Creating a culture of candor, by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman and Patricia Ward Biederman, is the first essay from Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor. It reveals the effects of transparency and lack thereof in organizations. Transparency is defined as “the degree to which information flows freely within an organization, among managers and employees, and outward to stakeholders.”
This essay also describes ways to implement a culture of candor and stresses the fact that the rise of digital technologies made it almost impossible for organizations to keep secrets or remain opaque.
Transparency is a choice to make that brings success, additional clarity and instills trust. However, most companies don’t chose candor and openness: true transparency is hard, as much as true honesty is.
Leaders find it hard to be transparent:
- In today’s world, the race to become number 1 brings leaders to overlook any wrongdoings or any existing flaws.
- Another reason is that leaders need to make an immediate decision and look decisive. Therefore, leaders tend to dismiss information.
- Knowledge is power and by virtue of human nature, most people, leaders included, enjoy hoarding information to feel powerful and superior.
Followers find it hard to be transparent:
- Followers do not directly transfer raw internal information to the leader(s). The raw information is limitedly conveyed, colored and sugar-coated.
- Followers think of leaders as demigods: they admire them and praise them. This attitude prevents followers from criticizing their leaders or speaking the awkward truth to them.
When there is no transparency, whistleblowers, loyal or not, patriotic or not, reveal the truth at the peril of their life because they believe that the organization’s secrets is too unscrupulous to keep and that the organization’s values no longer align with theirs. Whistleblowers put their lives at risk, are often shunned, demoted for speaking the truth. With the development of internet, secrecy is almost impossible and whistleblowers are no longer at risk and can reveal secrets anonymously. Blogs have become an unstoppable force, capable of damaging big and perennial corporations, institutions and individuals, of economically boycotting companies. Thankfully, blogs have protected and enabled whistleblowers.
How to create a culture of candor?
In order to implement a culture if candor, followers, on one hand, must feel free to speak up and to speak openly. On the other hand, leaders must value the truth, welcome unpleasant information and reward such openness.
- Leaders must combat transparency by demanding feedback from their team and listening to the feedback.
- Leaders must not to be overconfident about their own leadership capabilities.
- Leaders must treat the follower’s ideas with importance and take counsel from the follower. Leaders must seek information at all level of chain.
- Leaders should be allowed to be prudent and to take their time in order to make a decision.
- Internal information flow must be treated as importantly as the information coming in and out of the organization.
- Transparency should be mechanized by installing whistleblower software (EthicsPoint and Global Compliance Services for example) to enable employees to report anonymously any wrongdoings and to alert to any problems.
- Whistleblowers should not be ostracized for speaking up.
Bennis, Goleman and Biederman finally compare organizations secrets to the dark secrets kept by family members. In families as in organizations, the lack of transparency introduces toxic secrets that are unfortunately well kept. These secrets tightly bond employees, which make it hard for a member to come forth by fear of being expelled, punished, by fear of threatening or destroying an entire organization. Furthermore, these employees take pride in belonging to such a tight-knit organization, leading to feelings of superiority and to group-thinking.
Group-thinking is defined as the “subsequent congressional investigation made an explicit diagnosis of groupthink—a process in which unfounded assumptions drive a plan of action and contradictory information is suppressed, along with any doubts about the assumptions themselves”. Although group thinking brings in cohesiveness, it allows only one pattern of thinking and generally leads to one unique bad decision.
Creating a culture of candor, by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman and Patricia Ward Biederman is a very interesting and well written essay. It provides us with pertinent examples, gives rise to contemporaneous observations and administers great advice for effectively creating a culture of candor.
While I was reading this essay, the Volkswagen scandal kept coming to mind in 2015 where the performance results of 11 millions cars worldwide where altered to admit a low carbon-dioxide emission levels. In the race to success, Volkswagen has not been candid with the public or to the Environmental Protection Agency.
This essay still highlights many current issues where numerous ethical issues present in modern corporations. It was surprising to see, even with the rise of digital technologies, how many corporations, organizations and institutions remain opaque.
In idea-driven organizations—and which are not these days?—genuine, collegial Leaders collaboration leads to better morale, a greater likelihood of creativity, and greater candor and transparency.