Last week I spent time doing archival research at the archives of Senator Mike Mansfield. I was searching for information on behalf of an author who is writing about the U.S. Congress and the C.I.A. Now this might seem like a sidetrack from my usual organization development posts, but I found the archive search engaging on many levels. Following this experience, one of the things I am considering is the question of what needs to be “top secret”. I scanned through many declassified documents that even after 50 years made me wonder why they were ever “classified” in the first place.
This is a question that most organizations struggle to decide, “What needs to be kept secret?” Today data is freely available from multiple sources. Even sitting in the local coffee shop finds us “located” by the GPS in our phone, the IP address in our computer, or our credit card swiped at the register. Transparency has become a business buzz word. Yet this is a complex issue, full of paradox. How do we protect intellectual property while encouraging growth and change? How do we retain our privacy when we can be “located” so easily?
While not ignoring the complexity, I would argue that much less needs to be kept secret than is currently under lock and key. Our organizations need truth and trust like our bodies need water and oxygen. We need to act with integrity and honesty. We should be willing to ask and answer questions – and not just the ones we wish others would ask. Our organizations are healthier when openness flourishes.
Research demonstrates that organizational openness is a competitive advantage as measured by employees retained and customer loyalty. Research in interpersonal neurobiology demonstrates that our brains function more effectively when we have certainty about how things function, knowing what to expect. What will each of us do to promote honesty, integrity, and openness? What will we “declassify” within our organizations?