In theory... Transparency

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

No one likes a liar. It's an issue that has been keenly felt in business over the past decade, as corporate scandals in the US and Europe have rocked the trust of clients and customers who have been deceived by the machinations, secrecy and general low-handedness of rogue corporations and their personnel. Companies have since tried to repair the damage by embracing a culture of openness, particularly with regard to money. 

Such an approach is nothing new to the voluntary sector, where every penny donated must be accounted for. But the idea of transparency goes far beyond mere financial disclosure. It's about promoting honesty at every level of an organisation, from staff appraisals to managerial decision making.

In theory, this is a good thing. In reality, it's not so cut and dried. Managers who follow a policy of transparency will spend a lot of their time explaining their decisions to others and appraising colleagues.

What's more, they must avoid those little white lies that often see you through to the end of the day. So when you promise someone you'll get the project figures to them first thing tomorrow, you must meet that deadline. When a cock-up comes to light, you shouldn't try to pass the blame on to someone else. And when the boss asks who ate the last biscuit, don't slyly brush the crumbs off your desk and look innocent; stand tall and confess that you're the greedy pig.

But sometimes honesty really doesn't pay. What if you're planning a charity event that's quickly becoming a nightmare from hell? The sponsor has backed out, your guest acceptances are in single figures and your star speaker has got the flu. You'll get nowhere by admitting to your team that they might as well pack up and go home. Instead, a bit of bluff and false confidence will mean your team will stick around, convinced you can pull it off. In the end, you probably will. Very occasionally, opacity, not transparency, rules.

- Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.

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