Turbocharged transparency

Last month this column focused on the revolution in Egypt and key messages for businesses centred on transparency of information. I’m going to repeat some points from that column and expand upon them. Why? This stuff simply has to be repeated until the messages hit home.

We now live in a transparent world and that transparency is “turbocharged” by the ease of searching for and accessing information. The sooner business and political leaders embrace this, the better. This is one area where being a leader rather than a follower can indeed be the difference between life and death. Life and death of your business? Sure. How about life and death of the economic wellbeing of your country? That too. This is serious stuff, folks.

Consider the humble television, which revolutionised our lives only around 50 years ago, giving a dominant platform for advertisers to tell us what to buy and what to believe about those products. No longer. We don’t trust advertising, we trust peer recommendations through social and other channels.

If you perhaps think social media is a fad, or just want to find out more, I highly recommend socialnomics.net and their powerful social media revolution video, full of stunning facts and statistics, including some that really make you think about the changes in areas like television advertising. If ever four minutes of your life can convince you to tear up your communications playbook, this is it.

So, if the old rules need to be torn up, how should one communicate as a business, or even as a country looking to attract people and businesses to invest and grow with you?

The first answer is to truly embrace that everything we do is or soon will be transparent. This isn’t about good governance or even Freedom of Information rules, it is just the new reality. This isn’t even about social media. Social media is here to stay, but the true revolution is in ubiquity of information and the ease of finding and accessing that information.

In our transparent world, you can’t hide. You can’t hide if your product is outdated and uncompetitive. You can’t hide if your customer service is poor. You can’t hide if your systems are inefficient and burdened with red tape. You simply can’t hide if you portray your business, your country, yourself as being something that reality cannot live up to. People will find you out. End of story.

On a country level, one of my favourite quotes is from James Freeman Clarke: “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation”. If a country is to live up to the promises we wish to communicate to our people and the outside world, we need our politicians to be statesman, and for that we also need our people to recognise the need for long term planning rather than short term fixes.

On a business level, I’m fond of saying “the easiest way to make money is to think longer term than the next guy”. It isn’t a direct quote, but influenced by me being a disciple of Warren Buffett, who believes in long term investing and in buying companies with quality people, products and culture. Companies like this create fans, evangelists and yes, even disciples. It doesn’t require social media (Harley Davidson fans tattooed their allegiance on their bodies long before Facebook), but if any business leaders didn’t get the importance of quality before, let turbocharged transparency be a wakeup call.

So, if we all get that transparency is here to stay, all we have to do is focus on the quality of what we have to offer and tell our people to get with the programme. Easy, huh? No, incredibly difficult, as the key change is in the culture of our organisations, not simply laying down new rules. That isn’t easy at all. Still, time to start, transparency is certainly not a fad, it is here to stay.