The Importance of Transparency
I’m a huge fan of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire, a period program about the roaring 20’s and prohibition in Atlantic City, New York, and Chicago. Its an amazing show and I’d encourage everyone to watch it. Among other themes present, the show is a study in sketchy business dealings. Partly because the business done is illegal and partly because everyone is shamelessly out for themselves, no one knows everything and everyone suspects each other. The result? Short-term wealth leads to short-term life expectancy, with many major characters murdered on suspicion or proof of foul play (sorry for the spoiler, but its a mob show, what’d you expect?)
Am I about to draw a parallel to today’s startup culture? Yes I am. I don’t believe anyone’s been snuffed on suspicion of failing to deliver on a product launch date or hitting a revenue expectation, but transparency in all aspects of starting up may be the most important cultural focus for a company going from one person with an idea to two or 500 employees.
Have you ever been in a relationship and found out that the other person did something that you didn’t know about and after the fact it seems like you should have? That feeling can burn right away and, especially if it was the wrong thing to do, create lasting, toxic resentment. In startup, the exhausted phrase not everyone needs to know everything is often manipulated from its actual meaning - a growing company is complex, things will happen in parallel rapidly - into an umbrella conveying opaque control from unknown direction that inhibits growth because people don’t know what they’re doing or why.
In my mind, just about everyone should be able to know just about everything at startup, save the board-level financial concerns that aren’t legal to share and anything that encroaches on a colleague’s personal privacy. Not every employee may be interested, but what’s the harm in sharing product road maps, break-even dates, or github repositories? Shouldn’t everyone at least have a chance to learn from other groups at a company and always, always know the grand vision?
Any founder or executive worth their salt should convey vision for the company and how each team member furthers that vision with ease and detail. Any sincere and passionate founder, executive, or team lead should jump at the opportunity to do so for anyone, especially their teams and especially when things take turns for the unexpected as everyone should expect they will in this industry.
Confusing? Communication begets transparency begets understanding begets honest motivation begets improved likelihood of cohesive culture and success. It may not have been the way Rothstein or Masseria did it, but neither survived long enough to write their entrepreneurial memoirs.