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As mentioned in the introductory piece of this series, three important threads run through every organization: technology, policies and activities. How these threads are woven together create the cultural fabric that is the organization we experience, and how we shape and weave these threads as the organization transforms is what separates success from mediocrity or failure. In turn, transparency within an organization, as well as for any digital transformation effort, is a critical component to weaving those threads together in a way that leads to success.

In this piece, I’m going to talk about the value of transparency in a team, organization and especially within a digital transformation project; walk through some examples of how to deploy transparency in an organization at the policy, activity and technological levels; and finally, discuss some key aspects of and challenges to enabling transparency across an organization to pursue a successful digital transformation initiative.

Why Transparency?

Not sure how necessary it is to call out why transparency at this point, but an increasing number of studies and data points show the value of transparency, done right, on an organization. So, let me walk you through one of the more convincing justification flows.

Happiness

From Glassdoor to LinkedIn, from Bain to Mercer, scores of HR consultants, studies and workplace surveys have found transparency to be a primary factor for workplace happiness. In fact, one large-scale study with 40,000 respondents, found that transparency is the top factor when determining employee happiness, with management and organizational transparency having an extremely high correlation coefficient of .937 with employee happiness.  

You could probably stop right there. Happiness is enough, right?

Plus Trust

But there's more. Transparency practiced at all levels also builds organizational trust. Trust, defined as “a willingness to be vulnerable in one's relationship with another person based on positive expectations regarding that person's behavior,” within an organization has been shown in a The Leadership Quarterly study to be very directly related with transparency throughout an organization.

Equals Productivity

In turn, this trust and this happiness, together with the inherent efficiency of open, accessible data, processes and collaboration, lead to much greater team productivity.

Indeed, recent studies have found that happiness increases productivity from 20% to as much as 37%, according to Harvard Business Review.

And as for trust, another Harvard Business Review study, "The Neuroscience of Trust," found that high-trust companies operate at 50% higher productivity than so-called low-trust companies, not to mention employees have over 100% more energy at work, greater engagement, more satisfaction, and less stress and burnout.

So transparency sown well can reap happiness and trust and, along with that, significant productivity gains. Kind of like the key antioxidants for organizations, no? And if it’s good for the organization broadly, it will certainly be good for the digital transformation effort more specifically.

Related Article: Developing Trust in the Digital Workplace

How Do We Create Transparency?

So, how do we go about creating an ideally transparent transformation project? I believe the key here is to understand how policies, tools and exercises come together and to make sure these three elements are aligned and moving forward in lockstep. Indeed, if you want to create a successful digital transformation you need to create a culture of transparency, and developing this culture relies on those three intertwining elements. So, let’s have a closer look.

“Culture is like the wind” a Harvard Business Review article on leadership proclaimed. It is unseen, but its effect is both visible and felt. The sailing is easy when it’s at your back, but everything is more difficult when it’s against you.

Call It Out

Extending the wind metaphor, culture can also be elusive to grasp. While leaders cannot mandate culture, they do need to be very intentional about it. They need to define the desired culture explicitly. So the first step is to state that transparency is in fact a core element of the transformation project.

At my firm, Kintone, transparency is built right into our Vision, which is explicitly made up of our Purpose and our Culture. Our Purpose is “to create a society brimming with teamwork,” and we have four core stated elements of Teamwork Culture that we work on in pursuit of that purpose, of which ‘Be Transparent’ is central.

Support It

Once you call out transparency as a core tenet of your transformation project, then you need to define some policies and perhaps some maxims to build the foundation and structure to support it. 

A key policy we follow is that all executive, department leadership and cross-departmental leadership meetings, wherein there is planning, strategy and/or decision making going on, are required to have detailed notes taken and shared openly among the entire team. Often, we make and share recordings as well.

Anyone on the team can then view and comment on the meeting’s notes and proceedings. We use a maxim "public first, private second" as a reminder that our default option for information and data is always open.

Taking detailed notes for all digital transformation project meetings and sharing them with the broader team provides multiple benefits:

  1. Keeps everyone up to speed on the project.
  2. A forum for anyone who has them to ask questions.
  3. An opportunity to receive ideas and feedback from a more diverse collection of team members than just the ones who attend the meetings.

This transparency and inclusiveness of activity and decision-making through the process will naturally lead to greater trust and engagement.

In addition to all leadership meeting notes, and among other things, we also follow a process that makes our company and project expenses transparent, which although somewhat unusual, also serves to build trust and support among the team.

Related Article: How Your Digital Workplace Design Can Support Psychological Safety

Structure It

The right software tools are critical in creating the structure and interface to practice out these policies and maxims of transparency. The key is to have a centralized, cloud-based platform that on the one hand allows team members to access their data, processes and collaboration with their teammates anytime, anywhere, and on any device, while on the other hand provide the necessary data security and granular data governance features and facilitation tools to further ensure that the right people get the right information at the right time.

For digital transformation projects, low-code and no-code platforms, especially those with strong collaboration capabilities, can help centralize the data, communications and workflow of the projects. 

As all these processes and data repositories come together in a central platform for those who need to know and as well as for those who should know. With the stated bias toward open and transparent first, a level of understanding of and trust for the project will undoubtedly ensue. And, along with it, the necessary team engagement.

Exercise It

Next up is exercising that transparency. The policies help lay some foundation, the tools create the sub-structure, while the activities done to exercise that transparency following the policies and using the tools are what really add the finishing touches to the transformation. 

Extending the policy of taking and openly publishing all meeting notes mentioned above, an excellent way to exercise the transparency commitment in practice is by having all weekly and monthly digital transformation update meetings be totally open to any team members who are interested in attending. Not everyone will attend, but the point is that anyone can if they so desire.

We are very committed to this point. In addition to our corporate founder and CEO doing quarterly open Q&A sessions with our US and various other global teams, our corporate HQ weekly executive meeting is open to any team member who wishes to sit in, and here in the US we hold CDW (cross-departmental weekly) meetings, which cover organizational / HR issues, and BSO (business strategy office) meetings, which cover business strategy and operations issues — these too are fully open to any team member who wishes to attend.

In addition to meeting openness, we also believe strongly in transparent problem sharing and problem solving. This is critical in the effort of continual improvement, or kaizen, which should be a core tenet of every organization.

Establishing a regular cadence of activity to encourage identifying problems, developing a framework and processes for sharing these problems openly, and a structure and applications for team members to record, work through and resolve these issues are the components necessary to develop transparent and effective problem-solving. 

We’ve created a structure internally that includes a “problem-sharing,” a “keep-problem-try,” and an “aspiration engine” app, all designed to call out and resolve issues, which undoubtedly has helped us continually improve, and in as transparent a way as feasible.

Key Challenges of Creating a Transparent Organization

So, sure, transparency is great, but there’s obviously some challenges that come along with it.

First, when dealing with critical and sensitive information and data through a digital transformation, not everything can be totally transparent and accessible to everyone.

To address this issue, the first step is to use a data policy that helps categorize the nature of information as confidential or not, and any degree on the spectrum that may be relevant for your organization. Next is to assign how these different levels of information can be shared throughout the organization and in operations, such as in meeting notes and problem solving efforts, etc. Finally, and most importantly, is to have software solutions that manage the tracking and operations of your digital transformation that allow for granular but easily defined access and permission controls, so the defined data policy can be practically deployed. 

Another challenge when promoting and encouraging transparency is ensuring the interaction among team members maintains the tone of the desired company culture. Our company focuses on remaining respectful and supportive of a positive team spirit. So, we find opportunities to highlight positive, respectful interactions even as we encourage people to call out issues and problems. And we use maxims here as well such as "Correct actions, do not blame people."

Some organizations however pride themselves on a more “radical” transparency, doing away with niceties and just drilling down in the most expedient fashion possible on what might be a problem. This approach is definitely not for us, and I certainly don’t encourage it, but it seems it might work for some organizations.

Related Article: One Year After the Pandemic Started, Our Workplaces Are at a Crossroads

Wrap-Up

Clearly transparency is a key attribute within an organization. It has been shown to expand happiness, improve trust, and in turn significantly increase an organization’s productivity by 37% to 50%. Intentionally deploying transparency in digital transformation projects can have the same effect.

There are four keys critical to the success of deploying transparency in a transformation project:

  1. Call it out — be explicit that transparency is a key element of the project.
  2. Support it — establish policies to support transparency of the project.
  3. Structure it — deploy software solutions enable and empower transparency.
  4. Exercise it — practice activities that display and exercise transparency regularly.

A reminder: this is the second deep dive of five best practices that were briefly detailed in my introductory article ‘5 Best Practices to Shepherd Your Organization Through Digital Transformation.’ Next up we'll examine practical methods to implement the second-best practice for digital transformation success, transparency.