I traveled to Nicaragua last weekend to spend some time with colleagues there in planning for the second Certificate Program, to be underwritten by Winds of Peace Foundation. It’s an opportunity to gather some 50 rural producers, technicians, coffee buyers, lenders and others and talk about the coffee process and how to make it work better for the small farmer. There’s a great deal of planning and preparation put into these programs by Dr. Rene Mendoza and his team, and the chance to sit together and envision outcomes and opportunities is rich with possibilities. The two days were time well-spent.
One of the results from those sessions was my own assignment: a series of presentations on the topic of open book management and organizational transparency. I’ve presented the stories of my own experiences with the topic at Foldcraft Co., where we explored the boundaries of shared information in ways that most companies do not. But this September will require preparation and teaching in a depth that I haven’t encountered since those corporate days more than ten years ago.
In one sense, there’s a bit of anxiety as I organize my thoughts and endeavor to pick out the most salient messages in a topic that is brimming with leadership, organizational and individual motivations. I hope that I can convey the rewards to be found and the potholes to be avoided. At the same time, I find myself energized as I prepare to “teach” an audience that has shown an eagerness to embrace a methodology that is both perplexing and enticing. I only get into a small number of classrooms during the course of a year, and this will be a large and important one. I can feel the adrenaline already. I wonder what I’m going to feel like on September 5.
I’ve drawn upon many of the old materials that we used at Foldcraft, re-discovered many of the best lessons from the case of Springfield Remanufacturing Company (SRC) where the whole notion began. I’ve gone back to re-read the books and the article and the papers that served as our own lesson materials, and I recall now why this was such a big deal back in the 90’s when we first began opening our books, our operations and ourselves organizationally. And once again, I’m pumped up because I know what these practices can mean to any organization, but especially one that is struggling with survival, as many of the small coops in northern Nicaragua do.
And slowly, as I paste together lessons and bits of wisdom and truths about the application of open books in a small U.S. company, I recognize once again the universality of its message. This is just like preparing for a Foldcraft audience all those years ago. It’s not a ploy or a trick or sleight of hand program to get people to work harder. Transparency is not a magic elixir or medicine to cure whatever might ail an organization. Information-sharing is not an altruistic activity designed to win the hearts of co-workers or to win accolades from management periodicals.
The process is simply an appeal to people’s better instincts, their innate feeling that they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and successful for their lives. They want to invest themselves in something they can believe in, that they can identify with, that gives them pride and accomplishment for the daily demand of work. We all seek the same ends, and to ultimately be recognized and rewarded fairly for the investment of our time and our skills. In a world where there are always those who seek to strip that away from others, to elevate themselves at the expense of others, there is strength in collaborative and informed work.
As they say at SRC and throughout the open book world, “It’s easy to stop one guy, but it’s pretty hard to stop 100.” No matter that we spend so much of our time trying to distinguish ourselves from each other. We are all pretty much alike, and looking for the same affirmations….