Open and Transparent Communication

Encouraging Open, Transparent Communication

Fostering a culture of innovation requires open, transparent communication. Information must be shared upward, downward, and laterally. Unfortunately, most organizations tend to filter the information that flows upward. A psychologically safe environment allows more of the “bad” news to be shared upward, but a culture of fear increases the probability that the information needed will not be communicated upward. Instead, the tendency in this environment is to engage in cover-ups, finger-pointing, and avoidance, resulting in top management’s being unaware and sometimes blindsided. 

A culture of innovation must specifically address this and combat it with an openness and emphasis on transparency. We must encourage people to communicate openly, sharing their failures versus hiding them or allowing them to fester. And we must engender an openness to share ideas and collaborate. It is vital to openly share ideas on all fronts, including on what is working and what is not working, what we know and what we do not know. Knowing what we do not know is significant, and we must let others know this. That is, the environment must embrace the fact that it is okay not to know everything. 

Eli Lilly encourages open communication—even about mistakes. For over 20 years, the company has held “failure parties” for intelligent failures. Part of this party is having people transferred to new projects. This is a public way to acknowledge the mistake, to communicate that there is life (and “good” life) after intelligent failures, and then to move on. 

Downward communication must also be open to foster innovation. If information is controlled and hoarded by top management, the innovation of employees throughout the organization is stifled. Open, transparent communication, then, is a foundation for a collaborative environment. 

Excerpted from Patricia M. Buhler, Destination Innovation: HR’s Role in Charting the Course​ (SHRM, 2015).​


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