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Forced transparency . . .

July 23, 2010

It’s kind of like what I used to call “forced fun” at company sales meetings. It was meant to be team building but it really was “forced” in the sense that many folks did not really want to be there or even be participating. Many times, once they were there, they liked it well enough and actually had some fun in spite of themselves. The internet is causing forced transparency in company operations. Many don’t like it and would rather not be transparent. Some, like the forced fun situation, will find they can use the new rules of the game to actually win and have some fun along the way.

But, like it or not, we are forced to play by the new rules – and they are not all benign. Ask Shirley Sherrod how she likes Andrew Brietbart’s brand of transparency. There’s a Brietbart out there waiting to Sherrod you. Are you watching? Even if it isn’t an ideologue who is two bricks short of a load with an agenda trying to do you in, it can be painful to have your shortcomings pointed out for you instead of by you. BP, not that it isn’t in enough trouble already, has had to deal with a whole bunch of stuff shoved into the light of day by enterprising bloggers. The difficulty is, many (most?) of us who blog (myself included) aren’t journalists nor do we attempt to be. We have opinions and have found a way to express them in writing without having to deal with publishers and printers. That’s great news and it’s dangerous. Who is vetting the information being put out in the blog-o-sphere?

When it comes to your company (or you as an individual) you should be monitoring the internet for mentions of you, your company, your industry and even your competitors. Make sure what you are doing, saying and writing will not damage your credibility when it is published – when, not if it is published. Assume everything – including confidential e-mails and memorandum – will be published. Assume customers/clients who are unhappy are blogging about you, posting YouTube videos and Twittering their thumbs off – because they are and just haven’t gotten to you yet.

“It’s unfair,” you say, “They don’t understand the pressure we’re under. They don’t understand we’re trying to do the right thing.” Maybe, or maybe they get what it is that they want better than you and so you aren’t delivering the goods. They may be wildly unreasonable. But they’re still blogging. So we can whine about the new rules of the game or we can figure out how to use them to play better and to win. Can you get that your better competitors are doing just that?

So take a look at all the business news lately. I know there are good stories out there, but they aren’t Do your employees know the values and principles for decision making?

High road? Low road? Expedient road? Profit only road?

being printed. Instead, what’s on the page, in print and floating in the cloud are stories of corporate misdeeds and missteps. Dell apparently knew about bad product and shipped it anyway. BP apparently ignored a whole series of warning signs about the Gulf oil well. Breitbart knew full well he was distorting the news to make his own twisted point and the only positive thing that might come out of this is that Shirley Sherrod will now be known for the good work she has been doing and the world will know not to pay any attention to Breitbart. It doesn’t always work out this way, and it might not work out well for you.

So the bottom line lesson for me in all this is to make sure that we, as business leaders, build and shape cultures in our organizations that are open, transparent and do what’s right for all concerned, not just one group or one person. Even the small private business started by an entrepreneur has an obligation to take proper care of the customers, creditors, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders who help make the company successful. In fact, it seems to me that we have a better chance to do the right thing, to run a forward thinking company and to stay true to the values and Noble Goals we had when we started the company if we stay private. Being a public entity seems to be one sure way to stray from our values.

So what are you doing to monitor the cloud these days? Have you done all you can do to make your company transparent to the stakeholders? Have you built a culture where everyone knows the organizing principles and values of the company? Do they know how to make “the right” decision according to those values and principles? Do your employees know how to cut expenses and not corners?

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  1. World Wide News Flash | July 23, 2010