to social strategist Liz Scherer for her guidance on this article.