- A lack of transparency decreases productivity and trust, makes creating smart decisions difficult, and increases liability for organizations.
- Through ensuring transparency in your organization, you will subsequently hold people accountable for their misconduct and will be able to resolve most problems while they are still small.
- Through implementing a centralized complaint system, your organization can more transparently manage misconduct and hold offenders accountable.
Transparency has been a buzzword over the past few years, and for a good reason. Not only does a transparent administration lead to a healthier and happier organization, but it also helps to ensure accountability and promote safety. This, in turn, benefits victims, offenders, and organizations alike when cases of misconduct and abuse arise.
What does this look like?
While running for school board a few years ago, Diane received some complaints against two teachers at her local high school. Many parents shared their feelings about these two teachers on a neighborhood discussion board. Diane had personally experienced unprofessional interactions with them as well.
With this in mind, Diane arranged a meeting with the principal, Dr. Smith. Before her appointment with him, she checked a website where students evaluate and rate teachers to gain solid evidence of the students’ perspective. Students were brutally honest about how the teachers made them feel with comments like, “Do not take her class, you will be suicidal” and “She is an abusive and mean teacher, you would want to kill yourself.”
At the meeting, Diane asked Dr. Smith how he knew how many students complained about the teachers. He told her that he had conversations similar to the ones that the two of them were currently having.
“How many of us know about these conversations?” Diane asked him.
He looked dumbfounded and paused before responding that he knew.
“When you know, what do you do with the information?” Diane persisted.
Dr. Smith casually responded, “We talk to the teacher.”
“And what about if it continues? What do you do then?”
“We have another conversation.”
While a conversation was undoubtedly a good way to begin solving the problem, it did not lead to an actionable solution. The negative ratings on the website ranged from 2014-2019, illustrating that a simple conversation had not been sufficient here. Talking to the teachers did not provide them with the proper tools and knowledge to change their behavior toward students, and this lack of communication and transparency came at a cost to the students, parents, teachers, and the administration.
Why is transparency so important?
As we saw with Diane’s story, the lack of transparency kept other students and parents in the dark and prevented the teachers from improving upon their mistakes. Nobody knew what had been done to solve the issue, and because of that, the two teachers were not held accountable for their actions and were deprived of an opportunity to grow.
Leading an organization with no regard for transparency is like driving with beer goggles: you might be able to see some of the road and escape some obstacles, but you can only continue for so long before you crash. This might take the form of increased liability, difficulty to make well-informed decisions for an organization, or loss of trust and confidence in employees and clients. Whatever the case, these consequences become especially prevalent in cases of misconduct and abuse.
Transparency serves to build trust within an organization. Trust subsequently creates the foundation for a productive, collaborative, and successful organization. Other benefits associated with transparency include:
- Raising awareness of problems to understand severity of misconduct or liability
- Protect others and prevent further abuse
- Holding people accountable for their misconduct
- Paving a path to take ownership and restore trust
- Assessing and evaluating the situation objectively
Let’s focus on the third bullet point for a moment. Transparency is directly linked to holding people accountable. A doctor cannot diagnose a problem without knowing the symptoms first, and the same concept holds true for transparency. When a misconduct is reported, an administration’s first response might be to panic and assess the liability of the situation. Unfortunately, whether it is intentional or not, a mishandling of the misconduct can lead to increased liability, a worsening situation, or the erosion of trust within the organization. By admitting that there is a problem and seeking to deal with it clearly and promptly, organizations will actually prevent creating more potential issues and will do justice to the victim, offender, and institution alike.
What could solve this problem?
Think about the story from earlier. There was no method in place to measure complaints, as is often the case. The conversation was a good start; however, what was needed here was a way to record the problems through technology and thus guarantee transparency. How would it have been different if there had been a centralized system through which to report complaints?
If such a system had existed, the principal would have easily been able to track the growing complaints against the specific teachers, and he would have seen patterns emerging. Everything would be documented in one place, which would make his job much easier.
This would have expedited the path to a constructive solution as well. Through the objective evaluation and assessment of the situation, the principal would have been alerted to the severity of the situation without any emotions clouding his judgment. After understanding the severity of the misconduct and the school’s liability from a completely neutral standpoint, he would have seen the necessity of immediate action.
From here, the offenders would have been held accountable. Their misconduct would no longer slip away into oblivion, but it would instead be easy to reference. The administration would be able to help the teachers recognize their mistakes and take ownership to repair and restore the situation. The solution would be both relevant and restorative, with a learning-based project, therapy, or training to help the offender avoid making similar mistakes in the future and assure victims of their safety within the organization.
This transparent solution would not only help to raise awareness to protect others and prevent abuse, but it also would help the school to minimize liability and allow the offender to understand the error of their ways. It would ensure that all three parties–the victims, offenders, and administration–collaborated to create a safe environment in which each of them felt comfortable addressing conflict.
By acting responsibly and addressing misconduct from the start, you can be a leader within your organization and make it a more pleasant environment for everyone involved. As Tom Ziglar said, “Change starts with you, but it doesn’t start until you do.”