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Jun 3, 2010

I’ve talked to several HR managers in the last couple of months who are working on helping employees collaborate across teams. This whole idea of breaking out of silos is popular. Think of all of the rotational programs major firms put their high potential employees through.

Yet each of these human resource managers was getting static from someone in the management team about what they were doing. Or, they were getting hassled by a lawyer over the programs. And when I hashed out the situation with them, what we both came up with is that these managers who complained about what HR was doing were simply terrified by the transparency of the systems.

The whole idea of collaborative systems is to allow employees to communicate with one another and to let everyone else see it, contribute to it, and generally make it better. That doesn’t seem like rocket science, right? One described the conversation like this:

 “Well,” worried one manager said, “what if someone starts bad mouthing a project and its direction?”

 “Well, what?” responded the HR manager. “They were probably bad mouthing it before the system was put in place.”

 “My concern is that everyone will see and know about it,” the manager stated.

 “Including you,” the HR manager said. “You wouldn’t have known about it until it came up on the collaborative platform. Now you can address the concerns up front instead of being ignorant of them.”

Here’s where your legal team can actually come in handy. You have a confidentiality agreement, right? So as long as it isn’t spilling outside of the organization, how can this not be something we can deal with as leaders?

Much of the fear about everyone knowing what everyone thinks about a project is unfounded. Everyone already knows what everyone thinks about the project (except the manager). They’ve talked about it by the water cooler, in work sessions, or outside of work.

The only fear that you should have is that they won’t share it with you when you go transparent. That is actually a much more disturbing possibility. It can indicate a culture of fear and distrust among employees. And that’s never a good thing.

So how do you sell your leaders on increasing transparency?
You stop selling it as transparency and you start pitching it as trust building. You also ask your leaders how you can build trust in your organization, because transparency is going to be one of the major issues. Doing what you say you’re going to do is another. Eliminating the fear and distrust among your employees is an easy management sell. Transparency has to be part of that package.           

Selling it like that also helps focus your efforts on what’s important. You don’t want to be transparent for transparency’s sake. You want to accomplish a business objective. You want open communication so company leadership knows about issues with your products or your company. You need to do what it takes to complete that objective.

That focus on building trust versus transparency and accomplishing business objectives will turn your transparency argument around. The question will stop being “if” or “why” and will instead shift to “how much?” That’s the conversation you want to be having about transparency.