Transparency is an overused, yet under implemented, term in business operations today. Even the public sector suffers from the misguided desire to make their work more transparent and accountable. Few stop to think about what this really means, or how to go about putting it into practice.
The term is more office jargon than realistic mantra. I remember my days at the UN as littered with calls for transparency and accountability. Governments from all corners of the globe spouted the rhetoric, but I’d venture to guess many were merely engaging in an extravagant PR exercise.
Don’t misunderstand: true transparency is critical for any business, public or private, to be successful and sustainable. It is the contextual framing of transparency that needs a better definition. This will be different for each organization, company or even country.
Chatting with a colleague last week, he mentioned the often-negative implications of transparency. Using the example of supply chain auditing, many suppliers are better served being selectively transparent. Full and total transparency could lead to the downfall of a business, particularly if that business is in severe need of help. It’s counter-intuitive to be sure: those that need the most help in building a more sustainable organization are the ones that will suffer the most if they come clean.
This demonization of those attempting transparency is an unfortunate side effect working against “doing the right thing.” This past week, the Chinese Government released figures showing that nearly 60% of the country’s underground water, and 20% of its farming soil, were polluted. Shock set in, particularly within social media circles. In my opinion, however, the shock was misplaced. Many were appalled at the conditions of China’s natural environment. They took the announcement to criticize China and find faults in its environmental policies.
I saw the thawing of reporting.
Only five years ago this level of transparency would be unheard of from the Chinese Government. Let’s face it – China’s environmental issues are many. This isn’t news! What counts is that now there are realistic statistics to form the basis for moving forward in a positive direction. Where only a month ago there was no place to begin, now environmentalists have a starting line.
Perhaps the fault in transparency efforts is a lack of support from the general public? Imagine a rehabilitation center where nurses were apathetic and doctors were pressed for time. Maybe in your part of the world this image is not so difficult to conjure. The results would be rather obvious – users would relapse, crime would increase and humanity would feel the societal strain. In many ways, we are like users ourselves. Our drug of choice is the status quo of overconsumption, abuse and destruction of our natural resources. Einstein’s proverb - insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result - is certainly apropos. Rather than demonize, let’s lend our best effort and support to those that have the courage to say they need help.