Corporate expectation of transparency is critical for communications

It's no longer the exception; it's the rule.

Since 2012, Edelman has conducted a survey each year known as the Trust Barometer, revealing that "public trust in four key institutions—business, government, NGOs, and the media—has declined broadly," according to its website. A few years ago, I attended a conference where someone from Edelman presented, and I was alarmed to see that the trend keeps going downward.

No industry can escape the scrutiny that causes top leaders to worry about decisions and actions that could lead to negative drivers of reputation and to a potential decline in the bottom line.

Mother Teresa said it well. "Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway." Companies must strive to do the right thing, correct their mistakes, and take transparency to a much higher level to maintain their respect and reputation to all stakeholders.

Whether you work on Wall Street, in politics, the entertainment industry, the media, or healthcare, no organization is immune. There is an brighter spotlight on negative corporate behavior, such as conflicts of interest, inequality, harassment, theft, and others that are leading the public to expect more from organizations.

In healthcare, there is a sacred relationship between patients and doctors. Healthcare organizations are held to a high standard to conduct themselves with the highest level of integrity and professionalism, especially in terms of patient safety, quality of care, financial relationships with industry, and more.

Transparency can be challenging for an organization to fully achieve. It can be viewed as admitting that you need to do things better or have made a mistake. Leaders that make transparency a priority are far ahead of others and moving in the right direction.

Several years ago, we were under the spotlight for conflict of interest issues in healthcare. There was a perception that our physicians were engaging with industry for their financial benefit without patients’ knowledge. Our CEO took a bold step, and we became the first hospital in the country to publicly post our physicians’ financial relationships with industry on our website.

We also surveyed patients to gauge their knowledge and understanding on this issue so we could communicate with them appropriately. For the most part, they believed that if our doctors were working with industry, it meant they were experts in innovation and technology related to the advancement of patient care. But, proper disclosure was also key.

According to Forbes magazine, there are five powerful things that happen when a leader is transparent:

  • Problems are solved faster;
  • Teams are built easier;
  • Relationships grow authentically;
  • People begin to promote trust in their leader;
  • Higher level of performance emerges.

Acting as a transparent organization means taking calculated risks, making mistakes and learning from them, having open discussions and decision making, and finally, sharing information with your employees.

Times are rapidly changing and organizations are expected to acknowledge when they can do a better job and do the right thing. In the end, transparency builds trust and a trusted organization has a better reputation.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic. She can be reached at  

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