The Paradox of Transparency
Unconventional Ideas, Issue #1
Ever since Dalma Systems showed itself to the world we have been very open about our claimed full transparency and our “Zero Bullshit” approach to life in general. While the shift to transparency is not something new in the corporate world — plenty of other great companies advocate and practice it — it is still something fairly uncommon and thus causes quite the stir, as evidenced by the many encouragement and sympathy messages that we’ve been receiving. We are of course happy to be on the receiving end of such enthusiastic encouragement, but at another level it is unfortunate because we do believe transparency should be the norm, rather than the exception, to every company. That’s the nice part. The not-so-nice part is that transparency is not as black and white as we would like, not even at Dalma. Full transparency isn’t (can’t be) “full”, and discussing this issue openly is precisely what makes us transparent — i.e. we are transparent about our transparency and our opacity alike (wait, what?). Here lies the paradox.
Transparency at Dalma comes in several forms: disclosure of company data (including financials), sociocratic governance methods, wholeness (e.g. open discussion and exposition of otherwise sensitive topics, both personal and professional) and, of course, our no-bullshit approach to things. Being no-bullshit means we don’t fall to the temptation of being dogmatic about anything nor do we try to be overly optimistic or too sure of ourselves. It means, then, that while we strive for full transparency, we are not ashamed to acknowledge that “full transparency” doesn’t exist. There, we said it. Due to several reasons, an organization simply can’t and shouldn’t approach transparency from an all-or-nothing perspective. As such, we much more prefer to think along the lines of “being fully open about the topics we are transparent about, and the ones we choose and/or have to be less transparent about. Now before you call us a fraud and we lose you forever, please allow us to elaborate on the matter through three distinct perspectives.
Full transparency may be illegal.
Well, not exactly illegal per se, but the point is transparency can be a legal liability. It obviously depends on the country, but there are things you (i.e., “the company”) cannot quite simply share and make available for the entire team, no matter how much you would like to, without risking a lawsuit. Worse yet if that transparency extends to the outside world. In Portugal, for instance, a company may (in some situations) have access to employee medical records, but they can’t freely disclose that info even if it’s in the person’s best interest. Other personal information may also be protected by law and its revealing simply can’t be enforced. How to tackle this? Well, we probably don’t have to. Most personal information isn’t relevant in the context of “corporate transparency” and, most likely, that would conflict with other company values and principles anyway (see below).
Transparency will probably conflict with other values and principles
We (individual people) believe in a lot of stuff, and much of that stuff may very well be in conflict. How, you ask? Here’s an example: we may believe we are all equal in our rights, but we also believe we are all entitled to our own individuality and personal choices. Now that’s a potential conundrum! Should we stop believing in either? No, we should understand that both can coexist, acknowledging that there is an overlapping area of conflict between both ideas, and that we should be transparent about that grey area — i.e. not making a taboo out of it. But back to transparency — how does that conflict with other principles? Transparency may conflict with the principles of individuality and “selfness”. Regardless of the “legal aspect” mentioned in the previous point, not everyone may feel comfortable in being transparent and open about personal stuff, and that’s very within their own right. How to deal with that, though? For starters, by being transparent about it (duh!). If you’re not comfortable about being open about whatever, just tell everyone else so. Like that, no bullshit. There are of course some values that we do take for granted at Dalma, such as being a good person and adhering to some forms of transparency (compensation and perks, for instance).
Transparency may not be the best course of action
Now we’re getting a bit cynical, but hey! — no bullshit, right? In some situations you’re better off being tactful and soft, than full-on transparent and blunt. Yes, bluntness and transparency are not synonyms, but they often come hand in hand. Many people under many circumstances won’t react well to a full-on disclosure of what’s wrong (or what’s right!), and that reaction, in turn, may derail an otherwise healthy and productive interaction. With that in mind, working around — or, rather, slowly building towards — transparency is advised.
Full transparency requires full engagement
Full engagement means exactly that — full. From employees to shareholders, from strategy to operation. Should any of these stakeholders have qualms about being transparent on [insert sensitive topic here], you no longer have full transparency. Again, there’s no point in fighting it head on. You’re better off acknowledging this issue and straight up disclosing which topics or data are no-go zones; for whom; and why. No, this is not full transparency, but it is at least honesty about where the opaque spots are, thus allowing people to deal with them naturally.
What about you? Do you believe transparency is the way to go, or is the human nature not ready for it yet? Actually, after writing and reviewing this article we realized we may be confusing honesty with transparency -or are we? Are they the same thing? What are your opinions on honesty and transparency coexisting in the workplace?
Let us know where you stand on these topics.