Scooblog on Corporate Transparency - Part 2: The Costs of Commonly Perceived Fears

Before reading this I suggest reading Part 1 of the series.

Commonly Perceived Fears

People face a natural fear of increased openness.  Some simply aren't inclined to talk about what they are working on, some are scared that there isn't a good way to share the information, and others are scared off by the long arm of a legal team.  At Microsoft today it is really difficult to find out what you can and can't talk about publicly. What worked best was to simply tell everyone "Here are the 2-3 things you can't talk about. Everything else is fair game."  That's when I saw the floodgates of customers conversations start to open.  The point of this series isn't really to give advice, but rather to create a tool that can be used to help people decide whether they should be be transparent about something. Yesterday I talked about what comprises transparency. Today I'm going to talk about how to measure the fears I commonly hear.

Public Reputation

No one likes to fail and even less people enjoy failure in front of a large audience. Going with the assumption that fear of public humiliation is not a valid motivator then one should be careful when sharing information. Especially if it continually sheds an individual or team at your company in negative light without a possible upside.  Does your potential blog post leave customers with an overall negative image of an individual (score a 1) or does it reward teams and individuals that do well (score a 5)?  Use this indicator to measure the possible positive or negative effect of sharing information with customers.  It is important to do more good than harm over the long haul. This is not to suggest you should cover up your failures, but rather to make you ask "if everything we have to be transparency about damages our reputation are we really on a good path?" Ideally the positives will outweigh the negative scores here over the long haul or your product is doomed to failure anyway.

Privacy and Employee Safety

Are you violating the privacy and possibly the safety of individuals at your company?  Are you opening the doors for them to be endlessly spammed by sharing e-mail addresses when it is not necessary or without their permission? If your employees are a valuable resource then you want them to interact with customers safely without fear of being stalked.  Of course you take a risk whenever you open yourself up for public inspection, but have you taken steps to minimize these risks?  Have your employees received any training on community interaction? The triage video gives away some names, but it does not tell you exactly where these people live and work or how to contact them directly.  I'll leave the scoring up to you on this one. :-)

Loss of IP

Just encouraging your employees to talk regularly with customers puts your IP at risk.  The goal here is to measure the importance of the IP you are putting at risk by examining how big the risk is based on the timing of the conversation.  Is the information being shared already public knowledge? For the sake of keeping the high numbers positive then I would score low risk IP leakage to be a 5 and high risk (disclosure before discovery and patent application filing) a 1.  There really isn't much IP disclosure or loss of trade secrets in the MSBuild triage video. If, however, they were triaging bugs for a feature that was considered a groundbreaking discovery with no patents held and we had a groundbreaking bug analysis approach it might be a different story.  Pick your battles, not all patents are equally important.

Legal Liability

Imagine if during the triage video there had been a discussion about a known security risk and the decision was made to not fix the bug for whatever reason.  This bug then causes another company to lose a ton of money.  We've just provided some excellent evidence to be used against us.  You should ask yourself how much you are risking here.

Competitive Advantage

Could the information you are thinking about exposing come back to bite you? How much ammo are you giving your competition to use against you?  If you choose to release your performance data, and the numbers are negative, how could it be used against your released product?  Will the truth come out shortly after release anyway?  If so, are you better off saying something about it now? High risk gets a 1 and low risk scores a 5.

Part 2 Concludes

Have I missed any fears?  Now  we've reviewed the different aspects of transparency and common fears.  Tomorrow I'll show customer gains.  I'm tempted to throw in some gains for your company, but really, aren't customer gains really going to mean gains for you in the long run?

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