Scooblog on Corporate Transparency – Part 2: The Costs of Commonly Perceived Fears

Before reading this I suggest reading Part 1 of the series.

Commonly Perceived Fears

People face a natural fear of increased openness.  Some simply aren't inclined to talk about what they are working on, some are scared that there isn't a good way to share the information, and others are scared off by the long arm of a legal team.  At Microsoft today it is really difficult to find out what you can and can't talk about publicly. What worked best was to simply tell everyone "Here are the 2-3 things you can't talk about. Everything else is fair game."  That's when I saw the floodgates of customers conversations start to open.  The point of this series isn't really to give advice, but rather to create a tool that can be used to help people decide whether they should be be transparent about something. Yesterday I talked about what comprises transparency. Today I'm going to talk about how to measure the fears I commonly hear.

Public Reputation

No one likes to fail and even less people enjoy failure in front of a large audience. Going with the assumption that fear of public humiliation is not a valid motivator then one should be careful when sharing information. Especially if it continually sheds an individual or team at your company in negative light without a possible upside.  Does your potential blog post leave customers with an overall negative image of an individual (score a 1) or does it reward teams and individuals that do well (score a 5)?  Use this indicator to measure the possible positive or negative effect of sharing information with customers.  It is important to do more good than harm over the long haul. This is not to suggest you should cover up your failures, but rather to make you ask "if everything we have to be transparency about damages our reputation are we really on a good path?" Ideally the positives will outweigh the negative scores here over the long haul or your product is doomed to failure anyway.

Privacy and Employee Safety

Are you violating the privacy and possibly the safety of individuals at your company?  Are you opening the doors for them to be endlessly spammed by sharing e-mail addresses when it is not necessary or without their permission? If your employees are a valuable resource then you want them to interact with customers safely without fear of being stalked.  Of course you take a risk whenever you open yourself up for public inspection, but have you taken steps to minimize these risks?  Have your employees received any training on community interaction? The triage video gives away some names, but it does not tell you exactly where these people live and work or how to contact them directly.  I'll leave the scoring up to you on this one. 🙂

Loss of IP

Just encouraging your employees to talk regularly with customers puts your IP at risk.  The goal here is to measure the importance of the IP you are putting at risk by examining how big the risk is based on the timing of the conversation.  Is the information being shared already public knowledge? For the sake of keeping the high numbers positive then I would score low risk IP leakage to be a 5 and high risk (disclosure before discovery and patent application filing) a 1.  There really isn't much IP disclosure or loss of trade secrets in the MSBuild triage video. If, however, they were triaging bugs for a feature that was considered a groundbreaking discovery with no patents held and we had a groundbreaking bug analysis approach it might be a different story.  Pick your battles, not all patents are equally important.

Legal Liability

Imagine if during the triage video there had been a discussion about a known security risk and the decision was made to not fix the bug for whatever reason.  This bug then causes another company to lose a ton of money.  We've just provided some excellent evidence to be used against us.  You should ask yourself how much you are risking here.

Competitive Advantage

Could the information you are thinking about exposing come back to bite you? How much ammo are you giving your competition to use against you?  If you choose to release your performance data, and the numbers are negative, how could it be used against your released product?  Will the truth come out shortly after release anyway?  If so, are you better off saying something about it now? High risk gets a 1 and low risk scores a 5.

Part 2 Concludes

Have I missed any fears?  Now  we've reviewed the different aspects of transparency and common fears.  Tomorrow I'll show customer gains.  I'm tempted to throw in some gains for your company, but really, aren't customer gains really going to mean gains for you in the long run?

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Comments (16)
  1. Stephane Rodriguez says:

    " At Microsoft today it is really difficult to find out what you can and can’t talk about publicly. "

    I disagree. You guys talk about things of the past all the time. That can be disclosed to the public, "openly" enough I guess especially since there is hardly any harm doing so.

    Disclosing things to come is much more touchy. Knowing people close to Redmond, I never hear in blogd about topics that are however hugely discussed about in small spheres. Talk about NBA-based "openness" then, ironically enough…

  2. Stephane Rodriguez says:

    Typo, I meant NDA of course.

  3. Josh Ledgard says:

    No, I’ve been asked by several people who don’t even know what they can and can’t say about past releases. But your right, the problem exists more in the "Can I talk about what I’m workig on" space.

    I’m talking about non-NDA transparency.

  4. Stephane Rodriguez says:

    "the problem exists more in the "Can I talk about what I’m workig on" space."

    Blog-wise, it’s also about "can I talk about what I’m working on, on behalf of the team". Your company coporate communication agreements says no, right? Only an "official" can speak. Doesn’t this end the discussion?

  5. Josh Ledgard says:

    All I can say is that it is currenty more complicated than that. Look at all the people that have been blogging about whidbey for a long time now. Its not a released product. Its what people are working on today.

  6. Mike says:

    Re the "Public Reputation" bit – don’t forget the flip side here. If the only news that ever comes out is of shiny happy developers dancing around with fluffy bunnies as projects glide effortlessly to triumph in the background, your credibility is going to suffer in a big way. (Even if everything really _is_ going swimmingly.) It might not be much fun, but a reasonable proportion of negative news does wonders for customer trust.

  7. Josh Ledgard says:

    Mike: I couldn’t agree more. I talk about that in part 3 that you’ll see tommorow in relation to building trust and also previously in this post. (

  8. Stephane Rodriguez says:

    I think there is a mix of different things; Things about Whidbey had to be said since there was a growing wait (+ a delayed product) and further question about it, .NET, and several other integrated product initiatives. Whidbey thus came as a central point. I don’t remember I’ve read many sensitive subjects dealt about, like backwards support (all thrown to the toilet), getting to host the CLR in a comprehensive manner without being a person from Redmond (with all the people to write the missing interface implementation to do that), ….

    That being said, there was also an obvious will to talk about what people were working on, especially those things doing no harm, or because they so much look like "open-source" for the new audience. I’ll end up saying that "opening" so far has been the best recruitment job (ironically enough, and you know why) you guys have done so far. But there is a hidden secret to it, it’s that tech people switch faster than ever. What began like a hobby for a lot of people who I would acknowledge have been saying things, on their own spare time, with their heart and without any further thinking, might turn to something that becomes part of the Agenda.

  9. Josh Ledgard says:

    Everything you said about Whidbey could have been said about the first .Net release cycle, but how many people where talking about that before it was release from Microsoft? What we have at Microsoft is a start. I’m also not specifically targeting this series at Microsoft. I’m trying to talk more generally about the industry. I don’t believe we are perfect examples by any stretch of the imagination.

    What I hope people at Microsoft take from this is a mechanism for them to have a smart discussion with their peers when they have a question about whether they should share something with customers. I want to give people who are doing great things now and even greater sense of freedom and help them judge for themselves whether or not something should be posted publicly.

    I do think that it is important to consider transparency as a part of an agenda. That doesn’t make it evil. It doesn’t restrict anyone. We’d like to open up the CTP program further, for example, and have more regular drops.

    This is something that wouldn’t be a hobby, but part of an initiative (or agenda as you might describe) to be more transparent as we are building the product and enable the people who are talking to talk about how customers could "try out this weeks drop, I just checked in this nifty new feature…".

  10. There is one commonly held fear in corporate America that you don’t address; the fear of creating a superstar. This is mostly related to blogging but many companies don’t want their employees being public faces because it increases their visibility.

    Increased visibility means inreased likelihood they’ll be poached. It also means increased likelihood that customer perseption will suffer when they inevitably move on. I’ve seen lots of online news sites say some company is dead and dying because one or two highly visible people leave it.

    This conversation may be targetted at a different audience than your post is aimed at though.

  11. Josh Ledgard says:

    Thanks for the comment. The first fear (poaching) I would probably categorize as a privacy concern. The Company wanting to keep its employees more private. The second is certainly more targeted at the blogging phenomenon, but certainly any good community activity opens the door for people building an online reputation.

    Good Points.

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