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Transparent illusions

Transparency in business can backfire if not handled correctly, Cambridge Judge Business School Professor David De Cremer writes in Harvard Business Review.2016_news_transparencyillusion-883x432

David De Cremer

Professor David De Cremer

Transparency can be a beneficial force in business, but it can also backfire if not handled correctly, Professor David De Cremer, KPMG Professor of Management Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School, writes in Harvard Business Review.

“There is no doubt that we need transparency to know what is happening in our organisations, and that we can use the information in constructive ways that reduce wrongdoing,” De Cremer says in the article. “The mistake, however, is assuming that a one-to-one, rational relationship exists between transparency and innocence. Human beings aren’t perfectly rational, and complete transparency does not entirely rule out bad behaviour.”

Too much transparency can create a blaming culture in business, he says, because “instead of figuring out why a mistake was made, you only know what the mistake was – and who made it.” It can also increase distrust if managers require staff to document every little step, and can spark resistance if transparency has the explicit aim of punishing bad and rewarding good behaviour.

De Cremer says there are several ways to use transparency effectively: to articulate that transparency is a means to an end and not an end in itself; to explain how data will be collected and analysed; to emphasise that the goal is learning rather than merely compliance; and to promote a culture of forgiveness in a company.