The Transparency Paradox
Updated: Oct 22
From the very beginning of Social Tables I have always shared everything with everyone at the company. From the numbers to new product concepts to investor conversations.
In fact, when we were a two dozen employees, I would often share half-baked updates real-time that became completely irrelevant or substantially divergent from their original concepts almost instantly.
I will never forget the meeting where I shared our product roadmap at a hastily organized team-wide meeting in December 2013. A month later we changed it to focus on a completely different segment of the market.
A commitment to Transparency doesn’t mean always sharing everything in your head with everyone the minute it appears as a protean thought. — Matt Blumberg
This philosophy continued as we grew and established honesty as a core value. It manifested in tell-all company meetings, weekly executive reports emailed to the company, and all-access metric dashboards.
With time we shared even more: minutes from executive team meetings, near-real-time information about exiting employees, and virtually unredacted Board of Directors memos.
As we’ve continued to grow and continued to share, I have noticed a pattern emerge: the more you share, the more people expect and the more difficult it is to meet their expectations for transparency. What may seem trivial to me may be very important to a colleague. What I would consider timely a coworker might view as painstakingly slow.
I call this the transparency paradox. It’s the concept that there is an inverse relationship between the amount you share and the transparency sentiment at the company.
I love sharing and our transparency is not going anywhere. In fact, I’ve been called an over-sharer (Exhibit A: at the time of this post, I have nearly 40k tweets) and I’m constantly looking for ways to share even more.
Where did all this need for transparency come from? The roots of my sharing habits may lie in the fact that I am an only founder and want to be as inclusive as possible. Perhaps it’s not that psychological, though. Sharing relevant company information is the right thing to do when you ask your team, all of whom are stockholders, to believe and give it their best.
Transparency is not fun, however, when it’s asynchronous. In fact, one-way information sharing can be a demotivator to some people. It is to me. So what if every single person at the organization committed to sharing what’s relevant to their job in exchange for information rights?
Enter the transparency contract, a virtual agreement between any two parties that care about an organization’s well being and want to learn/share information about it.
Transparency is not just a right, it’s a responsibility. — Andrew Mason
For transparency to work under this “contract,” everyone from every part of the company, has to share: executives share the ups and downs; managers share successes and failures; and individual contributors share what’s making them happy and whats driving them up a wall.
At Social Tables, we’ve focused so much on the mechanism for sharing information “top-down” that we may have neglected to build the process for collecting it bottom-up. Here is what we’ve done to make transparency synchronous to date.
We use TinyPulse’s Virtual Suggestions to anonymously collect feedback.
Most of the members of our Executive Team, including myself, have weekly office hours.
I recently began using Quilla, an anonymous survey emailed weekly to the entire company, to solicit feedback.
Going forward, here are some things I’m looking at doing to ensure we get transparency right.
Gather data on what kind of information people want to know about so that we can define what transparency means to us. We may be delivering information that people don’t care about.
Include transparency in performance reviews so that we put our money where mouth is and measure each other on it.
Put KPI dashboards up around the office so everyone knows how we’re doing.
Our transparency processes and outputs will never be perfect but it’s something I’m very committed to so we’ll continue tweaking them until we get them right.