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What if everyone had access to the right information at the right time within organizations?

How much more effective and efficient would we be?

How much faster would we learn as individuals, teams, and enterprises?

How much more profitable might we be?

ETC communication

Early in the pandemic, our CEO, Heather Haas, put a post out on LinkedIn about the importance for leaders to provide “ETC Communication” during times of tumult and uncertainty.  She used ETC as an acronym for Empathy, Transparency and Clarity. In my experience, people need those things all the time, and in heaping portions – not just during the scary times – to stay connected, experience psychological safety and perform at high levels.

Here’s the T

In this post, I’m going to focus on the big “T” –  Transparency.  And, I want to define what I call the transparency effect: The transparency effect is the lift in productivity and engagement across an organization that occurs when leaders consistently and responsibly share information and rationale for decisions within and across teams.

The transparency effect: The lift in productivity and engagement across an organization that occurs when leaders consistently and responsibly share information and rationale for decisions within and across teams

    First, a story that illustrates the transparency effect

    From 2003 – 2008 General Stanley McChrystal was commander of the elite Joint Special Operations Command whose mission was defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq and beyond. 

    The challenge was immense and unprecedented with global and humanitarian implications. And, the enemy was unlike anything the military had faced before – decentralized, hidden, networked, incendiary and lightning fast.

    To carry out the mission, McChrystal had to figure out how to dismantle the hierarchical, “need to know” chain of command ingrained in military operations.

    In McChrystal’s TED Talk he details how they had to fundamentally change their culture related to information. He resolved to shift from a culture of “Who needs to know?” to a culture of “Who doesn’t know?” and adopted a new guiding principle to “Share information until you’re afraid it’s illegal.” While few of us are out there waging war with terrorists, the lesson in McChrystal’s approach is uber-relevant. 

    We changed the idea of information – from knowledge is power to sharing is power.

    General Stanley McChrystal

    Four ways leaders can achieve the transparency effect

    So, how might we consider the power of unleashing more information and intelligence within our own organizations? Who doesn’t know this information? How can we ensure they do?

    Here are four best practices for achieving the transparency effect:

    1. Cascading

    As a member of the executive team, I’m often privy to important strategic context and I participate in the dialogue that produces decisions and sets priorities. The folks below me do not have access to any of that. 

    After each executive team meeting, I summarize the high points of the executive team meeting, adding appropriate context and explanation. I share this summary with the other members of the exec team to see if there’s anything they’d add or subtract. I then cascade this message out to the Directors who report up to me so that they can cascade the update to their teams. 

    Cascading breeds trust and catalyzes valuable feedback from the front lines that improves execution.

    2. Touching the flock

    In more than one performance review, Heather highlighted my ability to touch the flock. That I routinely and genuinely made efforts to connect personally with everyone on the team – and that it created valuable relational sharing and connection.

    This is similar to the popular tactic of “management by walking around,” but it’s more than that just being around, open, and available. It’s also not just about the work. It’s about sharing our humanity – our hopes, hiccups, joys, sorrows, and struggles. You have to get close enough you can share in those feelings. 

    Relational proximity unlocks a natural pull for information so that leaders don’t always have to push things out through formal channels. 

    3. Planting Seeds

    As leaders, we often know things before others do. We know about personnel changes, new opportunities, strategic pivots, and organizational changes.

    To achieve the positive benefits of the transparency effect, we must responsibly share little tidbits of information with the right people at the right times to create readiness for the bigger, more impactful announcements. 

    In addition to using good judgment about the amount and content of the information sprinkled out, planting small seeds of information along the way also involves repetition so that when it’s time for the big reveal, people aren’t shocked; rather, they feel like the decision or pivot makes sense or seems appropriate vs. feeling like it’s coming out of left field.

    4. Linking

    Creating line of sight so that people understand how their work and their attitude affects the broader strategic aims of the organization creates perspective.

    When leaders consistently link new information to old information, stated objectives and shared experiences, it builds trust. 

    Sharing in this way empowers people to take accountability for their piece of the whole. It also unlocks cross-functional learning.

    Responsible transparency is a learnable leadership capability

    As we all journey together in this ever-changing world of work, I hope being responsibly transparent is a leadership capability that creates lift and life for your organization. Eager to dive into deeper skill development to achieve the transparency effect? Check out our coaching and leadership programs. 


    Transparency and inclusion go hand in hand. Read about 3 Ways Leaders Can Foster True Inclusivity in the Workplace here.