"A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity"
~ The Dalai Lama
I was sorting through the mail the other day when I noticed an envelope with a return address from a newspaper that generally concerns itself with local business matter.
I suspected it was a plea to become a new subscriber or perhaps an invitation to some kind of gala event honoring some local business leaders.
Upon reading the letter enclosed, I was shocked to read that OptiFuse had been nominated as one of the best places to work in San Diego.
This was amazing, not because OptiFuse isn’t a great place to work... but rather because we generally don’t really rub elbows with the "movers and shakers" in our local business scene... so I was surprised that the Business Journal knew who we were or how to even contact us.
As I thought about the lofty distinction being bestowed upon us over the course of the next several days... I tried hard to think to understand how and why we were chosen for this award.
What exactly did we do which differentiated us from the hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of other small local companies?
As I thought about more and more, the one thing that kept coming back into my head was the fact that we have always tried to operate OptiFuse with complete transparency as perhaps opposed to other companies I know or have worked with in the past.
Several of my entrepreneur friends tend to believe in the "fake it until you make it" philosophy...
They often overstate sales, profits, margins, how many days a week they work, and/or how their customer service is better than anyone else.
Their entire company structure is built on lies and exaggerations. They do it at first because they believe that the ends justify the means... and it seems to work for a while... so they just simply continue working this way...
The problem with this philosophy is that once a company starts down the path of lies, deception, and lack of transparency, it is almost impossiblely hard to change course unless some crisis or complete management change occurs. It simply becomes ingrained into the DNA of a company.
Small companies that start with this type of culture usually end up becoming medium and then large companies keeping the same mind-set along the way.
Management regularly tells employees, customers, and vendors exactly what they want to hear regardless of whether it’s the truth or not. Their attitude is that they would rather beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
These types of companies like to cloak themselves in secrecy... rarely giving out information that could tarnish the false image that they are trying to create for themselves and their companies. They never make mistakes... rather its the other person who misinterpreted the information.
Their employees are constantly kept in the dark as to how the company is actually performing. These same employees rarely know what the overall strategy of the company is, how they actually make a profit, or how much profit is actually being generated.
Departmental fiefdom are created often with managers looking out after their own self-interests. Their primary goal is to look good in front of the boss rather than sharing credit with his team. All internal and external communication must be routed through them so they are always in control of the information flow.
Motivation in these environments comes not from the carrot... but rather the stick. Blame for problems is dispersed equally among the employees while credit for accomplishments is reserved for the C-suite management team.
These workplaces are toxic... with high turn-over and bad morale. Management doesn’t seem to care as they believe that employees are easily replaced and interchangeable.
Fortunately, many of these type workplaces are becoming the way of the three-martini lunch and three-piece suit...
The most successful workplaces today are founded with one word in mind: Transparency
Companies who embrace transparency regularly engage their customers, vendors and employees... entrusting that better communication and information tends to lead to better results.
Although there are many definitions of transparency, there are some cornerstone principles that are always present.
The transparent person and/or company always follow these fundamental principles:
- Always tell the truth - honesty is not always easy especially when a small fib can deflect a customer’s anger or delay a problem... but transparency begins and ends with honesty. Plus... if you always tell the truth... you’ll never have to remember what you said and who you said it to.
- Be open to new ideas - there isn’t only one way to do something and in fact... there may be a better way to get from one place to another. Encourage the free exchange of ideas.
- Give credit where credit is due - you don’t always have the best ideas or solutions. One of the best ways to motivate others is to give them lots of credit for the team’s successes... especially if they were instrumental in ensuring the success in the first place.
- Take a bullet - not only is it important to give credit, but it is equally important to admit your mistakes and shortcomings. To err is human... transparency is about being human.
- Have a guiding set of principles - every person and every organization needs to stand for something. These are principles that are cast in stone and they will weather the fiercest of storms. These are the very ideas of who you are and what you stand for.
- Back it up with action - The thing about transparency is that everyone knows what’s going on... therefore it’s overly important that you not only "talk the talk"... but also "walk the walk"... people aren’t listening to what you say as much as they are watching what you do.
- Allow mistakes - if we don’t allow for mistakes in ourselves and others... we aren’t trying to push the boundaries but rather we are living in the safety of conformity. Don’t punish mistakes... reward risk taking.
- Foster communication at all levels - open the books... give and receive open and honest feedback... freely describe objectives and strategies... admit when there are problems...
I have always tried to live a transparent life and operate OptiFuse in a transparent way... and this has served me well... I sleep very well at night knowing that I have a great team of customers, vendors and employees behind me...
For several days after receiving the nomination letter, I was riding on cloud nine.
The following week, I happened to have lunch with my friend Roger, a senior partner at a public accounting firm the following Monday.
"Hey Roger... you’re not going to believe it but OptiFuse was just recognized as one of the best places to work in San Diego", I bragged.
"Wow... that’s great Jim", Roger congratulated me, "I just sure hope that your award wasn’t from the local Business Journal".
Uh oh... there was a sinking feeling in my heart and a lump in my throat...
"Well in fact it was... why?"
"Sorry to break this to you... they send that letter out to at least a thousand companies... including our company. The awards event is a huge profit center for the newspaper. They are just hoping that you’ll buy a bunch of tickets and give them to all your friends and invited guests. The more companies they nominate, the more tickets they sell... and the bigger the profit for the newspaper... sorry to be the bearer of bad news... "
I thanked Roger for the inside scoop... my ego slightly deflated...
The following day I went to the office and told my staff the bad news...
At the end of the announcement a voice in the back of the room spoke up...
"We don’t need an award to know that we are one of the best companies to work for"...
We all applauded... nodded our heads... and went back to work...
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe in transparency... and using it to forge great long-term relationships with people and companies...
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter - @OptiFuse
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com