Transparency Builds Stronger Organizations

By | September 11, 2013 | 0 Comments
This man is working on transparency in his office

This man is working on transparency in his office

Communications in a Disaster:  Hurricane Katrina project officers were working in remote offices and many did not have the training or information they needed to successfully complete the project work  forms for Katrina victims to receive funds to rebuild.  At the same time, given the enormity of the disaster, some policies and decisions were being made on a week -to-week basis that needed to be conveyed to disaster personnel.

As you can imagine — this was a very stressful time for everyone, so patience was short and stress levels were high.

The header and Ask Eggbert column of the Zine

The header and Ask Eggbert column of the Zine

Oftentimes, new policies and procedures were not conveyed in a way that personnel understood, so compliance with them was low.  Also complicating this was the very dispersed staff (over 600) so there was a bit of a game of telephone ofpassing along new procedures and information which caused confusion.  At the same time, staff members did not have an effective or coherent way to share questions, ideas or suggestions with  leadership. I was tasked with addressing this problem.

Less is More; Comics are Fun:  My solution to this transparency and communications break down in the midst of Hurricane Katrina recovery was a weekly two-page comic Zine, with short informative articles presented in non-technical language. 

A snap shot of the Zine, simple, friendly, informative.

A snap shot of the Zine, simple, friendly, informative.

Of course you would not expect an informal light-hearted approach, to be the answer to technical questions and addressing serious issues in a  stressful climate.  But, because it was so different from the day-to-day activities and protocol, this was the reason that it was so well read and ultimately so successful. 

This Zine gave timely information and, included disaster-wide personnel information like birthdays, and had Dear Eggbert column in which staff could submit questions.

 The Zine was at the coffee pots in all of the field offices by noon on Wednesdays, just in time for the lunch break.

Outcomes:  This publication allowed us to address emerging issues in a timely fashion and pay attention to morale, provide humor and support.   It also created a vehicle for feedback.  The results were  fewer mistakes on the application forms and fewer rejected applications, more timely submissions, more light-hearted emergency responders whose birthdays were recognized.  


Nine Reasons Why Your Success Depends on Transparency

At work, one factor in improving performance is to improve communications and increase transparency.  Increasing transparency is good for any businesses bottom line.  Below are my top nine reasons to improve transparency at work.   In the meanwhile, please share your stories of work transparency with me in the comment box below.

9.   Set expectations for all staff to see the big picture:  Open transparency provides staff with information and access to data across organizational functions.   This sets the expectation that staff should understand work across the organization and not just within their particular unit.  This works to improve how staff can collaborate and leverage resources.  This also helps all staff think and from the executive perspective.  If staff and managers are not thinking broadly, discuss as a performance issue.

8.  Improve how individuals and teams see their work aligning with the organizational goals:  Staff and work teams must understand how their particular function fits into the larger organizational priorities.  Staff should seek clarification if they do not see their roles in the big picture, and/or should be aligning their own work with the organizational priorities.

7.  Increases loyalty and commitment:  By sharing internal information and priorities, you are building trust and buy-in among staff.  Information is a gift that staff will appreciate and use appropriately.  Transparency also increases empathy among staff because they have a context for what decisions were made and why.  Conversely, if you have staff and managers who cannot use organizational information with discretion, this is a personnel issue.

 6.  Aids in compliance and growth for staff:  Staff that are privy to information and processes across the organization benefit in two ways.  First, by understanding organization-wide processes, they will be able to comply with them more easily (hello, why reimbursement forms matter!).  Second, staff are exposed to a range of types of positions and may find a growth opportunity by working in a different department or role.

5.  It honors and acknowledges mistakes:  Transparency means acknowledging mistakes and short-comings, which fosters an environment for others to do the same.  This means we are encouraging people to take calculated risks and try new things, which may not work, but we can always learn from them.

4. Articulates priorities and forecasts behaviors / decisions:  Transparency articulates organizational priorities and explains the context around them.  By engaging staff in ongoing dialogues, they should be aware and anticipating where the organization is headed, what organizational threats exist, and other knowns and unknowns.  In this way, staff can decide for themselves and their own work priorities whether changes on the horizon are best for themselves.  Such ongoing conversations can/should make any organizational alignments easier to integrate.

3. Transparency begets transparency:  A culture of transparency means that communications will be flowing in all directions. Team members, each of whom has his/her own professional network, should be hearing and filtering valuable information back into the organization.  Information about competitors, funders, investors or general market climate should be sharedby and with  all staff.

2. Refined solution to the process:  Transparency around organizational challenges, new initiatives or growth can ensure more perspectives and greater opportunity that the arrived-at solution can work across your organization.

1. Helps clarify leadership thinking and actions.  If you are communicating something this month, it needs to be congruent with what you said last month and what you are going to say next month.  So leaders need to think carefully about their own priorities and actions and make sure that they are part of a larger plan and are working to complement the mission and goals of the organization.  Your communication should not be a reflection of the article you just read, or the meeting you just had, but an articulation of the big picture.  Such transparency also ensures accountability of leaders, because any set of communications implies a set of actions for the organization.

Categories: Communications, Management

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