Several years ago, I was having lunch for the first time at a new and now very popular Pittsburgh restaurant. Before lunch was served, and out of necessity, I walked to the restroom. As I proceeded, I moved my head upward to look at the wall in front of me (as guys usually do).  I soon realized that I wasn’t looking at the wall but through it. I could see much of the wait staff and visitors in front of me and I panicked “these people can see me half-naked and they’re watching!” I quickly understood this was a one-way barrier that only allowed for one-way viewing. I breathed a sigh of relief and laughed as others did too. I’m kind of paranoid!

When we think of our organizations as being intellectually honest and appropriately transparent, how do we begin to think about safety advancement?

Do we feel comfortable being naked from an organizational standpoint? 

Do our leaders really want to know what they and their organization look like when the veneer is stripped away and the thinly veiled layers of false protection are peeled back?

Do we want to get organizationally naked for continual safety improvement?

Genuine interest

Healthy organizations want to understand what’s really occurring and how their people feel about safety. Their leaders openly and genuinely solicit feedback on a regular basis. They conduct focus group sessions with their workers and evaluate their culture for safety through perception surveys and other cultural tools. Leaders want to know about the good as well as the bad.  And they also share the results. 

Some leaders want to hide from these types of evaluations and remain completely clothed for fear of personal exposure or other forms of increased scrutiny. They don’t want to be caught with their pants down, or to be seen naked for the sake of safety, or for the greater good of the organization. 

Let’s be honest

No organization can improve safety, quality, or productivity, in any sustainable manner, without being intellectually honest and transparent. Largely it’s about getting organizationally fit so one can feel better about getting organizationally naked. Does it matter which comes first? Will we have to wait for a serious incident or fatality to bring about a sense of urgency and appropriate transparency?

Getting organizationally fit and becoming comfortably naked is a necessity, and go hand-in-hand. When we get naked, we often see things that aren’t very appealing, which in turn motivates us to get healthier. With our organizational leaders that takes honesty, transparency, and changes that will make the organization increasingly fit for duty and overall performance. Eventually it will take the organization out of its danger zone. Yes, staying in the danger zone, with layers of false protective clothing can lead to more incidents, serious incidents, and fatalities.

Important outcomes

There is a need for organizational leaders to get naked and become more transparent in order to continually improve safety performance for their stockholders, organizational members, customers, and the general public. Certainly there are times that we need to be appropriately guarded from a legal standpoint, but largely, there are too many positive outcomes that outweigh the need to remain opaque. Let’s take a look at five important outcomes that are worth your efforts in becoming increasingly transparent.

Greater Candor: When there is greater candor there is more openness and clarity in communications that relates to concerns, hazards, precursors and related warnings. All of this helps to reduce incidents, risks, and accidents, especially serious incidents and fatalities (SIFs).  Greater candor is healthy and necessary for increased transparency. 

Greater Trust: When leaders and followers begin to open-up more appropriately, trust will increase and we all know that trust is vital. Trust affords more opportunities for learning, engagement, as well as requiring less time for supervision and regular monitoring. In turn, greater trust leads to increased credibility. And credibility is about increasing expertise and trustworthiness.

More Leaders: When transparency increases, individuals who remained in a comfortable follower role will step up and begin to lead from within their own groups.  An increase in the number of safety leaders and the quality of safety leadership is usually always a plus. Opening up allows followers to step up to a new role, as a safety coach and leader. 

Fewer Biases: An increase in openness and transparency helps to create objective feedback that moves in many directions. Objectivity in the perception and acceptability of risk and related communications lessens gaps between how leaders see safety-related issues and concerns and how workers view them. This helps everyone look through a clearer and more accurate safety lens with less conflict and increased possibilities for agreement and engagement. 

On a deeper and more individualized level, increased transparency and open communications helps to lessen the harmful impact that hubris-driven biases will have on an organization. Hubris bias causes some leaders to insulate themselves from others with little desire for feedback mainly because of a prideful stance that answers are already known and others will provide little support beyond what the leader(s) already possesses. Collective forms of humility and intellectual honesty help everyone to move forward with less conflict and greater capacities for agreement.

Increased Alignment: Increasing organizational transparency affords an unobstructed view of your organization’s vision and values for safety. Seeing the vision more clearly and without obstructions requires that workers have the right materials, tools, equipment, time, training, and people to perform their work as safely as possible. When the vision is seen more clearly, it can be spoken about in more compelling terms by all organizational leaders and members. When this occurs, there will be a greater effect on the workforce with larger degrees of trust that bind formal leaders and workers together. When everyone begins to see and experience your safety vision more clearly and concretely, that’s BIG!

It’s not easy

It’s not easy to get naked in front of others; it takes hard work and lots of deliberate effort and planning. However, as your organization gets healthier and increasingly fit, getting naked occurs more naturally in a culture that embraces its nakedness.

Being objective and honest about how we look when we’re naked, sometimes at our worst, drives us to healthier outcomes. But it takes unselfish leaders who want to get naked in order to improve safety and the organization as a whole.  How naked is your organization willing to get?