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Why Transparency is Important to Driving Operational Excellence

I recall some years ago we were suffering a year of poor sales, lower quality, and a weak design portfolio. The competition was taking share and we could not improve no matter what we did. It was not that we were not working hard but it was quite evident we were not working on the right things. During one new product review which was past due one of our top design leaders blurted to the rest of the team, “Our future intentions must be more transparent to win!” The room fell silent as all eyes turned in his direction. He had several seconds to keep his audience captive. Seizing the opportunity, he shared his thoughts on exactly what he meant. He went on to explain that being transparent would open up communication channels between our suppliers, associates and most importantly, our customers. Sharing the good, the bad and yes the ugly of the situation was necessary. How could an operating company drive innovation if the critical mass could not adequately define the problem? Who was in a better position to define the problem than the leadership team? However, the other business partners (customers/associates/suppliers) were the only ones that could help share options to drive solutions.

Transparency is a powerful tool. It gives an honest appraisal of a situation, sharing the current state and soliciting help to postulate a future state. That said the leader must appreciate the feedback, positive or negative, he will receive from these business partners. This requires broad shoulders and the ability to clearly articulate all inputs. Yes, there will be opinions. Yes, there may even be emotion. But the ability to capture this information, good or bad, is a solid starting point to future improvement. So how does this translate into an actionable plan that results in operational excellence?

The first step is to be transparent and share the strategy, here is where we are, and this is where we want to be! The second step is to ask the question, “What do you think?” I have over simplified the process but I hope you appreciate the importance of step 2. Allow me to share several examples. Ask your customers “What do you need or want that we do not offer?” Ask your associates, “What can we do better within the organization to win?” Ask your suppliers, “What improvements do you see that we may have overlooked?” Transparency will require you to remove any data filters you used to communicate in the past. The anticipated feedback may be used to formulate a revised plan that will help you succeed. Sound easy? It is not. However, it is worth the time and effort required. To be able to increase operational effectiveness and performance using transparency as a driver is the end result.

Today’s student pursuing an MBA must include this concept in their graduate school “tool box.” To master transparency requires practice. Formulating a good problem statement is the key starting point. Being able to receive and decipher data is equally important. Using the feedback from your business partners and applying it to the future state is the desired result. Transparency alone cannot guarantee success. But its use will help!

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About the Author

Pete Papantos is an operations director at a Fortune 500 company. He is responsible for the global execution of their strategic plan and driving operational excellence using lean methods. In addition, Pete is a graduate instructor with emphasis in operations and strategic management — both in traditional and online settings.