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Role Model: Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein — Transparency Is A Two-Way Street

by Miki Saxon

harley-finkelstein-shopify

There’s a lot of talk these days from consultants, academics and executives about the importance of transparency, AKA being totally open and honest.

And many of those in the business world, from team leaders through CEOs, are actually walking the talk.

Or believe they are.

The problem lies in the fact that even those executives who have opened operations, especially financials, to the internal scrutiny of their people don’t recognize that true transparency needs to be a two-way street.

One-way transparency is open to spin — whether intentional or not.

Which, if you stop to think about it, should come as no surprise. It is a normal, human characteristic to put the best face on even the most negative thing.

So how is true, two-way transparency achieved?

By opening yourself to a no-holds-barred Q&A with everybody and forcing yourself to provide the A no matter how uncomfortable.

Harley Finkelstein, COO at Shopify and a new “Dragon” on CBC’s Next Gen Den, among other things, is the perfect role model of what should be called AMA transparency.

The AMA idea has been around for a while.

President Obama broke with convention back in 2012 when he agreed to do an Ask Me Anything — AMA — on the Internet forum Reddit.

But if you think it takes guts to expose yourself to a half hour of inquiries from strangers on the web, try fielding regular sessions of no-holds-barred questions from your own employees — live and on camera. Welcome to our normal routine: the internal AMA.

… While facing questions from my team is tough when I’m in the hot seat, it’s become a crucial tool for building trust as we’ve scaled from hundreds to more than a thousand employees.

I doubt you’ll find a lot of executives willing to do it, because a true AMA isn’t exactly fun for those in the hot seat, as Finkelstein freely admits, but it’s a great way to build trust, ownership/engagement, eliminate fear, etc.

There are plenty of times when I’ve been caught entirely off-guard. But that’s precisely the point. The element of surprise is the secret ingredient that makes the internal AMA such a valuable tool. (…)

Creating a culture where it’s safe to ask literally anything can lead to some awkward moments, but just taking that step helps instill a sense of ownership at every level. Sitting in that hot seat might make you sweat, but that just means you’re doing it right.

Do you have what it takes to “do it right?”

Image credit: Shopify

PS: Shopify is the first site I’ve seen that offers a “download” link next to all their leadership team.

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