Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can you have too much transparencyHow often have you heard the phrase “too much of a good thing”? I’m guessing frequently, since it’s been around for centuries. Apparently, the phrase dates back to Shakespeare, who originally crafted this line in the late 15th century. (Extra credit for those of you who know which play.) Upon reading the script for the first time, it’s highly doubtful his actors could have predicted its timelessness or application in virtually all aspects of life and work.

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I’m an advocate of transparent leadership and its positive outcomes, but I’d like to share my thoughts on too much transparency. So much has been written about transparency and why it’s good for business that I think we’ve lost ourselves a bit along the way. Transparency is a powerful tool but one that should be wielded with great care. I believe that if transparency doesn’t lead to trust, there are inherent risks involved.

One of those risks is fear

Employee feedback is one of the most important management opportunities for thoughtful truth-telling.

According to author and culture consultant, Michael Stallard, brutally transparent workplaces were celebrated as highly effective as early as the 1970s. When Stallard worked at Texas Instruments in the 1980s, he recalls how his CEO regularly “pummeled” subordinates with criticism out of his so-called desire to be transparent. He recalls, “It contributed to a culture of fear in which managers would tell them what they wanted to hear rather than the constructive criticism [about their leadership] they needed to hear.”

Employee feedback is one of the most important management opportunities for thoughtful truth-telling. Rather than autocratically sharing public criticisms, leaders have a chance at making transparency a constructive experience. Managers should make sure their evaluations aren’t created in a vacuum. I feel strongly about gathering input from others who interact with the employee through methods like 360 degree evaluations. The approach doesn’t change—the manager still delivers the message with humility—but the information is grounded in a collective clarity. It’s richer, more accurate and, therefore, a manager is in a better position to help someone versus appearing overly critical.

Another risk is stress

Chris Arringdale, Reviewsnap Co-Founder and CEO, also warns leaders against letting transparency run amok. Too much can be a distraction. “Employers who share too much information about the business run the risk of creating unwanted stress for employees who may constantly be thinking about how their job impacts the bigger picture.” Again, ask yourself if the information you’re sharing is strengthening your team’s resolve or diminishing the trust you’ve worked hard to establish.

Whether you’re considering greater transparency to increase engagement, improve efficiency, or boost your reputation, remember what’s at risk if you carelessly use transparency without a filter.

Ask yourself: is what you’re sharing strengthening your team’s resolve or diminishing the trust you’ve worked hard to establish?

Rather than channel your inner Shakespeare with too much of a good thing, employ transparency thoughtfully and with humility. As to which play made Shakespeare’s line famous, As You Like It.A good reminder that transparency’s positive effect is not measured by the level at which you like it, but by how it can constructively impact others if applied thoughtfully.

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