Complete transparency means sharing information on the functioning of a company with all of its employees. This happens both on a company-wide level and within individual teams. Transparency offers a lot of benefits – trust, assuredness, and courage in decision-making. But it also has its drawbacks. For example, we can’t “unsee” information about the company’s finances, and are therefore forced to think about it. We can’t use information to our advantage anymore, nor plead ignorance if need be. So is it worth it?
Let’s begin by answering the question: why do we need transparency in the first place? I’ve already mentioned decision-making – this is the most important aspect of transparency. The better and fuller access to information we have, the more context we are provided and the more informed our decisions can be. The more data, the easier it is to pick the most optimal option for our organization. Thanks to transparency, our decision-making potential grows. In a self-governed organization, assuredness and courage when it comes to making decisions ensure efficiency.
“Transparency topples hierarchy.”
And what happens when there is no transparency? In traditional, hierarchical structures, the challenging part is often the fact that low-level employees understand the everyday needs of clients but have no decision-making power, while the “brass”, though more familiar with the broader context (ex. the company’s financing strategy), is sometimes somewhat divorced from reality. Given insufficient information, decisions are often made blindly, so it’s no wonder that some of them miss the mark. On top of that, if our superior has more information than us, they might also find it more difficult to understand why we’ve made a mistake.
Information is power
It’s a well-known fact that information is power. Many companies still subscribe to the classical model of management and employ a hierarchical structure. What does that mean? That power is a rare commodity. The less accessible something is, the more we desire it – so naturally we begin to compete for it. We obtain confidential information mainly in order to “manage” others, manipulate, and to be able to trade said information.
Meanwhile, the people whose positions allow them access to confidential information may feel forced to double-check everything and be extra cautious. I’m not talking about a random ill-advised comment blurted out in the company kitchen. Let he who has never sent out an email to people who were not supposed to read it cast the first keyboard. What’s more, handling confidential information often makes us feel isolated from our co-workers. If they don’t have access to the same data, we can’t ask their advice on business matters, or discuss our problems and doubts with them. And sometimes you just want to pour your heart out.
If we want to share confidential information with someone, we have to follow procedure. When information is centralized, its dissemination becomes a time-consuming process. And time usually comes at a premium. Therefore, you could say that when important information can only be accessed by a handful of employees, tension and stress become commonplace.
Transparency vis-à-vis our expectations
Let us begin with what happens when there’s a lack of transparency. This often breeds conjecture. “Why was this person promoted even though they haven’t been with the company that long? And she probably earns twice as much as I do, even though she spends all day drinking coffee”. These assumptions often pop up spontaneously… And then turn into gossip. It’s hard to relax when our every step can be – and often is – judged behind our back.
What can transparency offer? Equal access to information for all employees. You want to know how the company is doing financially this month? You can just access the file on a shared drive. Interested in the promotion process and wage differentials in various teams? See above. With full access to information, we have a broader context, which in turn makes it easier for us to understand various decisions made within the company. There’s no room for imagining “God knows what”, but there is room for honesty and feedback.
But things don’t stop at feedback. Having access to all information means that we also know our company’s revenue. Is it growing or shrinking? Obviously, we want the source of our wages to prosper – and so, we start feeling responsible for it, develop a sense that we are contributing to the greater whole, and want to get more involved.
For some people this is something they want, while for others it’s an unpleasant obligation. The truth is not everyone wants this sort of responsibility. Some people would rather just come to work and do their thing, not worrying about the company’s condition – which is completely understandable. But then there are some who find purpose in working toward a common goal, and this “surplus” information will serve them as an additional source of motivation.
Transparency came to SYZYGY Warsaw as part of a greater shift. It was never an end in and of itself, but in order to be able to make the best decisions and to do it courageously, you need access to as much information as possible. In our organization, much information was readily accessible from the start, but transparency still expanded gradually, concurrently with other transformations happening at our company.
The last step was revealing wages. It was definitely the most emotional stage, though no one threw themselves on the floor tearing off their clothes. You can hear about the details of this process in the Transparent salaries / case studyepisode of Ewa Bocian’s (New Work Guide and Consciousness Coach) and Paulina Granowska’s (Employer Storyteller and Internal Coach at SYZYGY WARSAW) podcast.
When it comes to me, I can say that the majority of our fears turned out to be unfounded. One such fear was the expectation of a pay pag between men and women – it turned out that there wasn’t one at SYZYGY Warsaw. Naturally, there were wage disparities between individual employees, but they mostly resulted from their differing skillsets. In several instances, wages were adjusted to create realistic wage differentials for all employees.
The spectrum also shows you how far you can advance.
Agata KuichProject Owner
There’s nothing to fear
So full transparency has been implemented. Now what? Are you now supposed to share information with everyone? And do you yourself have to know everything?
Transparency doesn’t mean running around with your butt hanging out.
Michał ŻycińskiNew Work Evangelist / Roles Guide
It’s not about everyone knowing everything about everything and being present at every single company meeting. As I wrote at the start of this article, we mostly need information to make decisions. If you don’t want to keep up to date with all the data, you’re absolutely free not to do so. Here, too, roles come in handy. Familiarizing ourselves with some facts is our responsibility – after all, we want to perform our duties well. But some of that information we simply do not need.
We have a rule in our organization that you can love or hate: “Stay on your toes!” With unrestricted access to information, the challenge is how to stay abreast of things and to “connect the dots”. We have various threads in Teams, from important announcements to activities after work, so depending on what you need to know, you just check the latest posts in a given thread. And if you didn’t, the team will probably tell you to stay on your toes (and then bring you up to date). This approach is a feature of self-management – we all want to evolve, to expand our knowledge and to generally “get a handle on” what is happening around us. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but I assure you that it’s worth it.