E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Radical Transparency in the Era of Open Business

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MoganIn a work context, I have always been fascinated by transparency. And, lately, even more about radical transparency. I have always believed that if we would have been, all along, a whole lot more transparent in what we do in the corporate business world, the vast majority of the problems that we are currently suffering from, including what I still think is at the #1 spot, Employee Engagement, all of these troubles would be a thing of the past. Yet, they keep lingering around, because, after all, and, in general, we are not too open, nor transparent enough. And it shows. Over the course of the years I have blogged about this topic a good number of times and in the last few weeks, as I am starting to settle in the new job, I have come to the conclusion that it’s going to be that very same openness and transparency the ones that are going to dictate pretty much whether I’ll be successful,  or not, in my efforts to help facilitate the adaptation of fellow knowledge workers to the main Open Business principles. Goodness. I love that challenge. 

Indeed, I have always felt that unless you are dealing with rather sensitive, private, confidential, work related information (HR, Legal, Copyright, IP Assets, Financial data, etc.), and even then I would question the vast majority of that data to remain opaque, there is no reason for knowledge workers out there to continue to protect and hoard their knowledge, but, instead, they should share it along freely. All along, I have been using the argument that, as a subject matter expert, of my own domain(s), I am always more than keen to go ahead and help out others around me. No questions asked. You know, if I can help, why wouldn’t I want to do that? It’s the least I could do eventually, i.e. to help others become more awesome at what they do, because in doing so I realise fully that I am helping them become more powerful. Now, as a result of that, since a large chunk of those knowledge workers may well be in my / your network(s), if they become more powerful, you become more powerful. 

Remember, long gone are the days where you were alone in your own little cubicle, your own little silo, minding your own business, fighting everyone out there, so you could just get ahead of everyone that could get in between you and your quarterly / yearly bonus. Nowadays though it’s becoming more and more apparent how hyperconnected, networked and interconnected we all are, after all. So instead of fighting and competing with one another, there is a huge shift happening, instead, where we are starting to care (and show more empathy) for one another. And all of that thanks to rubbing our virtual shoulders on each other using social technologies to build further up on our own social capital skills: Trust. Indeed, that’s what it is all about. Not much about how much you trust people, but eventually how much they trust you, for who you are, what you do and how you could help them out without asking for much in return. 

It’s all about the givers. It’s always been about the givers

The thing that interests me the most in terms of radical transparency is that aspect of how different it actually is from Social Business, or from Social for that matter. See? You can be extremely social, over-sharing and making heavy use of these social networking tools for business, but if you don’t share much about what you do, about who you talk to, about your daily tasks, activities and to-dos, about your own frustrations that are stopping you from growing further in your work, about what interests you that relates to your motivations, etc. etc. and instead you just keep sharing along about what other people do, about what you are having for lunch, or that upcoming business trip where you only mention the city you are travelling to, you are just bringing forward the very same good old habits we have become really good at over the last 30 to 50 years. For you, knowledge still is power. 

Now, don’t take me wrong, I quite enjoy it when people share those social tidbits, more than anything else, because they are critical towards increasing your own social capital, but from there to essentially keep everything you do hidden away is not doing you any favours in terms of generating strong trustworthy bonds with those who you work the closest with. It’s like I have been saying all along: how can I help you further along, if I don’t know what you are working on? 

Last time I checked, I didn’t have telepathic powers (Although I wish I would have them!), so by you not opening up enough in terms of what you do, what you are working on and who you are collaborating with, you are not helping your network(s) help you. In fact, you have just become a barrier. And that’s the whole point behind Open Business and radical transparency. Yes, of course, transparency has got limits and I am sure we all know what they are. But from that to working in a 100% obscure environment, there is a whole grey area in there, waiting to be explored by everyone. And that includes management and executives, for that matter.

Take this one good example from one of my good friends in the space of Social Business and Collaboration, Oscar Berg, who just recently put together this very insightful and rather inspiring blog post on My 7 Work Mantras, where, thanks to item #6 from the list, he ended up with some pretty amazing visualisations done by folks in Oscar’s networks: 


Or take a look into this other rather insightful blog post by another good friend of mine, Gautam Ghosh, where he is encouraging HR and organisations, in general, for that matter, to accept the new normal: Transparency is here to stay, by demand, not just because of your customers and business partners are asking and demanding it more and more often, but also because your own employees are starting to place those very same demands on transparency upon your own org. Not you as an individual, but the overall organisation itself. 

Finally, there are plenty of rather insightful blog posts, articles and other relevant writings and info-graphics around openness and transparency and the impact they are having within the corporate world. See this other one, one of my all time favourites, from the always insightful Rachel Happe, as another example. Feel free to share as well, in the comments, what other ones you have enjoyed the most or that have provided you with additional food for thought on the topic. I would love to read plenty more on this topic. 

However, and for now, I would want to finish off this blog post with a rather intriguing, thought provoking and incredibly refreshing YouTube video clip, from Thomas Frey, posted originally in May 2008 (Yes, 5 years ago people were already posted some really amazing content out there on the Social Web!) on this very same topic of Radical Transparency and which has served me as inspiration for the various different blog posts that I am planning on sharing across over here to detail plenty more what my job role is all about as an exercise to continue walking the talk, leading by example, on what has been, to me, one of the main core mantras from over the course of the years in terms of realising an Open Business: narrate your work, working out loud, to facilitate observable work.

Now, apply that to a business context, i.e. your day to day work… and get ready, please! 

Because it’s coming … 

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  1. Luis, So here is a good question for you, if one was looking for a new role, outside their present company, how could they do it without their management knowing and possibly firing them early? OPenness does have it’s drawbacks.

    In a different discussion, while speaking at Sugarcon we discussed should HR be using CRM for employees. I argued they should use it.

    Encouraging people to be social and having them be social are still two different things.

    1. Hi Keith, that’s a very very interesting question and perhaps one that would require a bit of fresh thinking in terms of helping us move into the 21st century. I would be extremely worried if when I would decide I would be looking for a new job, whether internally or externally, that I wouldn’t want my boss to know about it. That certainly highlights a rather poignant issue that needs clear fixing: trust.

      Seriously, if I were a manager and I would know that one of my employees is looking for a job I would love to know as soon as possible. Why? Well, because I would work my b*tt off to help him / her out to find a new job as soon as I possibly can. It is the least I could do for someone who has been working with me in my project team for some time, whatever it may well be. It’s the least I could do as a token of gratitude.

      I think we need to start shifting gears in terms of how we think about jobs. They are just that, a job, nothing more, nothing less. They don’t last forever. My boss doesn’t necessarily need to be kept in the dark till I am gone. On the contrary. I could use her / his expertise to guide me as to where I could go next and so forth. I actually did that while I moved from my previous job to this one and all along all of my management line has been informed and kept up to date. End result? A win-win situation, because I have now got a new gig while I am still helping out my old team as a token for gratitude for helping me make the move.

      Seriously, I don’t think we should worry too much about keep these things too secret. It’s not going to help us much, other than create perhaps a different set of problems we wouldn’t need in the first place. So, in that use case, I do still think that openness and transparency would benefit more than harm.

      And about HR using CRM with employees I would agree with you as well that they should use it, but more than anything else because it would facilitate that transformation of Human Resources into Human Relationships as in CRM … Another change that needs to happen as soon as we possibly can. It’s about time. We are not resources. We are people, and, as such, we thrive on relationships vs. being treated as objects 🙂

  2. Hi Luis
    Great discussion, fantastic links and as usual a lot to think about!
    You are right that transparency and information are hot topics in an ever more connected and networked world.
    The trouble with knowledge – or information – or data (whatever category you would like to put it in) is that it is not just power – knowledge as a commodity has “value” and how it is harnessed, how it is accessed, how it is used and re-used now, and in to the future, opens up all kind of business possibilities in the global business world. The “money trail” as Rachel Happe coined it.

    So what kind of transparency are we talking about?
    -Internal organisational transparency where everyone works in an open and honest way about their activities and what information they have to share?
    – or a really “open business” form where the “value” of the information your organisation may hold is no longer in question but is freely accessible to all outside of the organisation?

    What interests me, whether you are referring to transparency within a single organisational environment – or in the true “open business” world outside of the organisation is at what point the availability of that information becomes more valuable “out” than keeping it in a closed environment (something Thomas Frey touched upon in his genealogy video)?

    You say transparency has its limits (it’s grey areas too)– so how radical can it be?. What is the tipping point that will persuade increased or radical transparency? What will the cost of the transparency be? And in an ever changing and fast moving world how long will that tipping point remain the same, how many variables will there be and how will that same information be accessed, re-used and even abused in the future?
    Does the future need to be transparent too?

    Great post Luis

    Thanks very much

    1. Hi Marie-Louise, many many thanks, once again, for taking the time to drop by and share some absolutely delightful feedback comments and right on target on what I was aiming at! For me, I make a distinction of two different types of transparency:

      – The one that happens with customers and BPs where businesses become more open and transparent to them, with the main purpose of helping facilitate co-creation where the ecosystem opens up and people through that participation, collaboration and knowledge sharing where information flows freely allows to build better products and business processes to reduce barriers and eventually just aim at what really matters: delighting your customers.

      – The second one, not mutually exclusive, by the way, is that one where businesses themselves need to be a whole lot more transparent to their employees. And this is where I am thinking about radical transparency, since I am more and more convinced that unless it’s really, *really* confidential in terms of some of the nature of that information shared, there is no excuse why everything else should be happening out there in the open for all employees to know. We are seeing how more and more customers are demanding that kind of openness, but employees, too! They want to know whether their own focus on the job, their purpose and meaning align with those from the business and in what shape / form, because if they don’t, the moment they know, the moment they will decide to move on.

      I think one of the main key themes from openness and (radical) transparency is how it’s going to help us bring back something that I think we need today, now more than ever: corporate social responsibility. It’s been far too long since businesses, specially, large enterprises lost that responsibility towards the community and the society they live in.

      Radical transparency will bring them back into the game.

      And about all of the questions you end up the blog comment with, I am going to provide perhaps a different perspective… I won’t answer them just yet, since I don’t think we have done enough exploration just yet on the topic. It’s kind of difficult to try to answer questions about something that we really don’t know how it will work out, because we haven’t tried it out. Along the lines of what Thomas Frey also hinted on the video. Perhaps that’s also part of applying some fresh thinking into how we have been doing things all along… Instead of asking ahead, let’s just do it and ask later, when we may have much more information and experiences to answer those questions much better and much more accurately 🙂

      Thanks again for the feedback, Marie-Louise! Excellent stuff as usual!

  3. Afternoon Luis,

    Boy, Thomas Fry really knows his stuff. I could never have learned all this social paraphernalia in 10 lifetimes. However, I fail to see how he can categorize radical transparency and Google in a single breath. Google is THE MOST secretive non-governmental corporation there ever was! They are a digital equivalent of The Illuminati!! There is absolute power in SECRECY! Google has unequivocally usurped the entire internet in one fell swoop. Google is now to the internet what Sadam Hussein was to Irag. And others WILL follow suit by proxy. Facebook, Twitter et al. perhaps. And other corporations yet unformed!! One thing is for certain: you can kiss PRIVACY well and truly goodbye. He’s right on that issue. Wish there was time/space to discuss this at length. For more information watch Steven Speilberg in the DVD extras of ‘Minority Report’. Still, adore your sentiment Luis. Amazeballs post, notwithstanding.

    May you enjoy a simply superb day

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