Radical Transparency and the Back Channel

One of the meme du jour’s of the blogosphere is the promulgation of corporate radical transparency. It is here! It is here!

I am a big fan of transparency. And we walk the talk with shared financials internally and close trusted communications with clients, resellers and employees. Yet there IS value in not being completely transparent. Value that you can lose by adhering to complete "radical transparency" in the extreme.

Let’s jump back into history on the importance of "getting around bureaucracy". Processes are put in place for a reason; you can’t scale a business without them. They are the "what to do" that gives the team self confidence. They know how to run a play to use a cheesy sports analogy. But sometimes you fumble. And when that happens you need to quickly pick the ball up. And hopefully you can accomplish this without the other team even seeing it.

In other words, sometimes you go around procedures to accomplish the greater good. You need a "back channel."

"Often we find that if the principal ideal aims of an organization are to be achieved, then it will be necessary at times to by-pass momentarily other ideals of the organization, while maintaining the impression that these other ideals are still in force. In such cases, a sacrifice is made not for the most visible ideal but rather for the most legitimately important one." – The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman, pg 45

And he continues with a quote from Page

"For the informal structure serves the very significant role of providing a channel of circumvention of the formally prescribed rules and methods of procedure. No organization feels that it can afford to publicize these methods (by which certain problems are solved, it is important to note) which are antithetical to the officially sanctioned and, in this case, strongly sanctioned methods dear to the traditions of the group." – "Bureaucracy’s Other Face" – Social Forces, Charles Hunt Page (quoted from Goffman pg 46).

Alright – so one more time in English. There has to be a way to get around processes to solve problems. But those ways around the system must remain hidden or EVERYONE would use them, and well there you have a new process. You need both. And Radical Transparency does not afford this common sense approach. We seek a balance.