Everyone Sees You: Employee Engagement in Our New Transparent World

"You can build a much more wonderful company on love than you can on fear." – Kip Tindell, CEO, The Container Store

One of the biggest reasons so many workers are disengaged is because they believe no one sees them. Similarly, employers sail ahead with mediocre cultures because someone assumes talent isn't paying attention. The delusion behind all of this thinking is exposed by the fact that we have entered the "Age of Transparency."

Transparency opens the doors and sheds a spotlight on the behavior of virtually every employer. As a result, pressure is now on organizations to build democratic cultures. Today's savvy candidate knows the backstory on the hiring manager, they know how much the last person in the role made, and they know whether that green initiative is the real thing or all smoke and mirrors.

Transparency will push employees to become more engaged because we'll be able to see them. But this awareness isn't a one-way street.

We can no longer ask workers to take on more responsibility without demonstrating that responsibility across the board. We can't order people to wake up until all of us commit to waking up. In truth, disengagement has nothing to do with rank or economic power. If CEOs are just as disengaged as the rest of us, we need a new model that creates a wave of engagement.

Trying to hide the truth is only going to become more difficult with time. Wouldn't it be healthier to build organizations that have nothing to hide, where progress is led by ethics and with heart? Wouldn't we get more people to engage if we were fully democratic?

In other words: Instead of only giving development to high-potentials, what would happen if we gave everyone an equal opportunity to grow?

In the U.S. Marines Corps, leadership development isn't reserved for the high-potentials; it is given to everyone. The Executive Council, Forbes, and McKinsey have all named the Marines as a top leadership organization. This is because everyone participates and everyone lives by the values of the organization.

I have had the great pleasure of working with Mel Spiese, a major general who led training and development for the Marines. He prepared more than 300,000 soldiers for combat. When I asked Mel about employee engagement at the Marines, he chuckled and said, "Employee engagement has never been a problem for us."

I asked Mel if that was because people's lives depended on being engaged.

He said, "Sure, but we give everyone the same training, everyone embraces the same values, and because everyone is on the same page, we can trust our lives with the individuals standing next to us."

In the Marines, everyone is trained. Everyone is accountable. Everyone gets it.

Another great example of democratic culture is Alcoholics Anonymous. Here is the world's largest recovery entity – with no leaders and little in the form of an "organization." And yet, millions of alcoholics and drug addicts have achieved long-term sobriety through AA. It works for two fundamental reasons:

Like the Marines, AA is a values-based program. Everyone that expects to succeed for any length of time is expected to learn and live by the values of sobriety.

Successful early adopters teach the principles and values of the program. In other words, people who have learned and used "the steps" mentor new people and show them the way.

All organizations have something to learn from both the model of the U.S. Marines and the "non-organizational" model of AA.

Many in the world – especially the business world – are irritated by the loss of privacy. But that is old news. The growing level of transparency will push almost everyone to reevaluate individual and organizational behavior.

Transparency shrinks the world.  Suddenly, we are a small community again. Everyone sees you.

And that, my friends, is a good thing.

David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.