Allard van der Horst 'Sharper choices through sector focus'

Annemarie Atema: 'Transparent communication is nonsense'

Annemarie Atema 2021 02 Annemarie Atema

Getting the garden ready for winter. Always one of those chores I have to take a while to get myself to. Last Saturday I couldn't think of any more reasons not to do it. So I stood there with rubber boots on, and sand smudges on my cheeks, dragging the garden bench to the garage. My daughter was helping. The garden doors were open. And as we were dragging, she said, "Gee, looking in like this, it looks Pinterest-worthy." Huh? Pinterest-worthy? But I understood her immediately. The caption on Pinterest would then be "Let winter come #lightroom #fun #apple pie.

Grand and compelling life

The same thing happens on Facebook. Here we also like to show how nice our lives are. Photos of fat barbecues (figuratively that is) and beautiful trips. Always in the presence of dear family and friends. Rarely if ever do I see a message from someone who writes that things are not going well (except in the case of a bad-hair-day). It's the same way in the offline world. When asked how you're doing, 99 times out of 100 you answer "Fine." While that is not always the case. After all, you might not be seen as so great after all, and well, let's face it, complaining a few times is okay, but at a certain point your environment doesn't feel like it anymore. Something about hanging the garlands yourself....

Transparency and all that

From a business perspective, the exact same thing is at play. Organizations talk about communicating transparently. Apart from the fact that this is an absolute 'whaaaaaah word', most organizations say they communicate clearly and openly. Plenty of examples where this turns out not to be so in practice but that's another topic.

What I wonder is whether it is űberly possible to always communicate transparently. After all, I also belong to the group of "callers" of clear and open communication. I think this is important. But at the same time I immediately admit that it is not always possible.

Case in point: I worked at a company that made medical products. Products that end up in a human body. So where quality, safety and hygiene are number one. And yes, where people work, mistakes are made. So very occasionally something went wrong. Think of a seal that turned out not to be fully closed during a check. Then the entire organization was called in to check the entire batch. And then I thought, come on, I'm going to write a nice article about that? Well no, I hoped mainly that we could keep it inside. While the focus could also have been on the fact that the entire organization (i.e., not just the operators) made an effort at such a moment to check everything but really everything. There was pride. Pride in the products. Pride in the company. A beautiful, transparent, story right? But never told...

You can learn from mistakes

Transparency up to a point, then. Going public with the mistakes that are made, expectations that cannot be met, business plans that have to be adjusted because they did not turn out right; we prefer to keep our mouths shut. This is also because it is mostly about people and we do not want to put anyone in a bad light. While showing vulnerability is so important. It is called the key to success, to creativity and innovation. For yourself as a person but also for an organization. It takes courage and transparent communication. Who dares!