Should your company practice transparency?

For the last several years there’s been a trend towards corporate transparency. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the act of publicly sharing information about your company like revenue, customer count, churn, and sometimes personal information about your employees.

In my industry, Rand Fishkin of Moz has been a champion for transparency. In fact, he recently landed a book deal that will primarily focus on transparency and startups. Another person who has taken corporate transparency to a whole new level is Joel Gascoigne of Buffer. His company has a Transparency Dashboard where they share everything from salaries to a real-time view of their financials.

Fishkin and Gascoigne use these personal values to build their corporate structures. If one values transparency, then one’s company must be transparent too. The people I personally know that have taken this stance are sincere and truly value the idea of transparency, and I respect them for that.

As an entrepreneur and a person with an educational background in psychology, I struggle with the concept of corporate transparency. Philosophically speaking, I see transparency as a controlled illusion. In the realm of business, I see it more as corporate translucency. Businesses ultimately only share what they choose to share.

When I put idealism and altruism aside, the only practical business use for a company to exercise any form of corporate transparency is to use it as a marketing gimmick — to attract attention and publicity to that business and to also attract like-minded potential employees.

I do not practice corporate transparency, because I do not value transparency.

Whoa! Did I just say that publicly? How transparent of me. Just kidding. That was actually me just being honest.

I value honesty, privacy, being genuine, and The Golden Rule. For better or for worse, those values directly affect how we run our company. Like transparency, they can be both altruistic and used to attract attention and publicity to the company.

While many values are compatible with each other — you can be genuine and transparent — some values struggle to coexist. For example, Buffer’s interpretation of corporate transparency has led them to open up all email messages to everyone else in their company and to publicly share the salaries of all employees for the world to see (a very bold move). That value is in direct conflict with the value of privacy. If you are like me, and you value privacy more than you value transparency, then corporate transparency, at least to that degree, may not be right for your company.

In order for entrepreneurs and startups to succeed, they need to know what they value instead of blindly imitating what other successful people value. That means if you value transparency, then it should probably be a value for your company. But if you don’t value it, you probably shouldn’t force your company to either. And that’s okay, because we’re all different. And who knows, that difference may be what ultimately gives your company the competitive edge you need to succeed.