I wrote in my last post about three facets of competition that I think are becoming more important - speed, collaboration and transparency. The first two are relatively obvious. We need to move faster, make faster decisions and deliver products and services more quickly to a world that has moved from 33 1/3 to 78. If you don't know the reference, ask your grandpa. He will.
Collaboration is a given as well. If none of us is as smart as all of us, then eventually we'll only get work done in distributed teams, some of whom are my employees and some of whom are contractors or just trusted partners. We can see the need and desire for collaboration growing in front of us, namely social media.
However, the concept of transparency threw a few people for a loop. I tossed out these three competitive facets in a discussion with a conference organizer and she said: speed, yep. Collaboration, yes. Transparency. What's that?
Simply put, transparency is the notion that how you do what you do is as important as what you do. Transparency builds engagement and trust, not something you can buy. Today, more than ever before, consumers want to understand the rules that govern the relationships. They want those rules to be clearly spelled out, simple to understand and in their face, not easy to ignore. Don't believe it? The US House of Representatives just pulled a provision out of the bill that will dictate how financial firms are managed that would have mandated a plain, simple, english language document to accompany all financial products, rather than the gobbledygook we get now. If the US Congress came within a hair of mandating transparency on banking, traditionally one of the most opaque industries around, what demands do you think consumers are placing on other industries?
Collaboration via Facebook is nice, but when firms have Facebook pages we begin to get a glimpse inside the organization. Shortly I believe that many firms will have ombudsmen, just as the major newspapers do, to explain their successes and shortcomings to consumers in the way a newspaper ombudsman will take his or her newspaper to task for failing to cover a story. But beyond mere interpreters of organizations we as consumers need to be able to peer in and understand what's happening. One of the biggest complaints about the financial institution meltdown was that consumers could not get straight answers, or find anyone to give them answers, about how decisions were being made. The financial meltdown will cause us all to flee not necessarily to quality, but to transparency. If someone is going to lose my money, at least I better be able to understand how they plan to use it.
With the increase in educational levels and access to professional insight through bloggers and analysts, we can understand the interactions and decisions of most businesses now. I may not fully understand a CDO, but I can find someone who will dissect it for me inexpensively or for free. It may as well be the firm that is trying to use the tool. At least in that case they can make the case as to the tool's usefulness and the rationale behind it.
People have less trust in most institutions than ever. One reason that trust runs so low for the US Congress is that the representatives and senators appear unwilling to allow us to watch how the laws are made, and to read and understand the legislation before rushing to take a vote. If the old "back room" days are over, then prove it. Make this the most open and transparent administration and Congress. Otherwise, prepare to lose even more respect and trust.
In life, in business and in government, we need, and are ready for, more transparency. At a time when traditional media (newspapers, television) is failing to give us the insights we need, these organizations can choose to become more transparent, or they can lose us by blocking our vision about how they do what they do. The more transparent, the more trust. The more trust, the more risks you can take. Right now, our government and most businesses fail to understand this.