Transparency Needs Feedback

“Our processes need to be more transparent!”; “I need the information one hour before the meeting!”; “Why doesn’t the management explain their motives?” It is these kinds of utterances that represent a growing demand for transparency in employees.

So what exactly is transparency? Who needs which information when, and in what level of detail? Does transparency hold only advantages or are there also aspects that may be left invisible, intransparent? And why does transparency need feedback?

What is transparency?

Transparency is commonly seen as a state of open access to information, participation, communication and accountability between actors of an organization. In other words, employees are striving for insights in and understanding of decisions and processes in organizations. They wish to have access to information, maybe even a constant provision thereof. Transparency yields communication, as does intransparency, and communication in its most positive sense leads to employee participation, maybe even identification of employees with the goals of the organization.

One can deduct from this description that transparency is a good thing. But this conviction may be premature, possibly wrong. If information is not made accessible or public by management (which happens constantly) speculation sets in. Why, for what reason, how come? In what ways does that affect me as an employee? Insecurity follows; possibly a bad vibe in the team etc.

This scenario is based on the assumption that people know this information exists, and that the information was held back deliberately. Well, maybe the Master of Information acts upon the belief that it is for the good of the employees not to share this information, possibly because he or she wants to keep the mental load off of them. Maybe intransparency is more productive in his or her eyes?

Transparency. It’s complicated.

Unneeded Transparency

Imagine you need information A, B and C. Your colleague only needs information B and C. Another colleague needs information D. How should the information be distributed? How can the Master of Information know who needs which information?

People in need of information have the sole responsibility to obtain it is a rule famous across organizations. In practice this means that information is not to be distributed individually.

Is there information that you distribute on a regular basis, maybe a protocol of the Monday morning meetings, a status report on past week’s news? What happens if you do not distribute this information? Well, if nothing happens, if nobody comes up to you to request it the distribution of this information is unnecessary.

The Right Point in Time

What happens if you receive needed information, but at the wrong time? You ignore it; maybe you delete it. Maybe you save it to a folder with the intent to return to it later.

Time is an important factor when it comes to transparency. People concerning themselves with operative tasks, people handling ideas and plans applying to developments in the distant future may have a hard time dealing with this kind of transparency. Transparency and the resulting information do not hold value for them. On the contrary; it needles them.

Apart from the point if time and the amount of information it may be essential to pay attention to the chronological sequence of information distribution. At project initiation an exchange about goals and ideas is beneficial; this kind of transparency gives meaning to a cause, or a project for that matter. Trying to reach a goal in collaboration – an amazing feeling.

In the course of a project with many concurrent requirements and tight schedules the need for transparency may change. Information overflow is to be avoided, but how? Ideally through a decision by concensus, in agreement, with feedback between sender and receiver.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Do you think it is great to be involved in decision-making processes by your project manager? Do you like to be asked for your opinion? Of course; participation is a form of appreciation, and transparency yields trust and fruitful dialog.

What about transparency that includes job performance? The fear of The Transparent Employee is nothing new; it shows that transparency of other people, of information, goals, processes and operations, key figures and motives is a positive thing. Transparency of an individual’s performance, on the other hand, is unwanted, something negative. Why? Because it makes people vulnerable. It presents itself as fear, not as an opportunity, not as a basis for improvements but as a means of power for superiors. Transparency can indeed be something negative.

The Individual Need for Transparency

Communication about cooperation in projects and organizations is important, but it is up to the individual employee to decide how important exactly it is. The same applies to transparency.

Does transparency offer opportunities for you? Does it create meaning? Are you aware of its advantages and are you ready to arrange for it in your environment, in employees and colleagues? You might know people who actively try to avoid transparency. They probably do this because they are worried, maybe because of bad experiences. There are always two sides to every story.

The individual’s call for transparency yields the questions of why I think that transparency is beneficial in a certain situation and what I myself am willing to disclose. Thus, transparency needs feedback.

Feedback between sender and receiver, between employees and their superiors and between colleagues. Feedback on the types and the amount information, on the point in time and the time frame, about the consequences and about participation.

The one who creates transparency lays the foundation for fruitful exchange, for a culture of participation and for responsibility. Feedback is what turns transparency into a positive thing.




The idea for and many of the thoughts in this blog post were inspired by the PM Camp 2015 in Berlin.


Michael Schenkel believes in useful tools, that support users in their work and that provide a common working environment for all types of roles in a project. He became a member of the microTOOL family more than fifteen years ago and took over the position of head of marketing for about half a decade. In October 2017, he moved on to a new adventure and we wish him all the best on this new path.

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