What exactly is “transparency?” If you date back to the days with the original Saturday Night Live cast (Steve Martin and Bill Murray), you might recall the skit “What the hell is that?” Seriously, though, this buzz word is showing up in headlines and conversations everywhere, along with the phrase “Join the conversation.” Okay, so let’s join the conversation about transparency for an authentic look at what this all means to us in our modern world.
This is the Bing search definition:
To dig a little deeper with Google to define transparent:
(of a material or article) allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.“transparent blue water”
easy to perceive or detect.“the residents will see through any transparent attempt to buy their votes”
having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived.“you’d be no good at poker—you’re too transparent”
Well that was enlightening. Being transparent allows light to pass through, it is easily perceived, conspicuous and unconcealed. This is clearly a value, implying that humans are seeking easy, clear understandings from organizations and each other. Okay, I get that. What a great thing to see everywhere. The benefits are awesome. Transparency can help us define roles and make decisions based on honest and open information. So how does this apply to business life?
For me, it means that I expect and I am fortunate enough to work in an environment where we are direct and honest with each other. My company holds this as a high standard in our work culture. It creates and facilitates trust. With trust as a foundation for our work dynamics, we are thriving.
On a personal level, transparency means that I am open, honest and clear about expectations in my relationships with family and friends. This is a practice I take pride in…but it is practice, which means it is something I continue to work on.
What it doesn’t mean
What it doesn’t mean is that I don’t have privacy or secrets. Yes, I want to be transparent, but I don’t want my guts spilling out all over the place either. There are things that should be kept inside, which are personal and viable to who I am as a person. For example, I don’t need to tell my family and friends how much money I earn. I can, but I don’t need to, nor do I want that kind of transparency to define who I am. Most people would not argue with this point at the individual level, but they might have different expectations of government agencies, non-profit organizations and private businesses.
The line gets crossed when we ask for secrets to be revealed that are not necessary but we just happen to want the information. For example, when organizations are probed for their industrial secrets to success. No, they should not hide their accountabilities to specific constituents such as the IRS, the public, donors or investors, but they should be able to hold their rights to maintain insider secrets to success, with one qualifier – No harm is done to self or others.
Overtime, we get to keep defining transparency for ourselves and how it applies outside of ourselves. And so some (a couple of) the questions will continue to be, “What the heck is that? And, “Do I really need to know this or am I just curious?”