Radically Transparent Intranets

Any CIO worth their salt will have been shouting about cloud, mobility and big data in recent years and each has had an impact on our work on intranets. But there’s a new kid in town: radical transparency.  But what does this idea mean for corporations and their intranets? The Intranetizen team takes a look at some of the concepts and consequences.

Bringing the outside world, inside

In his article in the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman argues that radical corporate transparency converts data points into a force that counts in sales. Simply, that the greater exposure employees have to data — sentiment, sales, volumes, opinions — the better their opportunity to react and convert into whatever product or service your business provides. Transparency opens up data. Transparency forces us to stop pretending that the firewall protects employees from the truth of company performance, and allows employees to make positive decisions using that data.

Further, such transparency connects and engages employees with the business in which they work. Too often, sitting in offices, we are disconnected from the organisations core purpose. Radical transparency can help enfranchise and engage. As the adage goes, let good news travel fast; bad news faster. Transparency enables this.

How can the intranet help? Intranets need to be useful to survive. They need to help the employee do something, to achieve their goals, to be somehow business critical or the reason for them to exist will slowly diminish. Good intranets provide tools to help employees complete everyday HR tasks; the best ones help them to their job. Intranet surfaced radical openness will help employees engage and do their job better.

Here are some practical examples to bring the outside world into the intranet:

  1. Twitter feeds so you know what is being said about your products or services and your company has a whole. Listen, learn, react.
  2. Ratings wherever they may be held such as price comparison sites, Amazon or analysts. If you’re being talked about, publish it
  3. External news feeds via RSS about the company and industry.
  4. Share prices so you can see how the market is reacting
  5. Communities on facebook

It goes without saying that the spirit of transparency calls for these sources to be shared whether they are good or bad; without filter or edit.

Sharing the inside, out

Customers buy your product or service because they have a need or desire for it, but the reason they chose you is rather complicated. Price will play its part, as will availability, but they will also make buying decisions based on the perception of the product, of the people who make it or the company as a whole. This emotion — brand value — can override any other buying criteria.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting is a good example of inside-out transparency that many companies now deploy. Once, organisations may have seen publishing these data points as potentially harmful to their business: either damaging perceptions or by providing data to competitors that could be used against them commercially. But now, many publish to demonstrate their environmental and community performance with the aim of building brand perception.

Such openness can even build reputation, even when the news is not good. When Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin started his transparent blog, he noted that “instead of discouraging customers, being open about our problems radicalized them. They rallied and started pulling for us.”

What role has the intranet to play in shaping these perceptions? On the face of it, not much. It could easily be argued that these perceptions are formed and evolved by marketing and other external communication, but the intranet may have a future role. As many organisations take the view that they cannot prevent employees from sharing intranet news externally — either deliberately or by accident — they write with this precise possibility in mind. From internal publication, it’s already ready for an external audience. Rachel Miller from AllThingsIC, shares a great example from Transport for London, that embraces such transparency.

But can the intranet go further and actually help employees share the inside world to an outside audience? Such radical transparency could become a point of commercial difference by helping build the perception of the company for potential customers.

Here are some practical examples to bring in to your intranet:

  1. Sharing buttons on articles for twitter and facebook to encourage employees to share publicly
  2. Moving to a wholly public intranet, such as the Asda Green Room or Royal Mail. Both sites allow customers to read and learn at will.
  3. Move image and video libraries outside the firewall so they can be shared or browsed
  4. Encourage employees to share their work experience on sites such as LinkedIn. Switch your employee profiles to LinkedIn.


Radical transparency helps destroy the firewall around data and corporations. By allowing quicker access to external data sources through the intranet and elsewhere, you enable employees to react to market and customer data quicker. Organisations have often played a strange game with employees, somehow pretending that when they enter their offices and factories, they’re somehow immune to external communications about their organisation and deaf to the good or bad news within. Transparency stops the pretence and invites employees to react; the intranet or digital workplace could be a powerful vehicle for the dataflow.

Companies have also long said that their employees are their greatest asset and yet have have deliberately muted their ability to act as ambassadors by blocking access to social sites, applying controls on email use or controlling other sharing. Radical transparency embraces sharing either by the company themselves, or by its employees, with the aim of building reputation and business. Combined with a corporate storytelling approach, radical transparency creates compelling content.

There are clear risks. Many organisations, keen to avoid a corporate wikileaks, have Data Loss Protection measures in place. Recognising the difference between sharing and leak, between transparency for positive impact and loss which would commercially damage is absolutely vital.

How are you embracing these concepts in your company? Have you applied any of these features to your intranet? Let us know!

Photo credit: Scott Feldstein

There are 3 comments

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  1. Neil

    Radical transparency makes a lot of sense for government intranets where the vast majority of content would be made available under an FOI request anyway. Putting it out there has benefits for internal staff, search and customers.

  2. Ana Neves

    Really interesting post. Love the concepts and the practical ideas you share.
    One example that came to mind whilst reading it is Zappos and the way they include on their corporate website (public) the stream of all their staff’s Twitter accounts. Everyone in the company is encouraged to have and use a personal Twitter account and also gets some basic training of how to use it (guidelines for good practice). The idea is that the company comes out as a human company that values its clients and its own people.

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