When transparency is way too opaque

Read this post in: French

I had yesterday one of many great conversations with Luis Suarez on Twitter, during the online chat organized by CMSWire around social business. The subject was, you might guess it, about the main challenges encountered when helping organizations to embrace a collaborative mindset.

Transparency, of course, is a key driver here, but fostering transparency throughout a company not only is a real challenge, but also, if not nurtured in the right context, could sometimes prove itself more harmful than profitable by itself. Just imagine how would an employee behave, as the world stands, when, in name of transparency, he stumbles on highly strategic topics… Which answer can companies give to what could be considered as a major threat? The first, obvious, option is to limit transparency and to enforce a strict governance to the way information is flowing internally. This is what many organizations are doing right now, trying to enable collaboration at some layers, while staying within a command and control mindset.

Another option is to educate employees, to help them understand what should be kept inside the walls of the organization, and what can be shared in the wild. Most of today’s successful, or promising, social business initiatives have chosen this option, setting up Internal and external social media policies, limiting the scope of unshared knowledge, trying to ease the cohabitation of collaborative networks and key hierarchical structures. Consider for example the way BASF successfully nurtures internal communities. But, on the other hand, these organizations are in some way approaching a social sound barrier.

Outside of enterprise, our life is mainly made of struggles. People struggle with a tough economical context, in which, for more and more of them, each month passed is a small victory. States struggle with a sky-high level of debt which impedes sustainable politics. We struggle with the guy next door, who cuts in front of us when driving, who jostles you to be first to get in. We struggle with administration, so often deaf-and-dumb to our requests and needs. In a world where well-being more and more requests endorsing an individualistic and warlike behavior, transparency is way too opaque a concept to thrive into our organizations.

Transparency is in fact the visible doll from a Matryoshka set. Trying to leverage it requests us to restore a mutual and reciprocal trust inside organizations, which, in turn, necessitates us to instil passion into work, as passion drives trust and confidence. But starting such a virtuous circle is a more than a tough challenge in a world where class solidarities have been dismantled, and where employees are more and more disengaged. There is no radical remedy to this industrial disease, but to avoid social business to get stalled at the stage of promise, and in order to restore trust, companies must start understanding they are in part accountable for the present state of human relationships. Actually, most of the obstacles encountered in work environment are nothing but a reflection, and a catalyst, of a much more universal condition. Progressing further on the path toward the collaborative enterprise means mutating from leadership to fellowship, and reconciling social business with its original definition.

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9 Responses to When transparency is way too opaque

  1. Hi Thierry! Circling back on this wonderful conversation we had last week at CMSWire’s #socbizchat and after reading this absolutely delightful blog post, there are a couple of things that keep coming back to me which I think would complement nicely to the overall conversation. Here they come:

    1. What I meant with transparency has not got to do much with knowledge workers being transparent and all, if they are, that’s great, but I’m ok if they aren’t. What I do want to encourage is businesses and companies to become more transparent themselves. People should not be transparent, or not too much, but businesses should be big time! That’s the real empowerment we are talking about over here and which we seem to have been neglecting time and time again for decades. Can you imagine if organisations would become keener on, even, radical transparency? WOW!! I can’t wait!!

    2. I think you have hit the nail on the main key challenge from Social Business in today’s corporate world, as well as the Social Web in our society for that matter. And that is that shift of mentality, and mindset to move away from that notion of fighting everything AND everyone and perhaps focus more on helping, caring, sharing with others to help them become better at what they already do! That’s the real transformation that you are hinting beautifully and which would make Social Business worth while, not just for how close it would become to its original intent, but because of how transformational it will be for everyone: knowledge workers and businesses alike!

    Exciting times, indeed! Thanks much for the inspiring conversation, once again! 🙂

  2. Thierry de Baillon says:

    Hi Luis,
    Terrific comment 🙂 I knew the Hippie 2.0 wasn’t buried very deep!

    Problem is that, since the Golden Calf or even before, search for profit always has come with fear and greed. Businesses are made for profit. There is nothing wrong with that, for sure, but as a matter of fact, it makes such negative values aggregate around them.
    Not everyone is wired in such a way, hopefully, and communities and gathering of like-minded people (like our online connectedness) lower the case for the search for power. This might account for 5… 10 percent of population, not more I am afraid.

    Well, we have to earn our living, but if we are able to help these 5 percent of businesses in reshaping themselves into Social Businesses, THAT would transform the world, even if aiming for more is an utopia!!

    • Hi Thierry! You are most welcome! And glad you mentioned the Hippie 2.0 meme, because I, too, feel is at the heart of the matter! I wouldn’t have it any other way, really! 🙂

      I know what you mean exactly with profit and I think at this stage no-one is denying how wonderful and beneficial it can well be for both the corporate world and society as such, but you would have to agree with me, and I know you will, that one thing is to drive business revenue and profit through power and greed than through a sustainable method where some social responsibility is in place. Something that would allow knowledge workers trust the companies they work even more by showing and demonstrating how it is possible to drive profit, but in a responsible and sustainable manner.

      And, believe me, there are plenty of people who believe it is still possible! Check out this series of blog posts I have been putting together under “The Circular Economy”. Yes, we may be a minority and all, but, you know how it goes, real, impactful change happens, most of the times, right around the edges, with minorities believing that a change for the better is possible, and I am suspecting that’s exactly what will be happening eventually. Small steps, a small minority of change, but inevitable eventually and I am just can’t wait for us to see it come a reality. Our reality. Our entire society reality. We are now closer to it than ever!

      Plenty of people thought that my move from corporate email was rather utopian, to give you another example… Well, 4 years later, hundreds, if not thousands!, of people are living it, too! Still a minority, but no longer swimming against the current ;-)) hehe

  3. AnaDataGirl says:

    Thierry, just a quick comment on a special sentence of your post: “The first, obvious, option is to limit transparency and to enforce a strict governance to the way information is flowing internally… Another option is to educate employees, to help them understand what should be kept inside the walls of the organization…”

    Can we start by educating our top executives that already have access to sensitive info *not* to discuss it openly on airplanes and trains? I bet each of us have already heard more than we wanted when travelling 🙂

    • Thierry de Baillon says:

      ROFL! You’re sooo right, Ana. This is another blatant example of how executives don’t walk their talk!
      But maybe should we instead educate them the other way around, highlighting the fact that all employees sharing without restriction wouldn’t harm as much as one single misplaced conversation. Since the damage is already done, hey, they’d better let things go 🙂

  4. Jon Husband says:

    Well done, Thierry.

    .. and @Luis

    And that is that shift of mentality, and mindset to move away from that notion of fighting everything AND everyone and perhaps focus more on helping, caring, sharing with others to help them become better at what they already do!

    Bingo ! Should be simple, right. Attitudes of respect and inter-dependency. and the dynamics that flow therefrom, should prevail. Unfortunately, virtually all the extant “management” systems in current use mitigate against that open and simple flow of human exchange an interaction. Pity, that.

    • Hi Jon! Alas, I would have to agree with you on those excellent points! I think everyone knows that the current state of affairs with Management and Leadership, in the current workplace, needs to go through a massive shift of mentality on how we manage resources, errr, better said, relationships! And eventually help themselves become servant leaders more than command and control, or micro-managers. The latter don’t benefit that atmosphere of autonomy, co-ownership, co-sharing of responsibility, that comes along with that brilliant point of demonstrating trust and respect, as well an ability to help through caring and sharing along on how to help your knowledge workers excel. The challenge for us all remain as to how we help that traditional management line transition into that one of servant leadership, where we all know the equation would be completely different and on to the right path, too!, altogether!

      Exciting times, indeed! 😀

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