In an older, more analogue 'command and control' world, an organization's actions and communications took place inside secure walls and behind closed doors (for good or for ill).
Obviously it isn't just celebrities and politicians that are grappling with the fluid nature of digital communication, it's also everyone in business. You may not have Russian hackers on your tail, but how your company operates, and how your team interacts with each other, is part of a digital paper trail that only has the illusion of privacy.
You simply can't hide anymore. And it's time you stopped trying.
Those companies that can't muster transparency in today's market face existential crises--if not now, then later. The Sony hack revealed a backstabbing culture that was an embarrassment. The inability and unwillingness of Theranos to draw the covers back on its science lost it the trust of investors, customers, and the clinical community.
The wrong response is to look for better ways to hide. In fact it's the opposite tack that is required in this new digital reality: It's operating in such a way that you've got nothing to hide.
Here are five practices to help shine a light on your own company:
1. Start with your moral compass
Every company needs a code that it lives by, and with which it conducts business. If you market yourself as a high integrity brand you should be proud to have your actions--across every part of the business--out there in the world.
That includes who you pick as suppliers, how you treat employees, and how you take care of customers in both good times and when things go south. When customers talk about you, when employees provide 360-feedback, are you proud or scared?
Be clear about the standard you are setting, and make sure everyone understands it.
2. Assume everything will be revealed to the world
You should act as if every email, every text you send, will be Tweeted and read aloud in front of a global audience.
This isn't just about coaching people to stop writing idiotic stuff to each other--it is partially that--but more broadly getting your team to reinforce your moral compass in every text, email and correspondence.
If people are doing the right thing all the time, who cares if the world sees it? Transparency in this context becomes not only easier, but a force of good for the company internally and externally.
3. Shut down ironic tendencies
I will make one suggestion when it comes to email: Lose the irony. It may seem comical in the moment of writing it, but when it gets slid across the table during a legal deposition, it isn't funny anymore. It's damning.
Consider a flip admission about playing with test results by an engineer from airbag maker Takata. Honda Motor Company had fired Takata as a supplier of its airbags, saying that testing data on the airbags had been "misrepresented and manipulated," according to the New York Times.
How did they use those terms and come to that conclusion? In part because Takata airbag engineer, Bob Schubert, wrote, "Happy Manipulating!!!" in an email dated July 6, 2006 in a reference to airbag test results.
4. Get a room
Internal transparency also means getting in a room face-to-face to hash out difficult issues within a company, or to make that next creative leap.
It can't all happen across whatever digital communication tools you favor (Slack, Skype, plain old email). There are times when you need to get people together in one place.
Nothing beats the look on someone's face or their body language to have the clearest indication of where they stand on an issue or how passionate/tortured they are about a decision. That's transparency too.
5. Don't just meet the new standard, lead the movement
Transparency is part of doing business today, but if all you are doing are the basics to keep up with the competition you'll get left behind again. Find ways to push harder and intertwine practices in every part of your business.