The Impact of Transparency in the Workplace

The Impact of Transparency in the Workplace
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Why is Transparency in the Workplace Important?

Transparency in the workplace has been debated among leaders for decades. Some say transparency is essential to fostering a culture of trust.  Others say transparency in the workplace creates unnecessary headaches.

How Transparency in the Workplace Impacts Behavior
When there’s no place to hide and you know others are watching, you are likely to behave the way you should. The only time many are likely to act in a shameful way is when they think they can get away with it.  This is not just about a little kid raiding the cookie jar or a teenager sneaking out after curfew.

This is about the way so-called adults behave at work as well.

What Workplace Transparency Can Learn From Police Body Cameras
Consider a hot topic in the news recently — the idea of having all law enforcement officers wear body cameras on the beat.  This began as a way of ensuring that the officers treat all citizens fairly regardless of race, but also as a way of ensuring that citizen reviewers have an accurate picture of what transpired in each interaction.  It was hoped that body cameras would have a deterrent effect on misconduct by both citizens and officers.

And in fact that seems to be the result.  Since wearable cameras were deployed in Oakland, California in 2010, so-called “use of force” incidents have plummeted 72%.  And this in a city of 700,000 that has been challenged by racial unrest and economic disparities throughout its history.  The statistics support the deterrent effect in other communities as well in more affluent and less racially-tense cities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

People Want More Workplace Transparency
Ever since Ferguson and other recent killings of unarmed black men by white officers, there has been a huge outcry for these cameras — to protect both police and citizens in these confrontations. There is no doubt that the transparency these cameras afford has an impact on behavior. The Oakland police chief commented that “it’s not just the police that are behaving better when they know the camera is on, but people interacting with us know we’re filming, so they behave better too.”

Why Not Apply These Workplace Transparency Lessons to Companies?
If you truly want to drive behavior or culture change in your organization, consider how powerful and impactful increased accountability and transparency could be to your performance. We don’t recommend body cameras, but we do recommend finding a way to effectively of track, make public, and reward the behaviors that you want to embed in the way the company needs to get work done to best execute its strategy.  That means:

  • Identifying the specific behaviors that you want to encourage and discourage
  • Assessing your current organizational culture to see where you stand
  • Making sure that all employees understand the desired workplace culture, what you are looking for, and why it matters
  • Setting up a system whereby these behaviors are observed, noted, brought to the fore, and treated accordingly

A Note About Applying Transparency in the Workplace
While more transparency is generally better for all concerned, you must be smart and thoughtful about the audience and the consequences.

For example, one study by the University of California, Berkeley found that employees became about 10% less productive when they found out that their coworkers made more money than they expected.  But when they learned that their bosses made a lot more than they expected, employees tended to work harder and longer in an attempt to get promoted to the next level.

A more recent study from Indiana University, Harvard Business School, and the University of California suggests that knowing what your peers make can actually increase discretionary effort.  The assumption is that people feel like they need to work harder to justify more pay.  The caveat is that they need to believe that the pay system is fair.  Perceived fairness requires clear and agreed to performance expectations accompanied by timely, accurate, and fair ways to measure individual and team contributions.

The Bottom Line
Only with the cultural drivers of accountability and transparency can you hope to achieve the major shifts required to execute new strategies.  Otherwise misaligned behaviors can fester and cause decreased engagement, performance, and retention.

To learn more about how to build a strong culture of accountability and transparency, download The 3 Levels of a High Performance Culture to Take Your Game to the Next Level

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