Transparency – Culture or Value?


There was an interesting piece last week on Econsultancy about 5 Digital Companies with Transparent Company Cultures.

The companies cited were great examples of those doing things differently and getting better results. However, I would challenge the assertion in the article that it is because of “transparent company cultures.” Instead, I would posit that “transparency” is actually one of the values of each of these companies. I say this because the result of valuing transparency is that more is shared and behaviors are driven by this value, therefore the culture operates differently than larger, less transparent organizations.

I have found that this is where leaders and companies get mixed up when it comes to talking about culture. Culture is a result of the stated or unstated values that the people in the company hold. Values then drive behavior. So in the case of each of the 5 companies in the article, transparency, or the belief that sharing of information is good for everyone, ultimately prevails and creates a very collaborative culture that encourages sharing.

Each of the teams inside the various organizations defined how they wanted to share, what that meant to them, and why it worked. This enabled others to want to join the team, based on the values that led to processes that they could agree with. We gravitate to what we believe in and even more so when we can help create it.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” recipe for a transparent culture. There are those that value transparency and behavior develop as a result of that. What is good about all 5 companies described in the article is that they are doing well, people like working for them, and with the exception of AirBnB’s recent PR misstep, (perhaps an overshare?), transparency as one of their values is working for them by producing results.

Transparency – How Far Should it Go?

Transparency, however, is not everyone’s cup of tea and a key question is – how far should it go? Most entrepreneurs don’t want to share the “secret sauce” for how their product or service is configured. Things like people’s salaries and how much the owner is taking home are also questions as far as how much should be shared.

So can you have transparency as a value without sharing everything? Yes, you can. It comes down to what is the purpose of the value of transparency for your company? If it is that it creates a more collaborative environment and a better, faster, work product is created, then maybe salaries are not a part of it? You have to be very careful about the values selected and the intention behind them before launching forward, otherwise unintentional consequences are bound to be the result.

Spend some time thinking about your values, your company’s values, and what you expect as a result of those values. Selecting the right ones for you, with the precise definitions takes time. It’s not an afternoon whiteboard session. After examining what you want them to be, you and your team should “wear them around” for a while to make sure they really fit. This is critical because it’s something that is very difficult to change later after you have gone down the path and values, (intended or unintended), have taken root.