These three organizational ‘magic words’ manage to get mixed up a lot. It’s hard to believe because they are so different. But people love the mixing because the use of language in organizational life has a sort of ‘complete freedom’, which results in lots of ‘prêt-à-porter’ concepts. So, ‘magic’ here has to be interpreted as producing an abracadabra effect: use them and many doors will open (even if their meaning is mixed up).
More than once I have seen these three magic words in a single value system as if their combination validates the good intentions of the company and provides a stamp of integrity and honesty (incidentally, two more magic).
Organizations seem to thrive in conceptual muddle. My friend, business partner and brilliant inter-cultural consultant, David Trickey, calls this ‘a conspiracy of self inflicted ambiguity’.
My street definitions, to dispel the magic a bit:
Transparency: everybody can see it, there are no secrets
Clarity: everybody understands
Fairness: nobody is discriminated
Something may be transparent to the staff, but unclear, even opaque. Something may be clear for management, but not transparent to others Something may be fair to people , but it’s not clear or transparent.
Problems arise when there is a free, interchangeable use of the three. People tend to assume that something is unfair when it’s not transparent. But transparency does not make it automatically fair. There is nothing unfair about not making something transparent to everybody. It may or may not be unfair. Some managers preach transparency, but they mean clarity. Other managers preach fairness on the basis of clarity and transparency to all. But the issue may be very unfair, yet, clear.
I suggest you carry on playing with the permutations but avoid at any cost the indiscriminate use. Beware of the prolongation of ‘self inflicted ambiguity’.
I hope I am clear, have been transparent in my intentions ,and you find these points fair. If not, I will have to start again.
For more leadership reflections and challenges see Leandro’s new book Camino – Leadership Notes on the Road, a leadership journey in 300+ stops. Available to buy from Amazon and all major online retailers.
To get a flavour – see downloadable extract: Camino – Extract Chapter 2 part 1