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Why Transparency Transforms Or Destroys

By on Oct 19, 2011 No Comments

Why Transparency Transforms Or Destroys

In another time and another place I used to spend many an evening sharing personal insights in the company of others.

(You can DM me if you really want to know why).

When one person was done, someone else would pick up the communication baton.

It was sometimes cathartic. Often dull. Occasionally so funny it left you breathless. Both for the person risking reputation and dignity by publicly exploring ‘their truth’ and for those doing the listening. In fact the dynamic of the process only worked if both played their role. As communicator and as collective witness.

When everyone got in the zone, boundaries dissolved and a purer, more direct form of human experience was unleashed. As collective witness you’d often feel the person communicating was speaking on your behalf. As communicator you could sense the moderating presence of those listening. Even while speaking, you’d know if what was coming out of your mouth was the real deal or fabricated twaddle.

Such a clean source of feedback is priceless in the face of our personal capacity for ongoing self delusion.

What’s New? Maybe Transparency

I’m telling you this story because like most I’m trying to chisel out a way of describing what is new in this hyper networked age we currently live in. I won’t use the S (social) word since I know it already makes many feel sick and deeply irritated with its escalating overuse. But the way we can now all play witness is causing those being witnessed to at least become self conscious about their standards of behaviour and at best, actually start to modify them.

Last week at a trade show I met up with Mitch Leiberman. We started that chiseling conversation. He started with ‘Authentic’. I started with ‘Transparent’. We ran out of time to hammer it all out but both words provided diving boards into a useful way of looking at things.

By the way if you fancy the ‘Authentic’ diving board then check out Mitch’s blog. He thinks straight and writes well. If you want to stay with ‘Transparent’ then this is my line of argument.

The Impact Of Being Witnessed

This conversation sits in the context of a growing sense of anger and disillusionment that can be heard about organisations who just don’t get it. They are accused of remaining indifferent to vital stakeholders’ interests (aka customer and co-workers). This is in spite of overwhelming audience participation that begs to differ.

We can see you” taunts the online crowd. “Your products suck. Your service stinks. Your prices are the backend of all abominations!” Change or be damned. The narrator then comes on stage and assures them that since 520% of all customers now leave such naughty brands, justice is served. Even if such exaggerated arithmetic doesn’t really add up, it all helps condemn the behaviour. Rather like booing the villain in English pantomime if you’ve enjoyed that ritual. Certainly as surreal.

Interestingly there is a parallel track going on with the ‘global goes local’ protest movement against Wall St. Their narrative is similar. “We’ve seen you”. “You might try and play possum”. “But we are going to keep bearing witness until ‘enough say that’s enough’ and you are forced to change.” Encouragingly many onlookers have wished them well before they scurry off to work. Maybe the cultural experience of ‘dark satanic mills‘ is still real for many of them.

Of course organisations have the same capacity for self delusion as individuals. In fact I wouldn’t argue if you countered by saying it was a capacity multiplied many times over.

The dynamics remain the same though. Such is the fallout from hubris, fear, greed and any other of the great ‘sins’. So called, because of their personally corrosive effects which in this context also become amplified into an organisational reality. Thus a transparent view of the world beyond those revolving doors of HQ reception is replaced with self deception.

This state of psychological disease is often deeply held over long periods of time and even generations of leadership. This is the consequence of such behaviours never being witnessed. Until now that is. Having to do virtually every aspect of business in the full glare of a globally networked witness has poured light into some festeringly dark places.

But let’s momentarily return to the psychology driving this behaviour that so maddens the crowd. What maddens them is the lie. As ‘witness’ they can see it. As plain as day. YOUR SKIRT IS UP YOUR KNICKERS! they chant. But guess how the self deluded behave? Organisations might claim to be on the right agenda but tell tale behaviour says otherwise.

So why do organisations lie about their ambitions? Because the real ones are ugly and so are kept hidden from view.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that hubris fear and greed don’t sound like crowd winning brand values. So instead a more acceptable face is presented. Thus recruitment and induction is inspiring until corridor chatter punctures the dream. Even award winning brand messaging, revitalised with location based gamification gloss, cannot mask the downer of discovering you are one of the 70% of customers that are left unanswered having complained on Twitter.

As in all of those morality based fairy stories, the wicked usually come unstuck as the gap is revealed between who they claim to be and who they motivationally reveal themselves to actually be.

What’s your word for that catalyst? Mine is Transparency. It transforms or destroys.

What Price For A Business World Run On Transparency?

Well for a start there is Facebook. As a business, it has never been easier to understand your target customer. Timelines combined with the vocabulary of Actions and Objects effectively makes the consumers’ previously labelled ‘private life’ transparently clear to the analyst, product designer and marketer.

What to make of this? A marvellous example of individual transparency laying out your life experiences to be shared and enjoyed by friends? Or the unwitting act of painting your wallet neon in return for social business offering unprecedented levels of personalised product and service? Undoubtedly, two sides of the same coin.

The question for the consumer of course is to wonder if this remains a one way mirror? Or will brands that now know me so well authentically reciprocate? Whatever the answer to that, it has reset the boundaries for transparency.

The same game is also starting within the organisation. And maybe this is cause for hope. We are learning to publically collaborate outside our silos and also be witnessed outside the traditionally private relationship of employee:manager.

For instance, the social employee motivation service WorkSimple builds its motivational service around the concept of social goals, where employees publicly commit to the goals they hope to achieve, and the software tracks achievement as well as the intertwined goals and accomplishments of team members.

The service has since added the concept of a “work story” as part of each employee’s profile that serves as a running record of accomplishments at work. Now, WorkSimple will allow employees to share items from that profile, like goals they have set or recognition they have achieved, publicly on their LinkedIn profiles.

This is all great stuff. Customers and co-workers are getting a taste of the new transparency. If you have nothing to hide, there is much to gain. If not, then time is ticking. I really do pray that the effect of a more transparent world will be to transform or destroy those brands still with something to hide from customers and co-workers.

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