Inside Transparency - The piece no one talks about

On the last years, there has been an increasing trend towards transparency. Some organizations have been applying and preaching several habits and workflows that promote this. And simultaneously several world events (NSA whistleblowing, Wikileaks, etc) have fueled discussions around the importance of having transparency as a common value in companies and governments.

Fortunately, leaders of a few institutions have been taking a bigger step towards this - they're willing to use transparency in a form that some call 'radical'; even if sometimes that makes them uncomfortable or even vulnerable.

Let's see some examples:

Radically transparent companies

Buffer is one of the most well-known. At Buffer, every employee knows everyone's salary, and everyday everyone shares what they have been working on, and at what they're striving to become better at. And even the information about how well every employee slept in the past days is available to the whole company.

Also, Buffer shares with the public how much money they've raised and how it's spent. And they're even considering opening their company's Wiki to the whole internet[1].

Buffer argues that being transparent is a great way to communicate expectations, and they say to strive really hard to be radically transparent; even if doing it doesn't always translate into wonderful consequences. They're aware of some backlashes, and so, they make sure to implement such practices one step at the time.

Other well known example is Qualtrics[2], where the entire workforce has access to information about the performance of each employee, that includes:

  • Noted successes and failures, with notes for everyone to learn from;
  • Quarterly objectives and its detailed results;
  • Performance reviews and ratings;
  • Weekly snippets of each one's goals;
  • Their career history at Qualtrics.

Qualtrics recognize that this can be a tough environment for those who aren't "A" employees. But for those who are, they argue that it provides them focus, engagement, and better talent growth.

Fred Wilson
Also, some companies and individuals know that by putting their voice out there, they attract others who are like-minded - by broadcasting their culture and values, their personality and even their needs, they more easily draw in people that are a good fit to their organization, and people that are willing to help them. See Fred Wilson, whose blog has resulted in great deals for his venture Union Square.

Surgery Center of Oklahoma
A less techy example is the recent one from the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, where the decision of making every surgery price publicly available made the surgery prices of several other hospitals drop.[3]

These procedures were unimaginable some years ago - there has been a clear shift on the belief that being more transparent is actually good.

But let's get deeper into the use of transparency. Companies, governments, and the whole society are composed by individuals and their relationships. So, how does transparency work on a more individual level? What do experience and psychology have to say about it?

"Leadership is a contact sport"

Let's start with the 2004 Marshall Goldsmith's article named 'Leadership is a Contact Sport' [4].

Here he concludes that the best way for sustaining employees peak performance is to ensure that the organization has great feedback mechanisms and that its employees have a commitment aligned with the organizational goals.

In other words, Marshal noticed that companies with the best results were the ones where its employees openly talked (follow-up) with each other about:

  • Their performance;
  • What was expected from them;
  • Where they were good at, and;
  • Where they needed to improve.

By doing this, besides the consequent talent growth, everyone knew the organization's current weaknesses and strengths, and where it was heading. Which consequently resulted in better and faster decisions, and better understanding of the decisions that other people in the company have made.

But there is one, even more, interesting fact that, when talking about transparency, no one seems to have mentioned yet. I'm talking about the Johari Window.

What no one talks about: The Johari Window

The Johari Window is a concept coined by the psychologists Joe Luft & Harrington Ingham, who argued that " whatever happens in our life depends upon how much we are actually aware of our inner being, and at the same time how much others know about it in a true sense"[5].

The concept tells us that there are certain things in our life which we are aware of, and others wich we aren't. Similarly, there are certain things others are aware of ourselves, and other things wich they aren't. Thus, at a given point of time in our lives, the way we and others see ourselves, can be represented through the Johari Window:

Represantion of the Johari Window

Hidden Self
Is where are the things that we see in ourselves but that are blind to others. This is where we hide information that we prefer to not be disclosed to others because doing it makes us feel uncomfortable.

It can be our weaknesses, faults and fears. Or even good qualities that due to modesty we prefer to not advertise.

What's on our Hidden Self, if negative, it can reduce our credibility. Or, in the case of being something positive, it can end out not being useful to us since we tried to hide it instead of improving it, and making sure that other people are ware of those good traits of ours.

Blind Self
Represents what people see in us, but which we aren't aware of.

Even though we may think that we're very funny, people may actually think that we're really annoying and, unfortunately, they prefer to not tell us.

At the Blind Self, there can be negative and positive information, that will not be any useful to us if we don't acknowledge them - maybe telling us when we're annoying would help us correct this behavior.

Undiscovered Self
Is where resides the good and bad traits that neither we nor other people, notice in ourselves.

This area is the reason why sometimes, after successfully facing a great challenge, we become more confident - we (and other people around us) have just realized capabilities or interests that we weren't aware of before. And of course, the opposite may also happen: we realise that coding is definitely not our thing.

Overall, the Undiscovered Self is a good reason why we should always be experimenting new stuff - it's a great way of constricting our Undiscovered Self area.

Open Self
And finally, the Open Self is where we can find what is known to both ourselves and to other people.

According to Joe Luft & Harrington Ingham, this is where the magic happens (!) - recognizing and being open about our known fears, weaknesses, strengths, interests and needs, and everything else that's in our Open Self, leads to a life of happiness and success.

So, you should constantly work to grow out this area by:

  • strengthening our qualities and putting them in positive use;
  • being more introspective and open to self-assessment;
  • overcoming our weaknesses;
  • accepting various challenges in life so that we can realise your deeply hidden capabilities, qualities, or weaknesses and deep fears!

Representation of the Johari Window with expanded Known Self area

We should strive to show our personality and our true self to our peers. We should strive to create greater interpersonal intimacy so that we can both become more aware of ourselves.

These are some interesting facts and real world experiences about being more transparent about ourselves and our organizations. Anyway, we cannot preach that being transparent about ourselves is full of unicorns and wonderful consequences. There still are a lot of questions about the boundaries of this practice.

But as we saw in this post, there are great consequences that come with a more transparent world. Let's find the sweet spot, by experimenting and pushing the boundaries further.

Main references:
[1] Buffer: Buffer blog - Introducing Open Salaries at Buffer: Our Transparent Formula and All Individual Salaries, INC Magazine - Inside a Completely Transparent Company
[2] Qualitrics: Harvard Business Review - Why Radical Transparency is Good Business
[3] Oklahoma Hospital: How One Oklahoma Hospital Is Driving Down The Cost Of Health Care By Thousands Of Dollars
[4] Leadership Is a Contact Sport, by Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan
[5] Johari Window

Top photo credit: Jimmy Wewer

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