I was in an Executive Board Meeting the other day. The Chairman of the Board of a Retirement Community I supervisor was noticeably concerned that the CEO of the Retirement Community had not been more transparent about a serious deficient Medicare Federal survey their Skilled Nursing Facility had recently received. Apparently, the CEO was embarrassed by the low score and wanted to try to fix it before he presented a detailed report to the Board. The Board Chairman rightly, did not want to be surprised by this potential significant fiscal risk to the organization and wanted to help the CEO work through the problem. Leaders must be more transparent in today’s social media environment where an organization’s reputation can be destroyed instantly with a viral customer service complaint that has been handled poorly.
This is an example of a contemporary social theory called critical social theory by Jürgen Habermas found in Contemporary Social Theory (2009) by Anthony Elliot. Habermas sought to rekindle critical theory towards a unique democratic society. He adapted the ideas of freedom and solidarity from the principles of the Enlightenment to transform society. The acts of communication through language oriented toward mutual agreement and consensus are the vehicles of societal transformation. In his essay ‘The Post National Constellation and the Future of Democracy (2001)’ Habermas focuses communication towards what he calls the democratization of the decision making process. Other social and political theorists call this ‘deliberative democracy. This is a process of fair and transparent communication to make decisions together, as well as to hold each other accountable to those decisions.
Leaders can learn from this theory when making policy and critical decisions for their organizations. Transparent communication within teams can help to produce the best decisions when each member can share and support their ideas to the group. I have seen this happen many times when working with leadership teams. A good example of this is in the hiring process. When hiring upper management personnel, I like to interview candidates with teams of stakeholders. I have found when multiple view points from direct reports, peers, customers and upper management are shared in a transparent conversation, the best hiring decisions can be made. Once the decision has been made, those individuals who helped to make the decision, typically commit to help the new hire be successful. When individuals have opportunity to participate in the decision, this creates commitment, ownership and accountability.
Transparent communication can only come from a safe environment. Transparent communication is where an individual can freely share their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment, peer pressure or ridicule. Only the leader can set the stage of a safe environment by sharing why each person’s ideas are important and by developing ground rules that make it safe to share. Ground rules I have used are:
1. Respect each person’s ideas and views
2. Do not make fun of any idea, all ideas are acceptable and wanted (there are no bad ideas)
3. Do not interrupt and give the person talking your undivided attention
4. What is shared is confidential and stays with the group
5. Ask questions for clarification and be prepared to defend your idea with logic
6. No subjective personal comments about the person allowed
7. All intentions of the process are to make the best decisions by participating
8. All team members are expected to participate in discussions
9. Once a decision has been made, all team members support the decision unless new information is shared with the group to make a change
Fair and transparent dialogue can and does transform cultures and societies. If the CEO had been more transparent about the Medicare Federal Survey, the Board would have had the opportunity to dialogue and help the CEO make the best decisions on how to respond and resolve the problems. The Board would have been more committed to the CEO instead of feeling the information was hidden which can cause distrust and erosion of credibility.