Transparency Builds a Working Relationship

Of course, the inverse is also true…

Today, there’s a story in the Commercial Appeal about a row at yesterday’s School Board Meeting. The chief issue of concern was a change in health insurance carriers for the Memphis City Schools that would leave many teachers looking for new doctors.

I have zero direct contact with MCS, as I don’t have any kids. What little contact I do have with MCS is with its teachers. So, when it comes to how it operates as an organization, I don’t know. How it operates as a school, well, there’s data out there to detail that. This story, however, is more about how the MCS operates as an employer.

For any organization to operate as an efficient entity, there has to be some level of trust between the various levels, management/non-management, etc. While certainly, in many businesses, there are issues that may not be wise to discuss openly, like courting a new client, or the rollout of a new product, issues of benefits, particularly when those benefits have been agreed upon through the negotiation process, need to be open to dispel rumors, and keep people from losing faith or damaging any good will that may exist between management and front line employees.

It would seem that there was some trust violated in this issue. From the article:

Members of the Memphis Education Association, the teachers’ union, said they were not told about the changes or invited to participate in the selection process, setting off a storm of e-mail. By late Monday, board member Dr. Jeff Warren said he had received more than 700 messages and calls from outraged and scared employees.

Luckily, for both the MCS and the teachers, the issue was tabled until the 13th of April.

Now, this is most certainly a management issue, rather than anything to do with “Sunshine Laws”. However, building a culture of transparency often opens a dialogue, and avoids these management issues.

Look, teachers know, perhaps better than anyone else, what happens when money is tight, and school budgets are operating on the edge of their funding. Both of my parents either are or were teachers, so I’ve seen this all my life. Further, teachers have seen their healthcare costs rise over the years, particularly if they add a spouse or children to their policy, so it’s not as if they don’t see the hit of rising healthcare costs. So why not openly discuss this with the MEA?

See, the problem, is that this was treated like something to sneak by people rather than openly address the issue, and discuss options. Even if that wasn’t the intent, that’s the way it looks to people. So while this particular issue may be a management issue, it begs the question, what else is being snuck through the system?

Further, the issue is not that, had the process been open some other conclusion may have been arrived. The issue is that the entity tried to operate without consulting the largest group of people who would be affected by the change, and by not including them, not only lost an opportunity to build trust, but damaged any trust that may have existed. And this is the very same mistake that Administrations, legislative bodies and all kinds of government organizations make thousands of times a year, that breeds distrust in the system.

The point is, and this is kind of my “Sunshine Week” message, that transparency dispels the mythology and misperceptions about a government, or any other organization. Transparency is not just for “watchdogs” to play “gotcha” politics, it’s to reassure and build trust with a constituency. In this case, the constituency was the teachers of the MCS. Next time it may be standards that involve the students, or a safety issue, or a transportation contract, but if the process is open, and interested parties are involved, the chances of “shenanigans” are greatly diminished, and charges of “shenanigans” can be easily dismissed.

You see, transparency not only builds a public trust, but it also creates a public record, and in doing so, protects a public entity from itself, which may be the most important benefit of all.

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