A Fast Company article this week (HT: Milton Friesen) highlighted how the standards are changing for companies in sharing what once might have been considered negative information that would have been buried. Sharing more information, including a self-deprecatory approach, can humanize a company and make them seem more real.
Clothing company Patagonia, for instance, has included a section on their website in which the environmental impact of their operations is highlighted. From the article:
The notable thing about what Patagonia is doing here is they're not saying, "Hey look, we're great." They're saying, "Hey look, here's where we are, and here's what we'd like to be doing better." . . . In their willingness to show the less desirable parts of their brand, they were making a much bigger win with consumers. They were coming across as seeming honest.
If you're doing good, how do you communicate that to your users, especially in a human way, through traits like honesty, openness, and humor? If you have practices that you'd like to improve upon, that you're working on, how might you be honest and open with your users, even when it's not all perfect?
There is much to be commended in this approach, although I question the humanizing language. Disclosure strategies can become as rote and manipulative as cover-up strategies. Besides, sometimes too much information is inappropriate, no matter how much human curiousity craves it. It would be inhuman and insensitive to share information that will only hurt people, especially if there is no public interest served by the information served. To sweepingly describe transparency as human, somehow implying it is always virtuous, is a bit of an oversell.
That caveat aside, I do welcome the trend described in the Fast Company article. Companies in which employees are empowered, even to make mistakes, are the sort I enjoy dealing with. With that will usually will come an empowerment for employees. Until I am perfect, I won't expect perfection on the part of every company I deal with. I do want the person to be empowered to fix mistakes when they happen and to demonstrate the excellence that comes from having learned the lessons of previous errors. Covering up our faults is also a far-too-human tendency. If the social pressure is trending towards rewarding those who don't, it is a good thing.