Monday, June 23, 2014

On Transparency

We recently moved our association offices. The lease was up at our old place and we needed a change of pace, so we went on the market to see what was available.

It was an exciting and sometimes difficult process. Plenty of compromises had to be made between what we wanted, what was available, and what we could afford, but in the end we found and secured some fantastic space that is already changing the tone of the organization in some very positive ways.

The photo I included with this post is a shot of our new conference room. Look closely and you'll see one wall is comprised of floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the office building's atrium. It's a busy place, and throughout every day hundreds of people ride up and down the escalator and walk around on the exposed hallways of the opposite floors--all treated to a direct and unobstructed view into our conference room.

Shortly after we moved in one of our volunteer Board members was in town and he paid us a visit. Looking at this space, his immediate question was: "Are you going to put up some drapes?"

"Drapes?" I said, not understanding where he was coming from. "Why would I want to put up some drapes?"

"Well," he said, looking at the SmartBoard projector we have hanging on one of the walls. "What are you going to do when you present confidential information?"

His perspective literally stopped me in my tracks. As a trade association, we do have some information we consider private and confidential. The contact information of the people working for our member companies. The amount of money each individual company pays in membership dues (which is indexed to their annual sales volume). Data each individual company submits about their monthly production and sales volumes that we aggregate into confidential reports about the size and direction of our industry. But none of this would ever find its way into a presentation that we would project on a wall, regardless of whether or not the room had windows, and I found myself having to reassure my Board member of that fact.

But the exchange got me thinking about the window wall in a way I hadn't before. Initially, its appeal was mostly aesthetic. It lets a lot of light into our office suite, and gives us a commanding view of our atrium and all the activities going on in our building. Now, I realize that it can serve another important purpose. It makes a statement about transparency. It tells everyone in the conference room and everyone walking around outside that this organization does things above-board. That it has nothing to hide.

And when you see that my office shares the same window wall, I think this statement about transparency becomes even more powerful. After all, it's not just our conference room that you can look into, but the CEO's office as well.

Can you make a louder statement than that?

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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