Transparency: Your work life as an open book

Laura Stack — №31 with Grace Marshall

Lately, the word “transparency” has become something of an office buzzword—not as commonplace as proactive, synergy, or engagement, but important enough to have its own place on the Buzzword Bingo scorecard. Now, I don’t mean to make light of any of these topics; they wouldn’t be joked about so often if they weren’t so important.

Unfortunately, transparency is one of those slippery concepts people either don’t entirely understand, don’t apply completely, or simply pay lip service to. In the ideal workplace, it would be cemented in as one of the organization’s core values; but as you and I both know, the ideal workplace doesn’t exist this side of Heaven. There are always a few burrs we need to help smooth away, whether in our roles as leaders, team members, or consultants.

Ironically, that’s what makes transparency so important. I’ve always believed it’s more important to be genuine, warts and all, rather than to hide your flaws under a veneer of perfection. Efficiency experts, time management gurus, and productivity professionals have been preaching this principle for decades, but somehow the results are similar to the open plan office—too much of a good thing. Somehow, we’ve fostered isolation with dozens of people literally sitting within shouting distance of each other.

In an episode of the old Showtime series Dead Like Me, the main character briefly works for a man who sits five feet away but demands that she communicate only through the computer system—to the point of being psychotic about it. Being more or less normal herself (or as normal as a Grim Reaper can be), she quits within five minutes. I wish I could say that’s all just a joke taken to a ridiculous extreme—but how often have you called or emailed someone instead of walking down the hall to his or her office or cube?

My point is that lack of transparency has come to define us as we attempt to be productive. Being unwilling to share something of ourselves, hiding in our cubicles, keeping our heads down, and never talking with someone all hurts productivity at the team level. Transparency may not be a cure-all, but it definitely lets in much-needed light and fresh air.

There’s transparent, and then there’s transparent…

Data and organizational transparency is the type we need most. Now, I’ll admit that some workers couldn’t care less about transparency of this type; they tend to be the ones who just want to go to work and get their jobs done, whether they’re static nine-to-fivers or isolated introverts or workaholics. They feel no need to know everything that’s going on. But even so, all team members—from execs down to interns—should have some idea of how the company works, its basic parts and how they interact, who reports to whom, organizational goals, core values, mission/vision, and even the company’s annual profit or loss. Other ideally transparent topics include team goals, project details pertaining to all team members, and how each team member fits into and contributes to team and organization.

Most everything else is optional. Some companies believe in complete transparency in all directions; some even publish the salaries of their executives and managers. Others publish the salaries of all employees. This may be going too far in the opinions of some, but one type of transparency I advocate is upward transparency. That way, Hank the salesman can see how his higher-ups have handled that $5 million client he landed last month, so he can continue to exercise his responsibility to them. Similarly, Brenda the systems analyst has a freer hand in tracking network issues. You might think the latter would be a given, but some companies don’t care to make it easier for their employees to do their work.

Transparency at the personal level

Transparency can serve you well at a personal level, no matter where you are in the business hierarchy. For example:

  1. Data sharing. There’s no need to hide or “silo” your data under most circumstances, so make this easy for anyone to access. Share what you know, and others will be more likely to do the same.

  2. Scheduling. Let people know what you’re up to by making regular use of your Outlook calendar. Put a few blocks on your schedule to work, so others can tell at a glance when you’re available.

  3. Projects. Unless you’ve been told not to, let your team members and other coworkers know what projects you’re working on. There’s rarely any need for secrecy in the white-collar world. This is especially true when you count on a coworker to provide information or other work so you can move forward. Tell them what you’re working on. Contact them early on and let them know your place in the project chain.

  4. Areas of responsibility. If your bailiwick hasn’t been well defined, ask your supervisor to outline its boundaries more clearly—in fact, to make it transparent, so you can more easily keep track of important metrics. Don’t keep wondering about what you should be doing or how you are doing.

  5. Clear communication. Few things in the history of human affairs have caused as much trouble as miscommunication—or just plain non-communication. Be sure you’re in constant contact with your coworkers and superiors. Facilitate information flow with clear, unambiguous communication. If you need something from someone by COB on Wednesday, tell them plainly. If you don’t understand, keep asking questions.

See-through trust

How transparent you want to be personally at work is up to you. I know people who have no trouble sharing all aspects of their lives with others, even to the TMI point; some people are quieter and have personal reasons for keeping their lives close to their chests. That’s fine. But wherever you fall on the continuum, at work try to be as clear as one of those see-through fish you sometimes see in tropical aquaria, where the bones and all are visible to everyone. Communication, data sharing, areas of responsibility, scheduling—it all falls under the rubric of teamwork and making life easier for your teammates. You don’t have to give everything away, but it sure helps all of you get your work done more productively.

Photo: Flickr/koolmann1 CC BY 2.0

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Laura Stack

Laura Stack, a.k.a. The Productivity Pro®, helps professionals achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. For over 20 years, her keynote speeches and workshops have helped leaders boost personal and team productivity, increase results, and save time at work. Laura is the author of six books, most recently Execution IS the Strategy. Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today.

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