There are a lot of conversations happening around the concept of transparency. It is a great conversation, especially for people working inside large organizations, where the fear of being too "corporate" in a creative age is a justifiable concern, as this sobriquet often is equated with "not being creative" and "bureaucratic."
Transparency is easy to say and hard to do. It seems easy to calculate the risks of transparency (including loss of faith in the disclosing individual when they admit mistakes, loss of market value, loss of competitive advantage, and, most of all, loss of the illusion of control), and so few calculable rewards, that most organizations and individuals spend a lot of time and money to reduce transparency rather than increase it.
And yet one gets the sense that there is this growing hum of conversation, this background noise of dissatisfaction that won’t seem to die no matter how many forces are aligned against it. Perhaps it is part of the human condition, or maybe these fires are stocked by the immedicacy of the technologies that allow us to become transparent at the click of a button. Maybe it's a realization that the present economic and social model of information asymmetry isn't sustainable, and that the only way to attract the talent that will fuel increasing growth (organizationally and nationally) is to build relationships of trust built on authenticity. Perhaps there is just something in each one of us that cries out to be a part of something bigger AND better than our individual lives. Whatever the reason, the conversation won't die. Thank goodness for that.
Jonathan Schwartz is the CEO of Sun Microsystems. He has been a regular, albeit inconsistent, blogger since before he got the top spot. Jonathan had a post on August 12 that is a worth a read (in fact he has many good reads about transparency, which, given his position, are especially cogent). I'll reprint it here in it's entirety:
Doesn't This Drive Your Lawyers Nuts?
As you know, I'm a big believer in the transparency blogging drives for me and Sun. Driving information to the marketplace - all employees at Sun can speak their minds and clarify our strategies and perspectives, rather than having a pundit or competitor talk over us. And in reverse, driving information in to Sun - if there are problems to be found in our business, I'd just as soon they were in the open, rather than hidden away. We (and true, the rest of the world) can see and fix problems first, rather than letting those uninterested in fixing the problems take advantage of their existence (whether competitors or litigants). Sunlight's a great disinfectant.
As a CEO who blogs, the most frequent question I get is, "doesn't this drive your lawyers nuts?" And as I've said, no. Our legal team understands, guides, drives - and protects - our business. All without sneaking into phone booths to change costume. And with technology, regulation and our products all colliding in the marketplace (is it legal to scream "SOX!" in a theater filled with CEO's?), I sleep better at night knowing they're actively engaged.
If you want evidence that navigating today's business environment requires careful thinking, consider one particularly ironic issue: posting material information about Sun on my blog, including information about our business results, runs the risk of violating something called Regulation Full Disclosure, or Reg FD. The regulation's goal is to ensure broad, non-exclusionary distribution of material information to the investing public. And somehow, my blog isn't deemed to be such a non-exclusionary distribution vehicle (but a press release, or the Wall Street Journal is). Reg FD is something we're going to be discussing with Commissioner Cox at the SEC (whose views seem to parallel ours - the more transparency the better).
Are our lawyers in the way? The opposite, they're driving the change. Want proof?
Very quietly, this week, our General Counsel - the senior most lawyer in all of Sun - started a blog. It's here. He, too, is now the only member of his tribe, the only GC in all the Fortune 500 to have a blog.
Now the real question should be (especially if you know Mike), am I worried about what he's going to say?
(Joke, Mike, take a joke.)
Johnthan's main point is that the risk of not blogging is greater than the risk of blogging. Or, put another way, the risk of being transparent is less than the cost of being corporate. Of course that may be easier for him to say than others, since Sun has been on a downward path since 2001 and doesn’t seem to have many options at it’s disposal. Perhaps Johnathan just has less to lose than others?
My experience has been that most companies are hyper sensitive to transparency and the risks it brings. I am still searching for an example of being “too transparent” costing someone a company, where there are many examples of lack of transparency (or “being caught in a lie”) doing a lot of damage. I would venture that at the very least your level of transparency, including the demonstrated willingness to engage in the difficult conversations that are the hallmark of the principle, will be increasingly correlated to your ability to land and keep the talent you want.
Each company has to examine whether it needs to engage in the pain of transparency. It requires a careful look at the company’s strategies, the assets (including talent) needed to win with that strategy and the culture that will attract, keep and maximize the value of those assets. But one thing is for sure: most companies are investing in the wrong thing. Bad news is the new good news.