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Transparency and the Importance of Company Culture

by Leslie Brunner, SVP of People and Process

You’ll often hear corporate leaders tout their employees as the company’s most valued asset, but at athenahealth we believe our culture is our most strategic asset.

I’ll dig into what “culture” means to us in future blogposts, but for starters I thought I’d write a bit about a central tenet of our culture—transparency.

So what is it? Transparency defines how we treat each other (openly, candidly, and directly), how we treat information (shared, not hoarded), and how we treat our clients and partners (connecting “say” and “do” and admitting when we have a gap there). We’ve found that we can’t actually do any of our jobs without it. We can’t innovate, service clients, or grow the company without taking it seriously.

When we prepared to become a public company in September 2007, we—our board, our advisors, our senior leadership team—had “the talk.” We were advised that because we were going to have to answer to shareholders, we’d need to prepare for “locking down” information. This triggered several questions. For example, do we need to keep holding company-wide meetings where we share confidential information, business results, plans, and financials, thereby rendering every employee an “insider”? We quickly determined that…yes we do! How else are we supposed to equip athenistas to innovate at breakneck speed? We expect people to act like grown-ups and we trust them with information.

Another question that has come up was whether employees should receive 360° feedback from peers, managers, and direct reports that is NOT anonymous. YES! We’re a company that believes in unconditional positive regard, so this level of transparency works…and it’s required for each of us to succeed.

Our employees can see transparency live and in real-time on our internal blog. It’s there that our CEO Jonathan Bush regularly tackles hard issues and shares personal stories with the entire company. Sometimes he kicks over a hornet’s nest. Some of the discussions would make you cringe. Does he need to put himself out there like that? YES! This level of transparency makes him approachable and human and models the way for others to follow.

Is our obsession with transparency risky? You bet. We might make the wrong choice and hire someone who actually doesn’t want to be trusted with such transparency. But we’re not prepared to punish the whole community for choosing wrong.

Or we might find that sharing information so candidly is off-putting, that it’s too much. But maintaining full transparency is how we’ve always been and it’s the only way we know how to be. And so far, the rewards have far, far outweighed the risks.

More on that later. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

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Comments

Submitted by Bill Fogarty - Friday, August 21, 2015

Your culture sounds a lot like our leadership team of volunteers at Georgians for FairTax. We often disagree, argue vehemently with each other, but ultimately regroup to stay focused on our goals. It's the best way to get issues on the table and deal with them.

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