Radical Transparency

Written by: Sean Foust on July 16, 2017

Almost universally, the more transparency a company practices, the better the organization functions. Employees tend to be happier, company culture becomes more trusting, ideas flow freely, and certain customers really click with the idea. As Tapscott and Ticoll’s book The Naked Corporation puts it ‘hold corporations accountable for the benefit of everyone’. A book written in 2003, was clearly ahead of it’s time, and highlighted the movement which lead to more and more radical practices that do great benefit and honor values of nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and B Corps.

Take Buffer for example, a social media marketing companion. Several years ago they became one of the first companies to show to their employees and the world exactly how each person was compensated, using their salary formula. It starts with the job role as the base and then includes factors such as location, tenure, etc. It was a hit internally and a shining moment in PR. People praised it, some adopted it, and most respected the move. This is a move towards radical transparency, one that offered them a 239% raise in job applicants the first 30 days after the announcement, and increased sales and customer retention.

Open Book Management

What are other examples and how can you begin to introduce them in your organization? Open Book Management (OBM) is a style of business structure, finance, and operations which challenges the traditional top down approach. It attempts to understand every level of the hierarchy, empower those levels to speak up and contribute ideas, and includes them in business decisions while informing them of finances and overall company health.

OBM was an early primer for flat-organizational approaches and open book finance. It influenced Holocracy — an HR practice of empowerment which downplays the need to move up the chain of command to approve work — removing bottlenecks, often improving quality of work and employee satisfaction. It decentralizes tasks in an effective way, giving employees the right to do tasks they see solutions too, prioritize their own work, and share transparent rules. This offers fairness, joy, and rapid iterations to work through solutions.

OBM is popular, there are trainers who travel across the states to offer workshops and staff wide training. While I was working with the grocery cooperative, The Merc, in Lawrence, KS,  (shout out), we trained with Zimmerman’s, a retail food focused OBM training group from Ann Arbor, MI (of course 🙂 ). I was then able to see how much was spent on this training, where the overall budget was going, and was empowered to own the financial line for my department in the weekly OBM meetings.

Training and Implementation

An important tangent on trainings — professional trainings are nice, but rarely the best return on investment. Perhaps for large budgets and projects like Sprint, but usually not for the folks reading this article. I advocate using those budgets to deputize an internal member to become an expert and train your org. It supports employee ongoing education, growth, job satisfaction. While they may miss some points as they learn, trusting them to understand the topic and having them on staff is more valuable than having specific trainings come and go.

One notable exception- if you’re local to Philadelphia, or have a nice budget, AORTA is an amazing cooperative that trains organizations on anti-oppression, how to have better meetings, improve interpersonal dynamics in the workplace, and a lot more. They are always wonderful to catch at conferences too, and have this great zine free to download. No kickback for this praise, just my deep admiration.


So, radical transparency in practice can be expressed through the ideas of OBM, holacracy, trust, and cooperation — all while bringing a deep richness to a company’s culture. We at Fresh Ink share all our non-sensitive financial information, cloud files, business plan, and project management platform with the public. Inquire within!

Action items:

  • Take initiative, on the clock or not, to submit a report to your team about how to be more transparent, and how it may help with your unique company culture.
  • Practice it more in your day to day; lean in to trusting that sharing more of yourself with those you love will bring you closer together.
  • Share articles and resources on the subject too.
  • Suggest to your HR team / CEO that they consider OBM, Holacracy, and a Salary Formula.

Further reading:

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