How Transparency Can Affect Employee Productivity

Employee Productivity

Transparency in the workplace can be defined as, “operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. It has been defined simply as ‘the perceived quality of intentionally shared information from a sender’.” For example, Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder & CTO of HubSpot, said “At HubSpot, we practice ‘extreme transparency,’ making almost every piece of information about the business available to every employee. It’s an unorthodox approach, but one that’s saved countless meetings, attracted better employees, and stopped us from making a few really terrible decisions.” So, transparency in the workplace seems like a no-brainer good idea.  After all, if employees conduct all of their work in plain view of management, won’t they be more productive? Not necessarily.

According to the Harvard Business Review:

“Here’s the paradox: For all that transparency does to drive out wasteful practices and promote collaboration and shared learning, too much of it can trigger distortions of fact and counterproductive inhibitions. Unrehearsed, experimental behaviors sometimes cease altogether. Wide-open workspaces and copious real-time data on how individuals spend their time can leave employees feeling exposed and vulnerable. Being observed changes their conduct. They start going to great lengths to keep what they’re doing under wraps, even if they have nothing bad to hide. If executives pick up on signs of covert activity, they instinctively start to monitor employee behavior even more intensely. And that just aggravates the problem.”

It seems Orwellian, and it is. For example, line workers for a Chinese cell phone manufacturing plant were hiding improvements they had made from both peers and managers. Why? Because “it’s most efficient to hide it now and discuss it later. Everyone is happy: They see what they expect to see, and we meet our targets,” according to one of the workers. While this is an extreme case, it is not unusual. Employees and teams consistently hide discoveries from management, peers, and other external observers because they would not “properly understand” them. This practice distorts productivity, rather than improves it.

“By embedding into the lines five Chinese-born Harvard undergraduate researchers—who worked, ate, and lived alongside the employees, who knew them only as coworkers—I quickly learned that the production teams hid a great deal from observers, despite the open environment. For example, to speed up assembly, workers scanned multiple bar codes into the system at once instead of scanning each one individually after applying it to a metal shield in a phone, as standard operating procedure required,” said the Ethan Bernstein, author of the study.

The problem is, this kind of cooperation can cause an increased risk of “compliance-related” defects, as well as not sharing what others had learned. The reason: “a rational calculation about how to be the most productive without having to waste time on explanations.”

So they tried an experiment.

They draped sheets around teams of workers to see how they would respond.

It worked.

When the curtain was lowered, one subject was heard saying: “Wouldn’t it be nice if they hung up curtains all around the line, so we could be completely closed off? We could be so much more productive if they did that.” Raising the curtain of privacy correlated to raising productivity. By the end of the experiment—while the curtain remained raised—defects in the product remained low, while output rose dramatically.

If you would like learn more about how Transparency can enhance the relationship you have with your employees and have a positive impact on your business or organization, call Coach Michael Stelter at Advanced Business Coaching, Inc. (262) 293.3166.