Transparency: embrace it

How do you make work more effective? Make it transparent, as Sigurd Rinde did with his client. He redesigned an advertising agency’s workflow, identifying the main choke points, four “big meetings” where one of the “owners” had to be present, and then made the workflow visible so anybody could see what was happening.

With an average seven weeks from start to end for their projects, where I assumed half a week average delay from instant for each meeting due to “sorry, I’m busy on Thursday”s (that I would argue was very optimistic), we could cut the time from seven to five weeks per project, on average, without losing anything but thumb twiddling. With a 20% profit margin today it would translate to a tripling of their profits.

Of course the clients would think this was a great idea.

Did they go for this no-brainer? Nope, the two owners would not hear of it, their controlling habits and methods where not to be touched, and bah humbug to tripling of profits. Ah well, their prerogative, they did not have outside investors. Maybe I should have had a chat with their spouses over lunch at Harrods?

Oh, I guess they didn’t.

Transparent work is the one of biggest opportunities we have in creating more effective organizations but it seems to be a major barrier in any hierarchy. The owners didn’t want a transparent workflow to show they were the cause of the problem. Too often, the leadership IS the problem. Whether they like it or not, these types of owners/managers had better adapt. More and more, workers know where the problems are because they have access to the data. They  can see alternatives and find solutions blindingly fast on the web. The hard reality for business leaders is that in an inter-connected world, we need less management, not more.

In a transparent workplace, the role of management is to give workers a job worth doing, the tools to do it, recognition of a job well done and then let them manage themselves. Working smarter means using social media tools, which are inherently designed for transparency, and doing something worthwhile.  Social media are the equivalent of an industrial factory for each worker. Today, every worker has the ability to get a message out to the world in the blink of an eye. Workers can also connect to massive amounts of information. As anthropologist Michael Wesch states, “when media change, then human relationships change“. The Internet has changed everything. The social contract that we call employment has been changing for a while. Unions are shrinking, the self-employed are growing and low wage service jobs are becoming our largest growth sector. What can unite us is our ability to easily connect with each other, without traditional intermediaries.

For me, an essential part of working smarter is showing people they have access to the most powerful communications medium in history and that individuals have to grab hold of it, understand it and use it for the good of society, because we are society. Working smarter is not about doing your job better. It’s understanding what it means to work, to create and to be responsible, while being visible to everyone else. This can be a bit scary, but I firmly believe that transparency is the foundation for a much better workplace.

4 Responses to “Transparency: embrace it”

  1. Mark Addleson

    Harold, I agree fully with your message about the need for transparency. In age of knowledge-work, good work comes down to people being able and willing to easily share knowledge and this is where the culture comes into play. We’re really talking about how people engage or interact. Transparency, or what I call ‘openness,’ makes for a culture – a ‘space’ – that is good for sharing knowledge. But, if transparency, with people organizing themselves, is the goal, it seems to me there is more to getting there than tools and recognition from management.

    Not only do we have ‘learn transparency,’ but also we have to let go of the whole ‘management apparatus’ – the ethos, if you will – of competition, hierarchy, and compliance. I’m beginning to blog about these issues – – because these practices undermine transparency (openness) at every turn and you can’t say ‘workers, here are the tools to share knowledge and, BTW, you are free organize yourselves,’ when every aspect of work life signals just the opposite.

    Your direction is right but the path is murky.

    • Harold Jarche

      I agree the path is murky, Mark. Clarity will come as we develop and test new work structures.

      “First we shape our structures. Then, our structures shape us.” ~ Winston Churchill.


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