25 Jun The Organizational Grand Slam: Transparency (Part 1 of 3)
It’s hard to like what we don’t understand.
Today’s workplace isn’t the narrow ‘top-down’ tower it once was. Companies are blowing up the traditional org charts in favor of ‘bottom-up’, outside-in, and delayered structures in an effort to close the gap between the Managers and the Managed. These diverse models each offer numerous benefits, but the overarching benefit is that of increased competency, control, and engagement among all employees. In short, the world’s largest companies undergo the excruciating process of delayering in the pursuit of a most precious commodity: transparency.
When we know how a system works, we have an opportunity to develop understanding. Continued examination of a system affords us mastery of concepts, roles, rules, inputs, and outputs. Think of an activity that you love to play or watch others play. You are passionate about it in part because you understand the rules of engagement, which allows you to develop an appreciation for the subtleties of play. It could be basketball, poker, or mahjongg. Whatever the system, you’ve memorized the rules and can move with a high degree of creativity within them (or watch someone else do the moving – welcome to Atlanta, Cam Reddish!).
Now think of an activity that you’re not particularly fond of. For nearly a year I berated a roommate for the amount of baseball he watched. I never liked baseball, and couldn’t understand how anyone could sit and watch pajama-clad men chase a ball on the lawn like plucky labradors. My roommate then challenged me: ‘Do you even know how to play baseball?’ The answer was no. Some time shortly after that admission, my patient friend walked me through the basics – and then the subtleties – of this most curious American pastime. I have been transfixed ever since.
When others inquire about an unfamiliar system (“Do you like soccer?”), we go look in our gray matter to see what’s there. If that file is empty, our brain doesn’t hand us the most accurate response (“I really don’t know much about soccer”). It hands us the most convenient response: “I don’t like soccer.” And by uttering these lazy words, I begin to own that dislike as part of my personality: Mark doesn’t like soccer. A truly tragic thing follows: I become less likely to want to learn about that subject. The door into the world of soccer slowly begins to close, shut, and lock for me.
Let’s bring it back to transparency. Your new and newer employees are me in college, and your more senior employees are my roommate, watching the baseball game. If the rules of the workplace aren’t readily available to everyone, they will surely develop a distaste for the environment, which will display itself as a lack of trust, low accountability, and low engagement. Have you ever worked for a company that thought that documenting all the rules would increase engagement? Some companies literally write their values as murals in the office, as if a larger font increased its compulsory nature. But documented rules can never capture subtleties. Will you let them learn the hard way that Joanna in Accounting can be grumpy on Tuesdays? Documented rules never capture history. Why was there so much turnover in our company four years ago? Documented rules don’t account for creativity. How much out-of-the-box thinking is really allowed in your product development department?
These questions are easy for you, because you know how your work system operates. You know both the written and the unwritten ones. Newer employees who cannot see the subtleties between the written rules are quickly forming their own opinion about their employer – it’s unlikely to be positive. It’s more likely to be our reflexive response to that which we don’t understand: “I don’t like it”. The employer provided the key ingredients to help the employee build an internal obstacle to learning and engagement that won’t be dismantled easily or anytime soon.
Next week, we’ll take a look at effective strategies that will increase transparency in the workplace. In Part 3, we’ll examine how YOU can increase transparency when you happen to work at a less-than-transparent company.
In the meantime, when someone asks if you like an activity or sport that is unfamiliar, practice these simple words: “I really don’t know much about that. What do you like about it?” You just might be in the presence of a master, who could enlighten you to the rules – and the subtleties – of that craft. If nothing else, you’ve now got a lively conversation on your hands!