We hear a lot these days about ‘transparency” in business and government. It is jargon for organizations measuring and reporting their operations.

We hear a lot these days about ‘transparency” in business and government. It is jargon for organizations measuring and reporting their operations. What is happening in firms and agencies is not accurately known or communicated any more than it is in our personal lives. My doctor has me measuring four vital signs every morning [weight, blood pressure, pulse, blood glucose]. It has really motivated me to lose weight. If every Oklahoman were to do that perhaps one-third of our adults would not be a self-reported “obese.”

Measuring and revealing to outsiders equivalent measures of organizational health is actually more measured than reported because they are as operationally sick as often as individuals are physically ill.

In fact organizations, like individuals, cannot report the full truth either to hide proprietary information from competitors, the government, their stockholders, or the public. .

Roles in organizations—especially high-level or hi-technology—involve complexity, political sensitivity, ambiguity, or conflict due to redundant responsibilities defying accurate description. A role lacking these characteristics is vulnerable to replacement by either a software algorithm driving mechanization or Artificial Intelligence guiding a robot. High levels of ambiguity, change, and difficulty in crucial tasks require equally high quality judgment which merits the big bucks—and conversely in lower-level positions absent these characteristics.

Transparency, exposing the inevitable conflicts between professional organizations consisting almost entirely of jobs like these, is uncomfortable at best and harmful at worst. I learned this the hard way one time in my position as Associate to the Director of the University of Michigan’s six Hospitals. I was asked to create a simple organization chart. Being able to do this well and assisted by the Medical Illustration Department, I did it—too well it turned out. My mistake was accurately showing these the conflicts among the highest level University and Medical Center positions—warts and all. [Photoshop and make-up exists to hide these when picturing persons.] Then the University had 13,000 employees. [In truth, we in the Hospital had no accurate count of the number of our employees. Later we counted about 5,000 wicket of complexity and conflict had at least functioned—because of the lack of transparency!

When I showed my organization chart to my boss, the Director, he stamped it “Top Secret” and ordered me never to show it to anyone else! [He earned his Ph.D. from OU researching the Oklahoma legislature, so he understood ambiguity, confusion, collusion, and lack of transparency!] Transparency in all things is not always best e.g., how should you answer when she asks, “How do I look?”

Politicians are subject to reporting requirements which they sometimes evade. If a member of Congress either fails to report damaging information or answers untruthfully, the Ethic Committee may not punish them. Congress abets this by deliberately cutting that Committee’s staffing levels and packing it with party friendlies. U.S. Presidents from Harry Truman through Barak Obama have released their tax returns to the public.

Employee pay is the most secret organizational information and the more inequitable the more secret. A colleague of mine in the sixties at OBU maintained the computer file of salaries into retirement and to my knowledge to death on a computer in his home office which his children were never allowed to enter.

OU Hospitals struggled in 1954-6 when as a Psychiatric Aide I brought literally truckloads of patients there for treatment which the State never paid the hospital for. The Oklahoma Penitentary likewise received free care from OU Hospital. Consequently, the Hospital was always in financial crisis.

The Department of Welfare [DPW] usually had surplus money because of a constitutional provision earmarking the 4% sales tax for them. Being unable to transfer money from DPW to OU Hospital, the Legislature in its wisdom gave the hospital to DPW making it the only teaching hospital in the nation owned by the welfare department!

Decades ago I researched all 63 university-owned teaching hospitals in the nation which included OU. In addition to interview responses, I obtained their computerized financial data. My interviews quickly revealed a financial dodge being perpetrated. Anticipating cuts in federal funding, the hospital hired 90 unneeded personnel in Dietary which they would later fire and label as cutting expenses--thereby complying with the letter of the law while avoiding its intent. When they found out I had learned this from my interviews, they refused to send their financial data tapes—the only hospital nationwide to do that.

Accountability

Even if damaging truth is revealed, it remains to hold the responsible person[s] accountable. That is one reason accurate organization charts and phone directories aren’t circulated. In my day secretaries had standard phrases for callers trying to complain e.g., “He’s in a meeting,” “He is out of the office today,” etc. Now, we have web sites without any telephone numbers or those awful obfuscations e.g., “If it concerns widgets, dial 5, “ etc. It reminds me of Major Major in the WWII movie “Catch-22”, the catch being if Major Major’s orderly said he was “in”, he wasn’t, and conversely, if he said he wasn’t in, he really was. Likewise, these many automated telephone systems are designed to protect insiders from outsiders. In the movie, Capt. Yossarian feigned his insanity to get a Section 8 diagnosis and ticket home. The insanity of many telephone networks is not feigned but real i.e., rationally designed to avoid accountability.