26th February 2007

A little discussion on "Corporate Transparency"…


In Convincing the Unconverted, Part 3, I shared a list of reasons, or motivations, for businesses to engage in community development.  One of the topics I mentioned was Image or the "humanization" of your company.  I thought this topic deserved a bit more exploration.

To me, we reached this point through natural evolution (The Evolution of Consumer Empowerment) aided by a cocktail of recent catalysts driving corporate transparency.

  • A new generation (Gen "Y")
  • Sarbanes-Oxley
  • Web 2.0

A New Generation:

Let’s start with a short discussion on Generation Y (roughly those born between 1981 and 1999) and "why" I think this is important.  A quick review of Gen Y is helpful and wikipedia provides a good baseline.

Note:  There is considerable controversy on the naming of this generation, including "net gen, millenials, google gen (I hate this one - oops, bias slipped in), gen next," etc.

The point of this post is not to dive into these inherently controversial topics, but to talk about how these generational differences are leading to Corporate Transparency.  I think anyone who has ever had parents or children (I’m hoping that gets everyone here) can agree that there are significant differences between the generations.  While our parents might look at us and think we should behave more like them and we look at them thinking they should behave like us, the reality is neither will happen - the same will be true for our children.  The example that brought this home for me in a business context was a colleague who said the following:

Today’s 22 year old coming out of college into the workforce will have the expectation that they can just walk into the CEO’s office and present and defend their ideas.

It was a simple anecdote, but it struck me that I think it’s generally true.  Now, I’m not judging this as good or bad, right or wrong, only substantially different than the way most traditional companies function today - you "earn the right" vs "expect the right," so to speak.  This is the generation of interaction.  Not the gen that watched TV as much as they played online.  Not the gen that watched the evening news, but the gen that created the news in the blogosphere.  The traditional company will think these "kids" should behave like their "parents" and these new "kids" will not understand why their "parents" aren’t behaving like them.  (In a future post I will explore this further in the context of how communities could impact the traditional corporate HR functions.)  In the end, businesses are people-driven and will need to evolve to learn from and leverage these generational changes, or you can be sure they will suffer from talent retention.  This new generation will bring with it a fundamental shift in how knowledge within companies, with users and across partners is shared.  Strap on your seatbelt, they may well know something you don’t.


I look at Sarbanes-Oxley as another catalyst driving corporate transparency (albeit the stick vs the carrot..).  This legislation was passed in response to several scandals involving accounting irregularities - most notably with Enron, Tyco and Worldcom. These scandals ushered in a new era of corporate distrust.  Suddenly, we not only wanted increase corporate accountability and transparency, but we wanted it for much more basic reasons.  Enter Maslow’s Hierarchy on needs.  We didn’t want this transparency for reasons of belonging, esteem, or self-actualization (strong drivers I would associate deeply with Gen Y), but for very fundamental reasons of Safety.  People, a lot of people, got hurt in what can only be describes as outrageously offensive corporate acts.

Read/Write Web:

Enter Web 2.0.  A new, highly engaged and interactive generation born in the age of online gaming, , and is driving a wave of participative-culture change, fueled by an environment of corporate distrust.  A great cocktail for re-inventing how business gets done in the social web.  In this new business reality, static or non-interactive web pages offer little value to a generation looking for interaction and discussion.  This is where your company, or more specifically your employees (who, by the way, are more and more represented by Gen Y) come in.  I may not know what your company does, but I know what most of your web pages say without ever visiting them.  What I want is a relationship and I can’t have a relationship with a Web 1.0 portal.  I want to interact with your employees through employee blogs.  I want to connect with and read content written by other users.  I want to participate in product feedback and discussions.  I want to help myself and I’d rather not talk to you on the phone (in your call center).  These are my new expectations.   How you as a company choose to engage in this new openness is your opportunity for transparency and your opportunity to re-invent your image and humanize your company through personal connections.  Remember, it’s easy to dislike a company - it is harder to dislike the people, once you know and relate with them.

Sure, there are lots of other catalysts contributing to this evolution, including Moore’s law, broadband proliferation, mobile phone penetration, etc - but I see these more as enablers of change vs agents of change.

Any thoughts on this?


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This entry was posted on Monday, February 26th, 2007 at 4:09 pm and is filed under Business Strategy, Examples, General Community Discussion, Social Media, Why Community Matters, web 2.0. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 17 responses to “A little discussion on "Corporate Transparency"…”

Why not let us know what you think by adding your own comment! Your opinion is as valid as anyone elses, so come on... let us know what you think.

  1. 1 On February 27th, 2007, Dustin Johnson said:

    Some great research by Resource Interactive and Jupiter on Gen Y: http://resourceinteractive.com/adx/aspx/adxgetmedia.aspx?MediaID=654

  2. 2 On February 27th, 2007, Sean ODriscoll said:

    This looks right up my alley, thanks for sharing. I will read through and maybe comment more. In thinking more on this topic, it’s the transition from those who fear online identity/prefer anonymity to those who have multiple online identities (perhaps this gets unified to some extent- although many will prefer multi) and for whom online reputation will emerge as empowerment. “Resister” to “transister” change. Those who are suprised to find they are online/connected to those who are annoyed when they are not.


  3. 3 On March 4th, 2007, Bryan Murley said:

    Well, I suppose I’ll be the one to speak up for Gen X. You may be confusing us with the Baby Boomers. I know quite a few 30-40 year olds who fit the description of your Gen Y. We were the first generation to experience cable, the real video game revolution (go Atari!) and the beginning of the personal computer revolution as well.

    The same things about “traditional companies” and our relationship to them were said when I was coming out of school. I do think the impetus to change is more evident today than it was, if only because the Internet is much more advanced than it was in 1990.

  4. 4 On March 4th, 2007, Sean ODriscoll said:

    I’m one too…37 on March 22nd. Some of both is probably true unless we are the exception to our gen - rule. There is certainly a chicken - egg thing going on here between the enabler (web) and the gen, and the virtuous cycle of this cocktail is putting velocity behind the trend. Maybe our X gen should claim credit for innovating this and from here forth just refer to the Gen Ys driving the trend as just jumping on our band wagon!!
    Thanks for the comment, all this begs an interesting anthropologic questions of nature / nuture, but that’s a little heavy for a Sunday for me to think too hard on.


  5. 5 On March 13th, 2007, Amy Balliett said:

    A book that hits this topic on the head (in my opinion) is Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. It discusses Moore’s Law in relation to today’s ever changing market trends due to the YouTube generation. Some may argue that this generation is directly under gen y (gen z perhaps) but as a gen y’er myself, I very much agree that Web 2.0 has drastically changed my own personal expectations of companies. Purple Cow is a marketing book and not necessarily geared towards advising the reader on how to run his/her business as a result of these new expectations. None the less, it discusses tactics of how to take a typical company and make it seemingly extraordinary by utilizing marketing techniques that will appeal to the gen y era of consumers. These marketing techniques take advantage of the latest platforms of communication, therefore bringing the company into contact with Web 2.0’s innovations and personality. Ideally, by implementing these marketing techniques, a business will learn how to better relate to gen y and begin adopting gen y expectations as their own.

  6. 6 On March 14th, 2007, Sean ODriscoll said:

    Great! I will to my reading list. I’ve heard about this book from a few others, so I guess it is time I pick it up.


  7. 7 On May 4th, 2007, "Hi Mac, I'm PC" « Community Group Therapy said:

    […] we play in our respective companies focused on enthusiasts.  I’ve blogged before about corporate transparency and the opportunity you have to change the way people see your company - to humanize your […]

  8. 8 On May 18th, 2007, I love when we have a sense of humor... « Community Group Therapy said:

    […] what actually caught my eye was more to the notion of corporate transparency - in particular I’ve blogged here before about how new media enables a different kind of […]

  9. 9 On May 20th, 2007, Gen Y, Social Media and the workforce of the future... « Community Group Therapy said:

    […] 20th, 2007 In Corporate Transparency I blogged about how Gen Y will change the workplace and how the defacto web 2.0 workstyle of this […]

  10. 10 On July 10th, 2007, Interesting interview in CNET with Larry Rosen: "Net Gen comes of age" « Community Group Therapy said:

    […] 10th, 2007 In an earlier post on Corporate Transparency, I talked about 3 drivers of the push for transparency.  The first I highlighted was […]

  11. 11 On July 31st, 2007, link said:


    great post

  12. 12 On September 27th, 2007, Trevor Twining said:

    I think that there are many of us Gen X’ers out there that could fit into what we’re calling here the Gen Y attitudes, but we are the pioneers in Gen X. There are many people in our age group that although are comfortable with technology, don’t connect to it the same sense of empowerment that the net pioneers have. We’re kind of like the hippies that never lost their groovy-ness, man.

  13. 13 On November 16th, 2007, Time to consider the Pareto Principle… : Community Group Therapy said:

    […] on your goals how you prioritize.  Where Web 2.0 then circles back again is on the need for corporate transparency…sharing how and why you made these decisions.  This is where a bit of courage will be […]

  14. 14 On November 16th, 2007, "Popfly:" I love it when we have a sense of humor… : Community Group Therapy said:

    […] what actually caught my eye was more to the notion of corporate transparency - in particular I’ve blogged here before about how new media enables a different kind of […]

  15. 15 On November 16th, 2007, A guide for those that are new to this blog… : Community Group Therapy said:

    […] A little Discussion on corporate transparency […]

  16. 16 On November 16th, 2007, Does your company support employee blogging? : Community Group Therapy said:

    […] to participate in this.  You have an opportunity here to change and personalize your "corporate voice."  This is nothing but positive.  Stop scrubbing content and using corporate […]

  17. 17 On November 16th, 2007, Communities, "Smart Mobs" and a followup to the HR discussion… : Community Group Therapy said:

    […] I thought all of this interesting food for thought on the how Gen Y workstyles, Web 2.0 lifestyles and HR functions relate to the way business gets done in the […]

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