Using Inverse Transparency in Leadership

This paper published in 2020 is based on the idea that digital tools can be used in leadership and be beneficial for both managers and employees. Specifically, the article focuses on transparency, as the mentioned tools allow a bigger and quicker flow of data that can be used in management. This is a theoretical paper: the authors analyze previous studies to create a new theory that explain the phenomenon.

In the figure below, the authors attempt to explain the interplay between technology and transparency:

The authors identify positive outcomes of transparency in the manager-employee relationship. Transparency can help management when implemented in employee-centric leadership stiles that cultivate empowerment and engagement. At the same time, it can be used as a performance incentive, leading into more motivation. Other studies suggest that the understanding of the processes that employees are involved in increases self-organization and responsibility.

While the gain of transparency thanks to new technologies is usually regarded as positive for both managers and employees, it can also generate tensions. For instance, when a manager has a big amount of information about the employees’ activities it can lead to more control, surveillance, and micro-management.

To resolve these tensions, the authors conceptualize Inverse Transparency as a leadership tool. They define it in two steps:

  • First, the employee should always be aware of the data that is being collected about his/her performance.
  • Second, the employee should also know how the data is analyzed, distributed, and made accessible.

Finally, the difference between traditional transparency and inverse transparency lays on the active role that employees have. By having a certain control over the data, employees can be empowered and improve they own work practices.

Attached to this post you will find the full article; with the multiple citations of the studies it is based on.

Citation: Gierlich-Joas, M.; Hess, T. & Neuburger, R. (2020). More self-organization, more control—or even both? Inverse transparency as a digital leadership concept. Business Research, 13 (921-947).

Author: Selena Hernandez, Researcher – Shared Governance