Transparency in organisations

by | 10.11.2022

The why and wherefore of transparency

Mindfulness, appreciation, corporate democracy, new work and new pay – there are many terms that deal with togetherness in professional life and, generally speaking, also with life in our society. One could almost think that the whole world is only talking about new forms of work and the empowerment of employees to work on their own responsibility. This self-responsibility requires organisations to trust in the competencies and goodwill of their employees. An organisation is made up of individual people, i.e. not only the abstract company must have this trust, but also each individual person involved. So if, for example, you call for more co-determination, salary disclosure, diversity or New Work in your company, this means that you have to trust your colleagues and their opinions and decisions. And how can trust be built? Perhaps through transparency.

What do people associate with transparency in organisations?

Most people find transparency “good”. They equate transparency with freely accessible information, open communication and participation, and sometimes even with accountability. Employees in companies often want

  • more insight into decisions and processes,
  • a better supply of information,
  • more personal responsibility and participation.

But is transparency always good? Is it not also possible that a management deliberately keeps information to itself in order to protect employees, to avoid worries and stress? Is intransparency also good under certain circumstances and sometimes even more purposeful? Here, of course, opinions differ widely, but if the existence of information becomes known and speculation arises, the intended effect turns negative. Then transparency is certainly good, even if the information itself is negative.

Who needs which information?

Imagine the following scenario:

  • Employee Heiko needs the information A, B and C.
  • Employee Andreas needs the information A and C for his activities.
  • Employee Conny needs the information D.

How do you distribute the information? How do you know who needs which information? With Heiko, Andreas and Conny you can probably still remember who is interested in which information. But what if Olaf, Lars, Marc, Martin, Mark, Marcus and Maike are also involved? With three employees the information supply will certainly work, with ten employees maybe even. With 20, 40 or 100 employees, however, probably no more. This is where regulated access to information makes sense.

It is not for nothing that information is regarded as a debt to be collected. Information A, B, C and D is very abstract. In the age of conversion, cookies and counters, it is relatively easy to read who is interested in which information. You can also simply do a small test without technical aids:

Is there any information that you regularly distribute in your environment? A status report at the end of the month, an updated risk matrix when passing a milestone or various meeting minutes?

What happens if you do not distribute the information? Who is responding to the missing information? If you are not asked about it at all, it could be because the information is stored unread at best. If you address individual employees, then you know exactly who is interested in the information. Perhaps there are only three employees again, so you should judge whether the effort and the transparency gained is in balance.

Time and amount of transparency

Have you ever received information in which you are generally interested, but which you then ignored, filed or even deleted?

Of course, this happens frequently. What is often referred to as “best time to engage” in the field of social media also applies to cooperation within the company:

  • Time is an essential aspect of transparency.
  • Just like the amount of information.

If the independent work of colleagues leads to exaggerated coordination and communication, to many meetings, mails and documents, transparency is quickly no longer perceived as “good”.

Anyone who deals with operational tasks does not have time permanently to deal with 5-year plans. So personal responsibility also means not only dealing with a lot of information yourself, but also looking at how colleagues deal with information. In other words, transparency must bring concrete benefits.

Interestingly, this benefit can also change over time. At the beginning of the project, the exchange about project goals and ideas is very important. Communicating about them promotes staff commitment, transparency strengthens togetherness and creates meaning. However, in the course of the project, when deadlines are looming, when dealing with numerous change requests, you will probably have to adjust the amount of information. This can be done through small tests (as described above) or through concrete agreements with colleagues.

Individual transparency

When working independently in projects and organisations, communication is very important. But how important it is for an individual employee is ultimately decided by the employee. The individual is also decisive when it comes to transparency.

  • Does transparency offer opportunities for you?
  • Do you see the advantages and are you prepared to ensure transparency in your environment, with employees and colleagues?
  • Is it okay for you if the election of superiors takes place in public and thus everyone knows who you voted for?
  • Would you agree if a developer knew you were getting three times his salary?

The personal demand for transparency always raises the question of what I want to know, why, and what I am willing to reveal about me and myself.

When assessing transparency in times of mindfulness, appreciation, corporate democracy, New Work and New Pay, it is also very important to accept the opinion of colleagues. If nine out of ten employees are willing to publish their salary, will the tenth have to comply or wouldn’t it be much healthier for the company if the nine employees resigned?

There will always be employees and colleagues who have problems with personal transparency. They have had bad experiences, don’t want to make themselves “transparent” and vulnerable. For such employees, transparency is not an opportunity, but a risk. Transparency can therefore have two sides, one positive and one negative. In the sense of mindfulness and appreciation, this is a very important insight.



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This post has been revised. The “original” was published here on the blog on December 6, 2017.

Michael Schenkel has published additional posts in the t2informatik Blog, including

t2informatik Blog: Beware: turnover of staff

Beware: turnover of staff

t2informatik Blog: The customer is king

The customer is king

t2informatik Blog: The value of a company

The value of a company

Michael Schenkel
Michael Schenkel

Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH

Michael Schenkel has a heart for marketing - so it is fitting that he is responsible for marketing at t2informatik. He likes to blog, likes a change of perspective and tries to offer useful information - e.g. here in the blog - at a time when there is a lot of talk about people's decreasing attention span. If you feel like it, arrange to meet him for a coffee and a piece of cake; he will certainly look forward to it!​