Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Radical Transparency...Is It Worth It?

Would you allow your employees to openly blog about what goes on in your company? Would you set limitations (such as never talk about x product)? Would you penalize your employees for admitting to a weakness in your companies structure? For most businesses the answer to that is "yes!".

Wired recently wrote a fantastic article on Microsoft's approach to Radical Transparency. The software giant has created an atmosphere that not only embraces blogging but open communication with their partners as well. From a vendor to vendor standpoint the idea of radical transparency is fantastic. Imagine being able to go to your vendors site and read that x batch of brake pads are defective before you go and put them on 1.3 million cars. Just think of all the time and money you could save!

When I was doing dial up tech support I often wondered if the employees of third parties were as fed up with their system breaking as I was. Did they want to scream and pull their hair out because some dork in the back room didn't think it was important to fix the scripting errors that were causing the OS to crash every other hour?

Personally, I find it is less frustrating to work with a third party when they seem "human". Companies that allow their employees to have "off topic" conversations and to "be real" are so much easier to deal with. After all, if your system is broken and sucks so does mine. We understand that not everything works right all the time, and sometimes people screw up happens. I would prefer you just tell me the truth so I can come up with a game plan and move on. One customer service job I had forbid the use of "problem, broken, repair, malfunction or issue" in any client facing communication. Have you ever tried to apologize for an issue without admitting that there is anything wrong? The fear that a competitor would figure out that our server went down was so prevalent that if the server did go down we hired a third party to go make the repairs at the Colo instead of using our own engineers.

Is Radical Transparency worth the risk? From a corporate perspective the concept is so new and foreign that we can't really answer that yet. Today, the Channel 9 site is one of the most popular sites in the tech circuit with almost as many visitors a month as The real bonus may be that Microsoft has gained a warmer, more approachable image. The unknown is what lasting effect, if any, this new philosophy have. Is blogging a passing fad? Will Social Networking revamp the businesses of the future? Will Bush's Baked Beans one day release their secret family recipe on Myspace? I somehow doubt that that they will, but you have to admit it would be pretty cool if they did.

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