High performing school districts don’t just operate with transparency, they operate with radical transparency.
Radical transparency means giving staff, parents, and the community the ability to see most everything that goes on within a district.
When districts operate with radical transparency, people are more likely to make their own informed decisions. Stakeholders who have access to the inner-workings of a school become less vulnerable to others' spin and potentially dangerous leadership propaganda.
One of the best methods for promoting a radically transparent culture is by providing full access to decision-making. Whether it be open meetings, district data, survey results, or email threads, radically transparent leaders have no problem sharing information that drives decision-making.
Leaders who choose to put information in the open rid themselves of the perception that decisions are made behind closed doors by a few powerful individuals.
So why do so many school districts keep decision-making under wraps?
First and foremost, few things are more powerful than information. Unfortunately, many bosses crave power and go to great lengths to withhold information. Leaders who downplay sharing information (wrongly) assume their power will be lessened.
Personal feelings also play a role in being fearful of transparency. Many bosses are afraid people's feelings could be hurt when information is shared openly. They also believe it's ill-advised to create uncertainty among the community until a decision is made.
While concealing the truth might make others happier in the short run, it won't make them more trusting in the long run. For that reason, it's almost always better to shoot people straight, even when there's bad news to convey or when you don't have all the answers.
Operating with transparency can be powerful, but like most great things it has its drawbacks. One of the biggest dangers is when employees abuse the information they receive. When transparency principles are left unmanaged, staff can harm the district by getting overly involved with issues that are not their responsibility.
Trust within an organization can quickly erode when employees take advantage of an information-friendly system. Although they would like to think they are immune to these pitfalls, all districts will undoubtedly experience this issue. Therefore, organizations that promote transparency must have high expectations for employee behavior.
In Principles, Ray Dalio suggests leaders may want to limit communication to those who can’t be trusted: "Provide transparency to people who handle it well and either deny it to people who don't handle it well or remove those people from the organization. It is the right and responsibility of management, and not the right of all employees, to determine when exceptions to transparency should be made."
Until recently I was unsure how to address employees who misuse our generous sharing of information. While I had some initial thoughts, guidance on managing transparent communication is limited. Discovering this insight gave me the confidence needed to address those who might abuse our radically transparent culture.
As transparent communication practices continue to gain momentum, school districts will want to have safeguards in place to ensure all employees are upholding organizational norms.
So, is your school district ready for radical transparency?
At its most basic level, the decision revolves around district leaders' willingness to embrace this mindset. Radically transparent cultures will not work unless key leadership is on board.
Remember that radical transparency does not have to be achieved in one fell swoop, meaning leaders should ease the district into new practices.
Consider implementing small changes to begin. One of the best places to start is by providing open access to notes from key meetings, such as leadership team, teachers' association, and negotiations meetings. As time goes by and more district decisions become transparent, staff will develop a whole new mindset.
Leaders who grant employees access to information fear losing power. This notion is misguided.
Instead, leaders gain influence as they create a culture of trust, honesty, and engagement.