Opening Up the Search for True Transparency

Transparency, KaizenBiz chat, Steve BirkettTransparency is a buzz word that has spread rapidly into the common parlance of the social media era. Prompted initially by individuals sharing more and more of their personal lives online, and the blurring thereof with our professional lives, the creeping call for transparency has now reached the global corporate level.

Advocates assert that any and all organizations must embrace the concept, share more of their operation, and become open to letting this increasingly connected world see what goes on behind the curtain. “Open kimono” may well be business bingo lingo that predates the digital era, but it takes on new meaning with the sheer number of channels now available to businesses.

Just how much should be revealed before crossing the lines into overexposure? 

Furthermore, can the “true transparency” that many believe is required to become a fully social organization ever be achieved?  Or is this a naiveté destined to remain in the realm of aspirational blog posts and academia?

Defining “True Transparency”

Initially, we have to understand what is being asked of organizations pursuing greater transparency, then extrapolate a spectrum of just how far down that path they might go, both in theory and in practice. At the one end we have a closed, inaccessible attitude, unwilling to disclose anything of value. At the other, a truly transparent organization will answer any questions about their operation and publish as much of value as possible, open for all to access.

But there are, of course, limitations on this spectrum…

First and foremost, some companies operate within strictly regulated industries that will restrict the level of transparency. Even if a company in the financial sector wants to air everything to its interested parties, for example, it is bound by overarching regulatory bodies and compliance requirements. Similar limitations exist for pharmaceutical companies, law firms, and many others. So can such organizations ever be wholly transparent?

Secondly, the question arises as to exactly what an organization gains by pursuing all out openness. There are clear advantages in sharing some information, ranging from increased connection with customers to greater trust in how they do business. It can be argued, however, that there also exists a point of diminishing returns, after which the incremental benefits gained are outweighed by the risk that comes from making one’s operations available for all to scrutinize.

Teasing Out the Transparent 

In Friday’s #KaizenBiz, we’ll seek to understand what true transparency means conceptually, what limitations exist in the real world of business, and whether or not it is beneficial for an organization to pursue complete openness.

To that end, please consider the following questions:

Is organizational transparency an option or an obligation in the digital era?

Can “true transparency” ever be a realistic objective or are there acceptable limits?

Does a culture of openness equate to a transparent company?

Are there specific industries and/or organizations that have a right to maintain opacity on their operations? 

What do you want to see from organizations that open themselves up for all to see?

About the author: Steve Birkett is a senior marketing associate at Brooklyn-based agency Esvee Group ( Specializing in translating brand identity to new media channels and content, he is a passionate advocate of building online networks and openly contributing value to the resulting communities. You can further connect with Steve on Twitter via @EsveeGroup, or on his more musically-inclined personal handle, @AboveTheStatic.