Ethics Coach

Why Transparency Creates a Clear Path to Success and How to Maintain It

Why Transparency Creates a Clear Path to Success and How to Maintain It
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This story appears in the December 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Q: Partners and employees at my company are expected to pool contact information for clients and prospective clients in a database. We find that having information easily accessible maximizes partner relationships in making deals.

But some partners aren’t cooperating. When my client needed confirmation of market data, I asked another partner for assistance. He confirmed the data analysis through a client he refused to name, leaving me -- and my client -- without a reference point. My partner’s lack of transparency is unethical. But he’s a rainmaker, and as our company’s driving value is making money, other partners aren’t concerned. What are my options?

A: Lack of transparency isn’t the only problem here. It may be hard for other partners to see being disrespectful, evasive and withholding as a big deal when the firm is bringing in the dollars. The problem is that the incident you describe raises ethics issues that can poison the partnership and the firm’s ability to sustain financial success.

Most horror stories about partnerships upended by ethics scandals started as fixable red flags that were left to fester. In your case, we’re talking about ethical time bombs: how operating only out of competition blows out collaboration; how respect, fairness, accountability, trustworthiness and, yes, transparency, get kicked to the curb when money is the only business driver; and how rainmaker worship can turn nice guys into arrogant bullies.

Before leaping in, make sure you’re confident about your motivation for tackling the problem. This will strengthen your credibility and, in turn, your partners’ willingness to listen as you suggest that changes in the culture are beneficial to preserving the firm’s success. You also need to figure out how you can get conversations going that encourage compliance with policies. While not all partners are equal in terms of shares or power, all are accountable to act in ways that create trust and preserve relationships as well as the firm’s long-term success.

Like you, those who put their contact information into the database probably expected that everyone would benefit from collaboration and stronger business relationships. When some partners don’t comply, face no consequences and still benefit from others’ contacts, cynicism and resentment kick in.

Policies that are skewed to benefit or exempt rainmakers breed mistrust. And clients sense that. Your client wasn’t given the information he needed and may interpret that to mean he isn’t important or is working with the wrong partner. How is that helpful to the firm in the long run?

You also need to focus on what brought you together as partners. If there was a shared purpose -- like working together to be the best in your field -- making money is the result of fulfilling that purpose. This is different from money being the driver. Discussing your original purpose can be a starting point for a chat with your partners. 

Edition: October 2016

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