The value of transparency in business

Transparency is a relatively new concept in the world of business.

How do I know?

First, I took a look in The Penguin Book of Business Wisdom for a mention of Transparency and nope. So in 1998 when the book was published to cover the “Must-have collection of Business Quotations, Thoughts and Anecdotes for every Business Situation”, Transparency didn’t make the cut.

Second I had a look in another seminal work influencing business today “The Clue Train Manifesto” which has its central thesis that “markets are conversations” and one of the drivers is the need for authenticity. (If you’ve not read it do so and you’ll understand how Facebook has ended up where it is.) But none of the 92 theses in the book specifically mention Transparency.

Third, the Agile Manifesto, the 12 Principles behind the Agile Manifesto also have no specific mention of Transparency. Given everyone and their dog is doing agile now again a surprise.

Finally In Search of Excellence talks about information sharing and trust but not Transparency.

Don Tapscott talks about Transparency in is 2013 book Radical Openness as one of the four principles of success – the others being collaboration, sharing and empowerment.

As I said I will admit there is mention of trust, which is the result of Transparency, in these works, sometimes in the form of distrust but no real mention of the value of Transparency in business.

(I’ve not done a full literary review on all management texts ever written so I could be wrong here. For the benefit of this post play along that Transparency is pretty new.)

So what is the value of Transparency in business?

  • Transparency builds trust and honesty within the workplace.
  • Transparency also allows for what is hidden to become visible.
  • Transparency helps drive decentralised decision-making.
  • Transparency improves collaboration.
  • Transparency improves the quality of an organisation’s outcomes.
  • Transparency improves employee engagement.
  • Transparency, in the end, improves the value delivered to customers – the whole reason for an organisation to exist in the first place.

Transparency is good. Transparency is hard. Transparency is brave.

Transparency is all about trust. And trust is a two-way street, and someone always has to “start” trusting before both parties trust each other. Trust, and the betrayal of that trust has been the source of many a scholarly article. Trust in business is also hard but it is empowering for all.

Organisations who believe in Transparency also don’t just believe in it on the good days, they believe in it on the bad ones. Nothing destroys trust than closing ranks when the news is terrible.

So how can you start to build Transparency within your business?

There are lots of ways to go about it, but today I want to touch on one – The Kanban Method. Transparency is one of the core values of Kanban.

Kanban starts building Transparency by making work visible to all. The Kanban board shows your workflows and processes. The Kanban cards display your work items and what components make up your work. When displayed (which they should be) your explicit policies articulate processes beyond the board driving more Transparency on how the team works. The process of feedback loops, which promote evolutionary change by the team, drives Transparency. When blockers are highlighted, everyone involved in the workflow can see them, but also collaborate on how to resolve the issue.

Kanban displays Transparency within a team. Kanban displays Transparency across organisational boundaries when the Kanban board is physically out in the open for anyone in the business to see. Exposing a team’s work like this is a brave, trusting step – especially at the beginning when you “Start with what you do now”.

Transparency is good for business, and Kanban is useful for helping organisations become transparent.

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