“Best” is one of the barriers to achieving transparency. The desire to be ‘best’ means that people feel, or are made to feel, a failure until they achieve a certain level. ‘Best is big up-front designed improvement and as such is anti-agile. ‘Better’ by comparison allows people to feel good about themselves and their improvement journey.
Transparency is a key sign-post in the learning journey of individuals and organisations. For an organisation, achieving transparency is the equivalent of reaching “conscious incompetence”. It is the point where the organisation realises that it has a situation that it wants to improve. How leadership react is critical to the success of any improvement initiative.
Leadership should celebrate transparency, regardless of what the transparency reveals. Those who provide transparency should be celebrated and/or rewarded lest they retreat behind the curtain.
Transparency is ‘better’ than not having transparency. It allows organisations to better manage risk. It allows organisations to see the situations it needs to improve.
The worst thing that leaders can possibly do is punish the people who created the situation that the transparency revealed. Punishing people for revealing situations that need to be improved discourages other people from being transparent, and teaches those who were transparent that it was a mistake.
Let’s consider the risk averse leader who punishes people for revealing situations that need improving. Normally the situation is caused by factors outside of the control of those responsible for the situation. Those factors may be forces like business partners who place too pressure on the team, or the teams lack of knowledge about something. In both these cases, the failure sits on the shoulders of the leader who should already know these things. In other words, if anyone should be punished for the situation revealed by transparency, it is the leader for failing to know about the situation because of their risk aversion. Their risk aversion meant that they did not encourage transparency.
So what happens when a leader punishes people for a situation that needs to be improved. Their leader should punish them, right? Wrong! Their leader should help them celebrate the transparency and the discovery of situations that need improvement. And so it goes, recursively up the organisations structure, all the way to the top. And if the CEO acts in a risk averse manner, then sack them or sell your shares. If your CEO does not value transparency, then the organisation is standing at the cliff edge, unsure whether to step forward or back.