Great cultures are legible, not transparent
At lunch with a good friend (and leader) talking about company culture and the rise of transparency as a cultural imperative. He was very…
At lunch with a good friend (and leader) talking about company culture and the rise of transparency as a cultural imperative. He was very clear that transparency is not the point. He said, “Great cultures are legible, not transparent.”
It struck me that the cultural transparency meme is based on the assumption that if everyone can see what is going on, everyone will understand why/how it is going down. But, seeing is not always believing and it is almost never the same as understanding.
A simple search offers tons of resources explaining why and how to create a culture of transparency. Being open about decisions and data is taken as a measure of care and respect for members of the team. Access to information is conflated with everyone understanding the process that was wrapped around the information and resulted in decisions and actions. In my experience, what the team actually wants is clarity on the decisions they are empowered to make and access to the information required to make their best decision. The need for this context and clarity is even more acute in decisions that affect the team, but they are not empowered to make.
Understanding who is in the meeting and why is more empowering than being able to read the notes from the meeting and wondering why you were not asked to be in the room. Confidence in how your performance is evaluated, by who, and how your compensation is determined is more supportive than knowing what everyone else gets paid without clarity on why.
In transparent cultures you can know a thing. In legible cultures you understand how to change something.
Being able to read how things work and understand how to have impact is a stronger foundation for success than access to information in a transparent culture. Being able to see is not enough. Understanding is the key to making the best decisions and maximize contribution and impact.