A Culture of Radical Transparency

What is radical transparency?

When you start a company, an early decision you’ll want to make is how much information you are going to share with employees about the company’s strategy, challenges, and results. It’s easy to carry on without making this conscious decision, but it’s one of the most tangible decisions you can make to define your culture.

At its core, radical transparency and the typical “transparency” you see in company values should be the same thing. However, transparency is a term that’s been used and overused and we think it’s important to be specific so we adopted the term radical transparency.

“Radical transparency” is about creating a culture that is direct, honest, and shares the inner details of a company and its strategy. There are some great companies that are leading the path in radical transparency: Bridgewater Associates, Buffer, Fitbit, and Patagonia. They are radically transparent in their own way, but all go above and beyond in sharing information with employees and the public. 

Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates and author of the book Principles: Life and Work, explained the concept nicely:

"I think the greatest tragedy of mankind is that people have ideas and opinions in their heads but don’t have a process for properly examining these ideas to find out what’s true. That creates a world of distortions. That’s relevant to what we do, and I think it’s relevant to all decision making. So when I say I believe in radical transparency, all I mean is we take things that ordinarily people would hide, and we put them on the table, particularly mistakes, problems, and weaknesses. We put those on the table, and we look at them together. We don’t hide them."

Ray Dalio

Why do we push for radical transparency?

Our goal at Clearly Payments is to be the “friendliest payment processor on Earth”. Friendship is built on trust. In order to create trust, you need transparency. That’s our simple formula. When you peel back the onion, radical transparency has more depth and implications on our culture. Our five values are being friendly, straight-up, humble, independent thinkers, and having a bias for action. Radical transparency runs through each of these values and makes them stronger. It helps us live the values more accurately.

Certainly transparency can be at conflict with, for example, friendliness. Is it really friendly to openly challenge other people’s ideas, especially in front of other people? We think that if we genuinely want to get each other closer to the truth, the open challenge is nothing but good-natured and designed to build deeper relationships, trust, understanding, and yes friendship.

When challenging people, we need to ensure we are as respectful as possible. Have you seen the movie Interstellar? The AI robot, TARS, had an honesty setting of 90% because “Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.” We know there will be challenges with building a culture of radical transparency and we’re going to work through them to get us closer to the truth. Truth is essential for success.

What does it mean we do?

Radical transparency at Clearly Payments means an environment in which all employees are encouraged to participate in openness surrounding our work, decision-making, financials, hiring decisions, pricing strategies, weaknesses, results, and challenges. 

This will be difficult at times. We know it and we get it. Exposing things, especially weaknesses, challenges, and failure, is difficult. The process of learning is difficult.

"I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Michael Jordan

When we expose people to both the good and the bad, it gives all the information necessary to allow everyone to contribute to the best solution. Radical transparency will help us maintain high standards. It keeps us all in check. It gives our customers and partners a deep understanding of how to work with Clearly Payments to maximize success and foster meaningful, lifelong relationships.

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