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Posted on Mar 10, 2017

Is It Time To Embrace Transparency In Business?

Is It Time To Embrace Transparency In Business?

The U.S. intelligence community is engulfed in yet another scandal. Thousands of documents were released by WikiLeaks revealing the CIA’s cyber spying capabilities. Surprise, surprise. The U.S. government can listen in and monitor conversations and written communication from everyone and anyone.

CIA-logo2If you have concerns about this trend, then I encourage you to read the insightful article by Judge Andrew Napolitano, where he outlines the logical path of how we got to where we are today – from the wiretapping of President Richard Nixon in 1972 to the collecting of data on conversations all across the U.S. since 2005.

It’s clear that no conversation – verbal or written – is safe from being monitored. And the concern should not be with just government spy agencies.

Today, everyone’s life is an open book.

Just Google your name and see what comes up. Unfortunately, many have learned the hard way that what they post online is readily available for all to see, including their employer. There are lots of tales of individuals who lost their job for posting something inappropriate online.

For others, posting inappropriate content online meant losing a job opportunity. In a 2014 CareerBuilder survey, over half of employers who researched job candidates on social media said they found content that caused them to not hire the candidate.

Even for those who are careful what they post online, there is still the concern of having their conversations monitored and shared.

Free Surveillance Tools

It’s important to point out that the CIA does not possess unique tools that are way ahead of those used by academic or commercial security experts. The people working at the CIA are using standard tools that are readily available to almost anyone.

Wireshark-logoFor example, I recently met some really smart engineers who were recording a training course on how to use Wireshark, a free tool used by IT and network engineers to analyze and troubleshoot the wireless networks inside their companies. Essentially, if a company’s wireless network isn’t working as fast or efficiently as it should, the IT folks have a free tool they can use to identify the problems and fix them.

However, as these engineers demonstrated to me, the Wireshark tool also enables them to “listen” to all the “data traffic” floating throughout the air, including cell phone conversations that are not using encryption software. It wasn’t much of a stretch to recognize that this tool could also be used for surveillance purposes, much like what the CIA is charged with doing.

Everything can be visible to anyone with the right tools.

What does this mean for business leaders and the organizational culture of the future?

If spy agencies and network engineers (and who knows who else) are already using such tools, maybe it’s time for business leaders to re-evaluate and re-think how to operate in a transparent world.

Transparency in Business

Over the past decade there has been a growing trend towards greater transparency in business.

Employees in software companies in particular have witnessed tremendous progress in this area. Many start-ups have pushed for flatter organizational structures, flexible and open working environments, and greater transparency.

A pioneer in this area is Buffer, a company that created a popular social media tool allowing users to easily schedule posts online. Buffer was one of the first companies to create a transparent salary formula so that every employee knows everyone’s salary. [Click the link to see a published list of all employee salaries.]

Creating such an open environment about salaries would have been considered unthinkable 20-years ago. Yet, a number of companies have already adopted Buffer’s model.

This kind of transparency can be a powerful motivator for employees. If done right, it can be very empowering and liberating.

But effective transparency is much more than just being open about salaries. It’s about how people communicate with one another.

Real transparency creates a new kind of culture, which for most leaders is unchartered territory.

3 Principles for Effective Transparency

For leaders ready to create a culture of transparency, here are three important principles for the organization to embrace:

  1. State what is true. When an assertion is made about something you know to be true, then acknowledge it. Don’t try and cover it up. And don’t twist the truth to make you look good or someone else to look bad. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
  2. Sergeant Joe FridayState what is right. If someone makes a claim or statement (good or bad) and you have some knowledge about it, then contribute what you know. Don’t conjecture the existence of something you don’t know for certain. Heed the old saying that was attributed to Sergeant Joe Friday, “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.”
  3. State what is positive. No matter how challenging a situation or circumstance, you can always highlight what is being done to resolve it. This not about being a spin-doctor. It’s about highlighting something positive that engages others and ideally creates momentum.

These principles work best if everyone involved lives by them consistently. And it starts with the leaders.

Is the risk of transparency worth it?

One key benefit of a transparent environment is that all speculation is removed. Everyone operates and makes decisions based on the facts.

Of course, if a transparent culture doesn’t suit you, then just beware of the surveillance tools being used on you right now. Hint: the CIA knows that you just read this article. 😉


What business benefits would you expect if decisions were based on facts that were true, right, and positive?