When Transparency is Well…Just a Pane

window pane 2What is it with business people and buzzwords?  Good Lord, we seem to get new ones every year – and I hate them, just hate them.  To me buzzwords are just a slick way of getting people to pay attention to things they should have been paying attention to all along.  Back in the 90s, we used to call this phenomena the “flavor of the month.” In other words, if you waited around long enough the buzz word and accompanying fluff around it would go away and be replaced by a new one.  One of the things some consultants do is create a new buzzword about an old idea they are rehashing or trying to refresh.  A lot of times it’s a marketing ploy to draw attention to their business.  I shudder when I think about it – consultants and their buzzwords, that is.

Well, now the new buzzword is transparency. We’re seeing it all over the place.  I’m sure it’s the result of Sarbanes-Oxley and all that other good stuff we have to deal with in light of some questionable leadership ethics or lack thereof.  That’s okay – the concept that is – but what I hate is how the word is so overused and from that the good of the concept abused.

In the business and social context, transparency is supposed to mean open communication and accountability.  That one can “see through” to the real heart of the matter, i.e., the truth.  Full disclosure.  But I can’t help but feel that some who say they are being transparent are really trying to hide something in plain view.

I googled “transparency in business” and had 18,100,000 hits.  That’s a lot of transparency going on. 

Oh hey — did you know that there is a worldwide  organization dedicated to transparency?  Transparency International-USA was founded in 1993 with the mission to “combat corruption and promote transparency and integrity in government, business and development assistance.”

That was one good hit out of 18, 100,000.  The other 17,999,999 seemed to have to do with visibility and disclosure.  But doesn’t visibility and disclosure really mean how people behave in the conduct of business? See, it all goes back to behavior.

What I am trying to do is raise the issue that we shouldn’t be hiding behind the buzzword of the day to behave appropriately.

Some people may believe that transparency is really about putting your business out there, totally unguarded.  I don’t buy it.  I believe that transparency is about being open and honest – but also protective of the organization and the people who run it.  Being open and honest with the financials?  You betcha.  Being prepared to accept and learn from frank customer feedback gleaned from social media? Yes. You can’t fix anything if you don’t know it’s broken. 

But how about when someone uses transparency as an excuse to share information that has the potential to hurt another individual or to make themselves look good?  Not so much.  That’s not transparency ladies and gentleman, that’s politics.

People have been spinning the since the dawn of time.  Look at the headlines.  There’s been a flurry  of articles from the Associated Press about how “Fox News Channel acts like a wing of the Republican Party” according to White House communications director Anita Dunn.  The AP states that the White House believes that Fox News“ operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.” Fox News executive Michael Clemente responded by saying “most viewers know the difference between news and opinion shows. He says attacking the messenger doesn’t work.”

So, who’s being transparent here?  Is this a real debate going on or is it just a political ploy?  There’s probably a fact pattern on both sides – just like there is when we have one employee warring against another about the honesty of a performance appraisal.  Performance appraisals can be notoriously biased, and often are in the guise of being transparent, when they are really being used to craft a particular political climate for supervisors or employees.

I know, instead of calling people out for not being transparent, let’s call them out for not admitting they are using transparency to further their political gain.  You know who you are – that’s because you’re transparent.



  1. I like transparency done right.

    I don’t like buzzwords, and yet I wind up using them sometimes.

    I try not to to.

    Mea maxima culpa!

    ZGood post, btw!

  2. Excellent post, Heather! I totally agree that the word “transparency” is overused, and open and honest behavior is under-practiced.

    Open and honest have always been in short supply in a lot of businesses, though. How do we CHANGE that behavior, and not just keep tossing around buzzwords that make it sound like we’re attacking the problem?

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