Radical Transparency Drives Business Execution

Radical Transparency Drives Business Execution

One of the most difficult and demanding tasks in aviation is landing on an aircraft carrier. People who’ve learned to fly will tell you that landing an airplane is hard all by itself. Now think about landing on a small field that’s moving forward while pitching and rolling. Bad weather and equipment problems can make it even harder.

Every carrier landing is graded for safety and technique. Average scores are computed for every carrier pilot. Those average scores are posted where all the pilots can see them on what the Navy calls a “Greenie Board” and ranked in order from best to worst. As a friend of mine told me, “No one wants to be on the bottom of that list.”

Navy pilots know that when you know what your score is, and you know that your performance is visible to others, and when there are consequences for good and bad performance, you are more likely to try harder; even without your manager (or in this case your commanding officer) having to say a word.

Making performance visible has two advantages that come straight from human nature. When people are reminded of what’s important and of how they’re doing, they’re more likely to do the important things. When they know that their performance is visible to others, they’re more likely to push for excellence. People don’t want to be “on the bottom of the board,” and they don’t want to let their colleagues down.

What the research says.

“Imagine you got to work on Monday and you knew exactly how you had performed the previous week, and could look up how everyone else was doing. Or a manager could go online, any time of the day or night, and see how their team was performing, who deserved a bonus, who was lagging, even if those people were customer service staff, or engineers”, said the introduction to an article in Harvard Business Review: “Why Radical Transparency is Good Business”.

According to Harvard, “radical transparency”, the idea of everyone knowing everything, can be a major driver of increased organizational performance. The researchers state that the biggest reason companies fail is because people lose focus and get off track. However, making everyone’s performance visible helps to remove distractions and enables people to concentrate on what is important.

Fairness drives employee engagement.

Neuroscience shows that our brains work better when we don’t feel the need to hide our performance or cover up our mistakes. Better to rip the Band-Aid off and confront reality straight away, rather than sneak around hoping we won’t get found out.

We also perform better when our brains aren’t worrying about whether someone is getting ahead of us because they are better at politicking and buttering up the boss. You know, those charming people who “talk the talk”, but do not “walk the walk”. With radical transparency, each person’s performance is made visible and objective.

It turns out our brains are strongly motivated by a sense of fairness. When everyone’s performance is made visible on a dashboard, we can clearly see which people truly deserve praise and recognition, and this removes any suspicion of favoritism. Now the people who consistently perform well get recognized for their good work – not those who are good at “looking busy”, or schmoozing the boss.

The truth will set you free.

Radical transparency is a technology trend that is pervading all aspects of our lives; from sharing our lives through social media to having our location tracked by our mobile devices every minute of the day, to wearable technologies that measure our health and fitness in real-time. Software dashboards bring radical transparency to your workplace (provided you have a process in place to ensure you have good data).

With radical transparency, everyone can see how everyone else on the team is performing, and all employees get treated fairly according to their performance. Yes, radical transparency can create winners and losers, and to be fair, this environment can be tough at the beginning for people who are not top performers. Some managers are concerned that poor performers will become disengaged when confronted by the reality of their performance.

I’ve got news for you. It’s a fact of life. We measure performance in school. Would you want your children to go to a school where their performance was not measured? We measure performance in sports. Would you watch sports if no one kept the score? Would the sports coach keep players on the field who are not performing to the required standard? Of course not.

Why should your organization be any different? Are you really doing your team a favor by carrying people who just show up and don’t perform to a reasonable performance standard, one which is negotiated and agreed upon by all parties upfront?

Making performance visible on a dashboard is a good first step, but a software tool is not going to manage your people for you. Managers still need to manage. You must meet with your people to discuss their performance and hold people accountable to make sure things are getting done every week. Dashboards don’t absolve the manager of their obligation to coach and support their people.

I have a saying: “Successful Business Execution is 20% giving people clarity about what needs to be done, and 80% following up to make sure it actually gets done”

Remember, your job as a manager is to coach and support your team to achieve their goals. You only succeed as a manager when your team succeeds.

This article contains excerpts from the book: Business Execution for RESULTS.


Until next time…