Trust and Transparency
Go Hand In Hand
Brad Rawlins' research shows that doing things right isn't nearly as important as doing the right thing.
by Katie Delahaye Paine
About five years ago, Linda Hon, Jim Grunig and I wrote a white paper about measuring trust that set out some pretty clear steps as to how organizations could do it. At the time, we gave some general advice on what to do if you found that trust in your organization was less than what you wanted it to be.
To be honest, most of these recommendations fell somewhere between "duh," and "of course," and mostly had to do with doing things right:
- Articulate a set of ethical principles,
- Create a process for transparency that is appropriate for current and future operations, and
- Establish a formal system of trust measurement.
And they are all perfectly acceptable things to do.
However, new research by Brad Rawlins (he is our Measurement Maven of the Month for this month), shows that doing things right isn't nearly as important as doing the right thing, and that being transparent is a driving factor in the fostering of trust.
In a recent presentation at the Universidad Del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia, Dr. Rawlins outlined his findings, and we summarize them below. (You can read the whole paper here, excerpted from the IPRRC proceedings of last spring. Read my blog coverage of that presentation here.)
The overall results of the study demonstrate that transparency and trust are highly correlated, and, "one could conclude that as organizations become more transparent they will also become more trusted." Although the study was limited to employees, the results are strong enough to imply that the correlation between trust and transparency will hold for other stakeholder groups as well.
For definitions of trust, see our paper above, since Rawlins uses the same terminology. For transparency, Rawlins starts with the 2005 Mirriam-Webster definition:
- Free from pretense or deceit
- Easily detected or seen through
- Readily understood
He then supplements it with one from Anne Florini of the Brookings Institution:
The opposite of secrecy. Secrecy means deliberately hiding your actions; transparency means deliberately revealing them.
According to Rawlins, there are three aspects of transparency:
- Informational Transparency means openness, making publicly available all legally releasable information -- whether positive or negative in nature -- in a manner which is accurate, timely, balanced, and unequivocal. Information must be substantial to meet stakeholders needs. Disclosure by itself does not equal transparency, in fact some forms of disclosure can defeat the purposes of transparency.
- Participatory Transparency is what separates transparency from disclosure. Transparency cannot be successful unless you know what stakeholders want and need to know. So, to ensure that the information shared is relevant and useful, stakeholders must be allowed to identify what they need to know.
- Accountability Transparency. Transparency holds people accountable for their actions, words and decisions. Rawlins cited The Naked Corporation: If you're going to be naked, you'd better be buff. In other words, if you want to shine, you have to clean up your act.
In addition, Rawlins suggests that each organization might experience differing levels of transparency:
- Active transparency, where transparency is simply part of the culture;
- Forced transparency, in response to Sarbanes-Oxley or other legislation; and
- Pseudo transparency, in which an organization obfuscates through disclosure and greenwashing, which is self-promotion disguised as transparency.
1200 employees of a large regional healthcare organization were surveyed on issues of trust and transparency. 385 surveys were completed for a 32% response rate. Twenty-four surveys were deleted because they were incomplete, leaving 361 surveys for analysis. The sample demographics matched approximately those of the healthcare organization's population.
1. Trust and transparency are significantly and strongly correlated.
Trust was closely connected with transparency and the two are positively related. According to Rawlins, "As employee perceptions of organizational transparency increased so did trust. Additionally, the three components of trust (competence, integrity, and goodwill) and three components of transparency (participation, substantial information, and accountability) are positively related."
2. Regression analyses indicate that employees found integrity and goodwill more important to overall trust than competency.
Employee participation that leads to an organization sharing information that employees find useful and substantial, and that holds an organization accountable, is the strongest predictor of overall transparency.
3. Employees see sharing information as a sign of integrity.
Sharing substantial information and being accountable was tied to employee perceptions of organizational integrity.
4. Employee participation and willingness to be accountable was tied to perception of goodwill.
Dr. Rawlins is the only speaker I've heard of late that closed his presentation with a quote from the bible that I actually found to be entirely relevant to the presentation. Would that more of our corporations heed these words:
And this is the condemnation. That light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil, for everyone that doest evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved, but he that doest a Truth cometh to the light that his deeds maybe e manifest, that they are wrought in God. John 3:19-21