Have the Courage to be Transparent

I was reading a post over on opensource.com recently, “How do you explain your organization’s purpose? 3 lessons from Red Hat”. It is a great story about the right way for an organization to search for its purpose, including as many of the people from their organization as they can. I have written before about the Open Organization book, and how much I like it. I even gave a talk about it at the company I work at. Something I loved about the book, and that resonated with me about the article is the statement “have the courage to be transparent”.

The first paragraph of that section really sums up one of the big take away messages from following the Open Organization’s guiding principles.

When embarking on a major undertaking, it is typical to want to show a perfect plan to the world—to be confident and calm—and to have all of the potential risks identified and mitigation plans in place. But if you are willing to be vulnerable and have the courage to be transparent about the fact that you don’t have everything figured out, you invite meritocracy. Being open gives others the opportunity to use their creativity, patience, and wisdom to help you navigate through the messiness and the chaos.

I think this is absolutely key to being open, but it also very succinctly highlights why it is hard. You have to be vulnerable, and all too often we want to present a well thought out plan. As I look around, this is one of the biggest things people miss, and if you aren’t careful you can stifle it by criticising a plan that has not been fully thought out. Truly open organizations have leaders who are strong enough to expose the chaos, and invite people to truly participate in the meritocratic process many of us strive for.

As Google quietly removes their once famous “don’t be evil” preface from their code of conduct there are companies like Red Hat pushing the boundaries of open. They not only practice it internally, but have written a book about it, and talk about it with the wider world on a regular basis. Many companies start out open, it is tough to keep your deliberations private when there are only four of you, and you eat lunch together most days.

For me the Open Organization is as much about ways to scale your organization as it grows to retain openness as it is about embracing being an open organization. Many people know the word meritocracy, but it is widely misunderstood, and comes with some of its own downsides. It is not a democracy, it is not authority of those who have worked there the longest, or have the grandest job titles. It is not about top down management, handing down your decisions once those in the know have deliberated.

It is a way of operating transparently, of communicating change as it happens, and seeking input. You do not need input from all, but as stated having the courage to be transparent more fully engages your organization. If you engage at the point when things are mostly decided, and worked out, you likely missed the point. Meritocracies also require an environment where people can engage, but don’t necessarily offer equal time to all who want to offer input.

I didn’t want to write too much, but consider reading the article, and if that whets your appetite I recommend reading the book. The next time you want to change something I would highly encourage you to have the courage to be transparent, invite meritocracy. I will try too!

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