‘Transparency’ is a buzz word that seems to get thrown around quite often by business leaders, politicians and social activists. It seems that everyone is calling for more transparency, but there is little discussion about what it truly means to be a transparent organization.
Though it may appear that transparency is increasing due to an explosive growth in access to information through technology, I would argue that true meaning of transparency is far more complex than access to data.
Back in March, HubSpot threw the doors to their company wide open and gave the world a peek inside one of the most innovative companies in America when they released their Culture Code. The Code is a list of ten core values that HubSpot uses to guide its company and its staff in everything that they do.
It took Dharmesh something like 200 hours to complete, so it’s well worth the read, especially point #3 in reference to transparency – “We are radically and uncomfortably transparent”.
HubSpot has chosen to make nearly all business information public to their team through their company wiki. This includes: financials, management and board meeting decks and strategic topics. The only cases in which they don’t disclose information is when confidentiality is legally required (ex. NDAs), or it is not theirs alone to share (ex. individual compensation data).
Buffer, on the other hand, has taken it a step further. There is virtually nothing that team members don’t know about each other. From sharing their sleep patterns using Jawbone Up devices, to salary information and equity — nothing is kept secret. “A lot of companies want to be transparent, but often it ends up to be just a word written on a wall”, says Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer. “We really wanted to go all the way with transparency and think about it from scratch and that is what we came up with.”
Now, while you might be all gung-ho to start publishing traditionally sensitive information, it is important to remember that sharing information for the sake of sharing information is not valuable. Transparency should be a conscious decision made by leadership because it is consistent with organizational values.
Making the decision to become a fully transparent organization sends a message to your stakeholders (staff, investors, partners, etc). Before you make that commitment, you need to be absolutely certain that the message you are sending aligns with your organizational goals. For example, not only would it be dangerous for a security company to make this type of information public, it would be confusing — it would not align with their organizational values or mission.
So why, then, did HubSpot and Buffer make the choice to become transparent?
HubSpot’s commitment to transparency is based on the belief that power comes from sharing information, not from hoarding it. As an organization, they believe that transparency supports smarter behavior, better decisions, and autonomy.
For Buffer, full and complete transparency was a natural evolution from their culture and values. “The key message we want to send is quite simple I believe”, explains Leo. “We are building a company for the long-term, that is sustainable and where people enjoy every minute.” Like HubSpot, Buffer has developed a culture code with eight key values, almost all of which revolve around trust and transparency, including:
– Default to transparency
– Have a focus on self-improvement
– Have a bias towards clarity
For Buffer and HubSpot, making the choice to become transparent organizations made sense. It reinforced their company values in a meaningful way. Instead of coming as a surprise to stakeholders, it is a logical progression of the values that they had already publicly communicated. By ‘making good’ on their values, HubSpot and Buffer create trust among their stakeholders and send the message that they are honest, genuine companies who make an effort to live their values every day.
Not only does transparency inspire trust in external stakeholders, it also promotes trust within your company. For managers, it allows them to feel satisfied knowing that their staff are doing their job, allowing them to focus on major business goals. For employees, it allows them to feel secure in the knowledge that the company is being well-managed.
Trust is the cornerstone of culture. Without it, we have nothing. Making a commitment to radical transparency demonstrates that trust is not just a concept, but is kept alive by concrete actions.
In order for this trust to flourish, it is essential that (barring any extenuating circumstances) management does not renege on their commitment to transparency, or take a step backwards by protecting information that was previously public.
But most important of all: transparency should not be an executive decision. While the head of the company will have the final say, if you want the whole team on board — you should probably involve them in the decision. As Leo explains, “most of these ideas were actually also triggered from within the team, like the Jawbone UP for example”. Since they hire for culture first, living out these values is something that most (if not all) employees agree with.
Done right, transparency should be exciting, not scary. Coming to a place as an organization where you are ready to embrace transparency is liberating. It means that you are no longer operating out of fear, and instead, you’re actively making choices that are right for you as a unique organization.
Have you ever been in a professional situation where transparency could have completely transformed a situation?
Share your thoughts below.
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