Back in the day, when I used to do things like look for new jobs, I interviewed for a position as head of marketing for a mid-sized (by small software company standards) software company.
Having made it through Round One, I got to come in and meet with the CEO-founder. A colossal a-hole.
Having made it through that interview, Mr. A-hole handed me off to his second in command – COO? CFO? I can’t recall – who was not quite as abrasive as Mr. Big, but was prickly in his own way. Somewhere along the line, I asked about the company’s financials. The company was privately held (it’s now public), so I wasn’t expecting a lot of detail, just something about the magnitude of sales, and some indication of the company’s viability. After all, if I left the precarious company I was working for, I wanted my new spot to be a bit less shaky.
Rather than give me a straightforward – or even an evasive – answer, this fellow went on a long and intense monologue on why they never shared any information with employees. After he stopped for a breath, I put in a few words on behalf of employees and their need to know, but he totally blew me off, and went into phase two of his “don’t tell the children” rant.
Having met the CEO and CFO, I decided that I wasn’t quite a fit for the company. (I’m sure they were simultaneously coming to the same conclusion.) I did recommend a former manager of mine for the position. He accepted and was there for a few years, lasting longer than many of the folks I ended up knowing who worked there for a while. Most hated it.
I hadn’t thought about this company in quite a while, but it came to mind when I saw an article in The Boston Globe about companies with the opposite info-sharing philosophy of the outfit that, fortunately, I didn’t end up working for.
When employees walk through the lobby of Apptopia Inc., a mobile-app market analytics firm in Boston, they pass a bank of 55-inch monitors displaying the kind of data that many companies guard tightly: monthly revenues, client numbers, customer churn. When employees log in to their computers, they can see even more, down to the status of every deal in the works.
Chief executive Eliran Sapir sees this transparency as a “silent motivator” for employees to keep the company moving forward.
Investors love it, too, he said. “When you have nothing to hide, things are going really well.”
Apptopia is part of a wave of companies throwing open their finances, e-mails, performance data, even salaries, for all employees to see as technology makes it easier to share information — and younger workers who grew up sharing everything on social media increasingly demand it. (Source: Boston Globe)
Finances and performance data are one thing. (Or two things.) But salaries? And I don’t know what they mean by e-mails, but e-mails?
Certainly, it would be helpful for everyone involved with, say, a client account, to see all the email trails associated with it. Even then, there are limits, especially if there are personnel or personal information passed back and forth. In any event, people should be able to write a candid email without having to worry about whether everyone in the company is going to read it.
I really think there’s a limit to what you want to be transparent about.
There are some things that just aren’t everyone’s business: employee performance, for starters. Then there’s every little in and out on matters strategic, every tactical jot and tittle. I’m a big believer that everyone should have an opportunity to offer their ideas and opinions on strategy and tactics, but, seriously folks, you can’t have everyone in the company involved in everything that happens. At some point, don’t these everyones have their own jobs to do? Yes, everyone should know what a company’s strategy is. In most professional-level jobs, you really can’t operate with any degree of intelligence if you don’t know what the strategy is. And it sure helps if you know what the tactics are that you’re supposed to be executing. But I don’t think everything needs to be open. I really think there’s a limit to what you want to be transparent about.
And salaries? I once worked with a very wise man who told me that you should set salaries and give raises under the assumption that everyone knows what everyone else is making. I.e., you should be able to justify those decisions, and operate as if there’s full transparency. Beyond that, I’m fine with people knowing what salary band within their level or department or whatever they fall into. But I don’t think that salary info (other than at the executive level) should be shared to the degree that you can attach a name to a number, unless you’re willing and able to spell out the rationale for all the salaries. Even then, I can imagine that most people – especially those at the ends of the salary spectrum – don’t want their salaries known.
Other information: bring it on. People should know about sales (wins and losses). They should know whether their company is in the red or the black. They should know when product releases fall behind. Mostly they should know the strategy, and how what they’re doing helps further that strategy.
Employees should know enough to be able to do their jobs better. And without someone else telling them what to do every step along the way what they should do next. I’m all for decision-making for the masses. (One of my strengths as a manager was not micro-managing or second-guessing. Oh, sure, it occasionally backfired – I made some hiring mistakes over the years - but mostly I had good people under me and it worked out just fine.
There can be drawbacks to all this openness, however. Employees and managers alike can become overloaded with information, analysts say, and disgruntled workers could potentially leak proprietary information to competitors. And if all this information and transparency isn’t properly explained, there’s a danger it could be misinterpreted.
But the young whipper-snapper millennial-employing firms are all up on it. Let ‘em have it. Me? I’m the nosy type, and would have found myself completely up to my eyeballs trying to keep up with all those emails, all that salary info (she makes what???) Glad I’m not in the fray anymore.