In a post today on his Harvard Business Publishing blog, John Maeda (President of the Rhode Island School of Design) makes the point that these are two very different things, and that we must take care not to confuse them.
From Maeda's post:
Full transparency is access to all the facts.
But only selective transparency is actually attainable, especially in recessionary times when unpopular decisions need to be made. If you promise full transparency, when you make even one aspect of your business non-transparent — which is often legally and emotionally necessary, especially with personnel matters — people question your credibility.
Often the facts are too complex for those far from the decision to understand. I have found on countless occasions that even with an MBA and years of statistical training as an engineer I scratch my head about some of the numbers I have to manage. Thus to offer a set of raw data to any constituency opens the door to selective interpretation. There is clearly a wide gulf between having access to the facts themselves and having access to an understanding of the facts.
There are solid implications here for those of us involved with reward programs.
If full transparency is access to all the facts, then full transparency is neither appropriate nor is it likely in the cards for your organization's reward program. This is because the facts which legitimately impact compensation include not only pay program details and not only employee salaries themselves, but also information on each individual's education, certifications, work experience and performance appraisal results and ratings.
Not gonna happen, in all likelihood. Nor should it. Nor would full possession of all this information necessarily lead to understanding because, as Maeda points out, the wide gulf that exists between having access to the facts and truly understanding what they mean.
Full clarity, on the other hand, is access to a full understanding of the facts (borrowing Maeda's definition). This makes more sense to me as an objective: a full understanding of the facts as they apply to how an employee is paid. This is achieved through disclosure and explanation of the purpose and mechanics of the pay program and - specifically - how they apply to a particular employee's situation.
Full clarity ... rather than full transparency. What do you think?
Image: Creative Commons Photo "Industrial Window Study 3" by greeblie