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What are some obstacles to achieving transparency in organizational communication, and how do you address them?


Organizational communication is paid for by budget holders. Unless there is an unusual degree of latitude given to the communication practitioner, the content of communications will reflect the intentions of the budget holder. Most of the people overseeing the budgets are quite senior and have become protective and careful with their work with their budgets, with their decisions and with their career positions. Why should they switch mental models and start unnecessarily dishing out information that could result in questions, adverse opinions, internal squabbling, delays and ultimately risk?

Forward-thinking leaders can see that open relationships get better results. Removing obstacles to transparency depends on the ability of communication practitioners to show, and the capacity of budget holders to learn, that transparency can give you leverage. Communicators and budget holders are interdependent, which comes back to the importance of open relationships in how we go about our business.

Lindsay Bogaard

Organizational communication consultant

Bogaard Arena

Delft, Netherlands


While some may see total transparency as the only truly "ethical" communication, most communication falls onto a Boston Matrix that plots the intersection of how proactively information is communicated with the completeness of that information.

There are a number of drivers along both axes. The dominant business culture--even more than national culture, in my experience--appears to be a driving factor. A company led mainly by marketers, for instance, will be more proactive, but have an emphasis on communicating positive messages. A company run by accountants may be similarly selective, but would likely be more defensive.

Organizational ownership is a second key driver. Publicly held companies, while under obligation to divulge certain specific information on an annual schedule and any share-price-impacting news immediately to the markets, cannot divulge that information internally in advance, even at the cost of having staff operate on the basis of missing, inaccurate or even misleading information.

Private ownership, or a noncommercial organizational structure, has its own transparency issues. In government, a "knowledge is power" and "status is king" mentality can make the transparency window ice up at higher elevations. In private companies, perceived precedent leads to resistance to sharing items transparently.

Ultimately, the biggest barrier to being both proactive and complete in communication is fear--of breaking the law, violating protocol or betraying secrets. Only when the fear of not communicating is greater than the fear of communicating can we see exceptional transparency in organizational communication.

Mike Klein

EMEA communication lead (Tartan)

Cargill Europe BVBA

Brussels, Belgium


I have two boys, ages 2 1/2 and 5. When my wife and I are trying to teach them something new, I find myself asking them if they've heard what Mom and Dad said. And often I find they're just hearing us, not listening to us (especially me). The same can be said about some organizations.

Often, an organization's communication function doesn't listen--and thus doesn't understand clients, employees and the other publics they communicate with. This can be one of the most difficult barriers to achieving transparency. A company can appear to be open and transparent by sharing all sorts of information. But by simply not listening to what people are asking of them, or are saying to them or about them, they will have a difficult time responding and appearing transparent.

Teaching an organization to listen (and not just to hear, like my boys) is the key to breaking down this barrier. Because without listening to things like blogs, Twitter, Facebook groups, petitions, letters to the editor and the protestors outside your door, you might think there's nothing wrong.

Jeff Bishop

Communication coordinator

Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia

Truro, Nova Scotia

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Title Annotation:global perspectives
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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