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Avoid the Transparency Trap: Do Transparency Right in your Organization

Posted on September 16, 2014 at 12:05 AM


“Transparency” has become a hot buzzword over the last several years among business leaders and consultants. I have found, however, that the definition can vary between the organizations producing goods and services and their customers. For the producers, they may think this means being completely open and showing everything they do. Proud front line managers may internalize this to be “let me show you how complex and hard it is to do our job so you are impressed.” Customers, however, are not necessarily interested in how you do your business – they just care if you are going to meet their needs with the timeliness, quality and cost they expect. If they are one of the few that are genuinely interested in learning how your widgets are made, they can probably find a video on television or the internet.

We are all customers and see useful examples of transparency every day, especially in transportation related businesses. When we are getting a package delivered by FedEx, UPS or other, you can probably track where it is online using a tracking code. When we are catching a plane or train, we typically can see the estimated time of arrival or departure on screens in the airport or station. In some sites, we can also see the track record of timeliness for that flight or train in the past to help us when we are deciding whether to book it. Transparency is emerging in other everyday areas too. For example, many new restaurants feature an open kitchen design where diners can see exactly how their food is prepared. Some of that may be for aesthetics, but customers may also get value by added trust by seeing the kitchen has nothing to hide.

Done well, transparency can be a game changer for your business. One of my favorite recent examples is Uber. Uber is a car reservation service that enables you to arrange a car to pick you up. Fundamentally, they do the same thing that taxi dispatchers have done for decades over the phone. However, once you make a reservation on Uber, Uber uses mobile location-based web technology to show you exactly who your driver will be, where they are, and how long it will be until they arrive. Among other conveniences, this feature has been a key one to Uber’s rapid growth.

So for you as a manager of an operation seeking to add transparency, think hard about what the customer really wants to hear about, not what you and your team want to talk about. Avoid the “transparency trap” of over-sharing how you do your job and focus more on showing the customer how you are doing in fulfilling their specic needs.

Categories: Transparency, Operational Excellence