The Secret Power of Destroying Secrets
Manipulators, backstabbers, and poor performers love organizations with secrets. In fact, they create, nurture and protect environments where secrets are normal, even virtuous.
Most organizations have too many secrets. Too many conversations are reserved for insiders. Too much information is held by too few. Secrets create elitism.
Why we fear transparency:
- We play favorites and favor insiders. Lee Benson, owner and CEO of Able Engineering, told me, “If transparency scares you, you have too many inequities in your organization.”
- We fear losing control. The old way of doing business included using information to control people by keeping secrets. Those days are over. Additionally, transparent environments undermine the power of undermines, backstabbers, and manipulators.
- We don’t understand the difference between personal issues and performance. Performance is for public consumption, personal issues are private. (Personal issues that negatively impact performance are sticky issue for another post. However, ethical and moral breaches that result in termination should become public information.)
Power of transparency:
Transparent organizations make employees feel:
- In control.
- Their choices matter.
- They belong.
- Motivated. Information creates ownership; it motivates. Secrecy demotivates.
- Make the journey public. Creating transparency requires a transparent process. You can’t expect people to own something they haven’t helped create.
- Identify true secrets and don’t expose them. Let everyone know you aren’t letting everything out.
- Go slow. It takes time. Rushing transparency is a fiasco that drives people underground.
- Model it. Transparency is protected and sustained by leaders.
- Use organization values, mission, and vision to determine scope.
- Make performance reviews public. Next week, I’m seeing a demo of http://www.evaluatetowin.com/ – a tool that can open the performance review process. Stay tuned.
How would you feel if your organization became more transparent?
What can you do today to enhance healthy transparency?
Want more? Read: “On Useful Candor”
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Great Post. A subject dear to my heart. One of my biggest bug bears was working with leaders who wouldn’t have understand what transparency was if it had jumped up and bit them in the nose.
One reason I would addl and the biggest one I found; was that leaders who feared transparency, feared loss of power This is usually a symptom of inner insecurity. One benefit of transparency is actually empowerment of all followers too.
Dan, I couldn’t agree more. Push as much information as you can as far down as you can in the organization. In addition to the motivational outcomes you point out, there are some very practical reasons.
For one thing, it frees you from having to evaluate every piece of information to figure out who needs to know it to do his or her job. It also frees you from having to remember everything. And it cuts way down on all the water-cooler talk about what’s really going on.
Most reasons for keeping secrets are negative ones. We fear the accountability that transparency brings.
branching off your comment about remembering everything reminds me of “If you always speak the truth, there is nothing you need to remember.” Unfortunately I don’t remember right now who said that! 🙂 but it was not me although I try to follow it.
–my hometown boy said it, Mark Twain!
Greg, love the, “We fear the accountability that transparency brings.” I think that is right. I also think that many folks have worked in environments that were born out of “you can’t share that with them…they won’t…like it, understand it, have the right to know it, etc., etc.” I think/hope that we are finding that all the reasons we made up as to why we weren’t going to share something weren’t real reasons at all, but served to protect leadership, rather than create a healthier culture/atmosphere. Perhaps we have entered a generation that will continue to challenge authenticity in the work place, and greed and other negative traits won’t have the chance to flourish.
Jim your post parallels where Bill Waddell of Evolving Excellence went with the privilege of leadership in tandem with increased accountability and that generations to come ‘get it’. Thanks for bringing it together.
I believe transparency should be the life line of an organization. Transparency in performance, functionality, and assessments are critically important to foster ownership as you suggest. The fine line comes when confidentiality of personal issues arises and those issues may compromise the organization. Trying to preserve an environment of a safe community to allow people to come forward with problems or concerns is a challenge. More challenging for me has been to address behavioral and disciplinary issues which were affecting work yet had a clear either physical or mental catalyst. Fortunately with careful counseling and confidentiality careers can be saved and sometimes entire families benefit from early, personal and confidential help. I am not sure but I guess we need to weigh the potential risks of disclosing not only for the organization but more so for the individual. I tend to lean to help the fellow co-worker because I feel he/she is the weaker and most in need compared to the organization. If the person with issues is the CEO well I am not sure I have an answer for that. Thanks for the post.
Thanks for this post, Dan.
I agree with the earlier comments regarding the link between a lack of transparency and the insecurity of the leader. It is motivated by fear in the end and fear almost never is a positive force for moving a team forward.
That said, I’ve also seen how organizations require some instruction or guidance in _how_ to be transparent. All information is not equally beneficial or accessible in its meaning. It requires training to help everyone put information in a meaningful context and digest it in a way that is helpful.
David, you make a great point that raw information is often meaningless at best, mis-interpreted at worst. Many employees will need some context or education to understand financial or regulatory information, for example. Transparency takes a lot of deliberation and preparation.
Awesome–totally sold on it. I believe in your post in both of my professions. I am a Biology teacher and a football coach in Texas. The players I coach live by our theme which is “All In”. I let them know right away the expectations (which are quite high), the rewards and consequences. I share authority with a few leaders who help me come up with the above 3. I DO NOT EVER reward them when we “almost” meet our goals, and I emphatically remind them how close we were,and how EACH one of them had control to attain the goal, but somehow our individual performance was below expectations.
I follow the same format in my Biology classes. I am very clear about rules and expectations. I involve chosen students to help me formulate how the class is taught. In this way the class “buys in” and we are year in, year out the highest achieving Biology classes in our school district which includes 4 high schools and one alternative school. Unfortunately, this often alienates me from other teachers, because they spend their class periods putting out fires in mismanagement, while my “so called LOW ACHIEVERS” score high while listening to rap music and eating earned food!
I would like advisement from your members on an idea I have on writing a book on classroom management based on strategies that work on the football and soccer field. I have started an outline, just looking for a push in the right direction.
Here’s the push, Coach. Too often we see changes in education coming from outside of education. It would be nice to see things learned in education that have a broad and workable appeal outside of education. Be polite and tolerant of your colleagues, but ignore them. Your results speak for themselves. Clarity around expectations is one of the missing elements in a number of settings…including business. Creating clarity for others helps them build the structure they need to succeed.
Very relevant in today’s world and I need to acknowledge the wisdom of what is being said. I extract out here something I had penned on a piece on ” Knowledge”.
“As workers, we need and demand more and more instant access to information from all over. As individuals, we have less and less time to mull over and process the veritable deluge of information coming at us. As leaders and managers, we like to retain power by restricting information and knowledge flows on a “need to know” basis. As we hold onto these power bases using outdated knowledge.”
How do we get out of this quandary? And can we rise above our vested interests to create the correct intentions?
There needs to be a definite boundary to protect information vs denying information. For example, explaining someone why a particular piece of information cannot be shared with them at present & letting them know when it can be made public even within the organization may serve the same purpose as telling the information itself? Transparency need not necessarily be equated to disclosure in all cases? Just my two cents
Silos of secrets strangle the health of a culture/organization. While such action brings short term power, control, coercion and the false illusion of strength which if we put it in historical context is a waste of humanity. The Great Wall of China comes to mind or maybe Enron.
Greg’s point of communicating out (prefer that over ‘down’) as widely as possible gets the information to those who need it most and can convert it to knowledge–> hopefully then into wisdom and apply it practically to each person/customer served. By communicating out, you have even created a potential conduit for information flowing back to you, creating a healthier, respectful loop that can enlarge rather than constrict connections.
Dan, I think this is one of your best posts ever. My favorite line (because it is so true) is “secrecy creates elitism.”
How would you feel if your organization became more transparent?
Increased transparency in my organization would totally reverse how I feel about my place there right now. One lesson learned from a long time ago — under a previous leader’s tenure, we changed a group’s job descriptions and the physical location of their workspaces all in a Friday afternoon. The resulting chaotic, emotionally charged moves sucked productive energy out of the group. Had they been involved (informed in order to create ownership), the tone of the move could have been much more positive.
What can you do today to enhance healthy transparency?
The only thing I can do is be hyper-vigilant about my own choices regarding who I talk about, what I say, and how I act. I have come to view a hastily closed door with trepidation, which leads me to wonder why anything I have had to say to a coworker in the recent future really warranted a closed door – maybe I should not have expressed what I thought was so urgent in the first place.
Can’t wait to see what you come up with for personal issues that negatively impact performance. You’ve given yourself a 2012 challenge there!
Now if only our bipartisan politicians would practice this…
Do you already have a blog about this? Personal issues that negatively impact performance. I would love to read about it.
Great topic Christine. I’m going to ask your question to the folks on the Leadership Freak Coffee Shop on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/LeadershipFreak
I think we all would love it if the company’s we work for became more transparent.. I believe this first starts with upper management than goes down from their. Great points Dan.
But in fact in this real world,it does not work like that..
So many reason why the company hides their secret and we can’t ask one by one..
About manipulators, backstabbers, and poor performers i think that is connected with own moral of each person not the transparency of the company.
Even if the company already did the transparency it wont stop a person to do a bad things to the company if they really want to..
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Backstabbing occurs when a coworker lies low on a project and then grabs credit when it’s nearing completion.~ Les Parrott obtained from Backstabbing Quotes
Great points on transparency. I have worked with many a leader who does not openly communicate, and tries to keep everyone guessing. The end result was a workplace with a high turnover rate, a team that did not trust each other, and efficiency slipped. Transparency is all about communication to your team, so everyone is on the same page. It makes it much easier to address any problem if everyone is aware of what is going on. Great article!