Dirk Knemeyer

Transparency, real and contrived

Originally published on the Facio blog

The Fox television network in the United States recently began airing a reality television program called Does Someone Have To Go? The premise of the show is that “brave” owners of a small company temporarily turn the management of the company over to their employees, in order for their staff to be “empowered” and make decisions to help improve the organization. There are many problems with this premise: the focus is not on real development but spectacles like all the employees seeing video ripping one another; sharing the salaries for all of the employees not for transparency but as blood-in-the-water salaciousness; the poor leadership inherent in a company that would play this contrived process out on television; the fact it is contorted to the reality show standard of “identify a small group to potentially ‘vote off the island’.” And, the transparency they claim to be fostering is nonsense, as the owners don’t show what they are making, just the staff that the show wants to rip each other apart. There is some sociological benefit from watching the show, but it is purely as spectacle, a look at negative traits like jealousy, insecurity, deflection and covering one’s ass.

Real transparency, for the right reasons, is done carefully and in the spirit of building. Watch Does Someone Have To Go? and think about these contrasting points:

1. You would never record the employees under a false premise and then ambush them by showing their out-of-context clips saying negatives things about other people. Getting people to be honest and talking about issues or areas of growth needs to be done in a safe, nurturing, productive way. It is hard and takes time to evolve a culture into this mode, and rather than the impact bringing out the worst in employees it typically brings out the best.

2. Making change starts at the top. Healthy change incorporates bottom-up input and participation, to benefit from insights at every level of a company. But that is not achieved by throwing the situation into the laps of employees and running and hiding. It requires the ownership and leadership to lead by example, having the hard conversations and taking responsibility for the difficult things.

3. Planning and communication is the heart of productive transparency. Just slinging information at employees without proper framing and context can foster misunderstanding and small-minded, counter-productive behaviour. It takes time to really plan what you are doing and why, then crafting consistent and even seemingly over-communication to ensure that “transparency” has some structure and productive meaning, not just a dump of information whose relevance is obfuscated.

I’ll admit, I was excited about the idea of Does Someone Have To Go?. Optimistically – or, better, foolishly – I thought we might have a program that provides a deep and insightful look into change management. Instead we have a program that confirms the very worst people think about reality programs that serves as a model to illustrate the wrong way to include and empower your people.

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